Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Sharia policewoman addresses women dressed in tight jeans during a street inspection in Banda Aceh. Photo by Anuj Chopra

On Patrol With Sharia Policewomen

By Anuj Chopra

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA - The girls are outmanoeuvered.

Out of nowhere, a group of policewomen in olive-green uniforms, swoop in and flag down their motorcycle. "Where are you going?" one asks, inspecting their identity cards.

"To the university," the girls reply demurely. "Dressed like that?" she thunders. "That's not how a Muslim should dress. If you wear clothes like that, you will burn in hell!"

There is a deer-in-the-headlights moment. The girls, both teenagers, freeze in shamefaced silence. Both of them are wearing headscarves and dressed in nothing skimpy. But they still flout Aceh's dress code: both are wearing skin-tight, hip-hugging jeans, a big taboo in the eyes of Aceh's Sharia police. ...

Indonesia Tries Rehabilitation To Wipe Out Extremism

By Anuj Chopra

JAKARTA, INDONESIA -- Imagine, for a moment, a possible headline in the future: "Osama bin Laden denounces terrorism and renounces jihad." What are the odds? Is it even possible to wean an extremist like bin Laden off his violent ideology? The likelihood is hard to envisage. But the Obama administration is keen to attempt something very close to that. This week, it agreed to give US$11 million (Dh40m) to Yemen to build a militant rehabilitation centre in the Arab state within the next three months for released Guantanamo Bay detainees. The centre would treat terrorists in much the same way as drug addicts: seeing Islamic radicalism as an anomalous behavioural pattern and treating it with a mix of psychotherapy, counselling and religious re-education, coupled with economic incentives to slowly steer them back into society.

This move, analysts say, underscores the realisation that punitive detention or torture in a dank prison does not necessarily reform extremists. Some militants continue to espouse a virulent hatred for the West even after serving time in prison. Killing them can be counterproductive - many of them seek martyrdom. The future of fighting extremism around the world may lie in terrorism rehabilitation. ...


Mustafa Daood (left) performs with his band Debu at a shopping mall on the outskirts of Jakarta

Debu Prove You Can't Judge a Band By Its Album Cover

By Anuj Chopra

DEPOK, INDONESIA -- On a balmy evening, the mixed sounds of traditional and modern musical instruments drift out of a garage-turned-music studio. An oud, or Arabic lute, strums up a haunting Middle Eastern tune. A bass guitar unleashes a metallic twang. A tambourine evokes hippie-chic nostalgia from the 1960s. You expect a bunch of spiky-haired punk artists trying to jam together. But the doors open to a group of men in filigreed skullcaps and women in colourful jilbabs performing on a variety of stringed and percussion instruments.

Meet Debu, a 12-member Indonesian Islamic band, who are inviting much intrigue among music aficionados in Indonesia and much of the Islamic world. They are Muslim, but most are American. Together, they are blurring the lines between Islam and the West. "If you close your eyes and listen to our music, you might imagine us to be Turkish or Iranian musicians. When you open your eyes, you'll see blond Americans with long hair," said Mustafa Daood, the lead vocalist of Debu. "People have no idea where to place us." ...


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


By Anuj Chopra

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- This volatile city in southern Afghanistan, known as the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, isn't unfamiliar with the staccato rattle of gunfire and the thunder of explosions. But last week's bomb attack — the deadliest in years — has deepened the anguish of war-weary Kandaharis living in the shadow of rising violence. A cluster of vehicle bombs ripped through a central area of Kandahar, killing 43 and injuring 65, nearly all of them civilians. The ear-piercing explosions sent shock waves through the city, smashing windows miles away from the bombing site and leaving broken shards of glass and mangled remains of cars strewn on the streets. Heaps of rubble and smoldering debris lay amid dozens of damaged buildings, now resembling more the ruins of an ancient civilization.

READ MORE:,8599,1919569,00.html
Gen Stanley McCrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, enjoying freshly-plucked apricots while on a tour of Jalrez valley in Wardak province in August 2009. Photo by Anuj Chopra

U.S. Hopes To Prompt Afghan Awakening

By Anuj Chopra

SANGLAKH, AFGHANISTAN -- Gen Stanley McCrystal, the top Nato commander in Afghanistan, began deliberations last weekend on a critical question: can a new initiative in Afghanistan restore security in the country’s restive provinces? “I want to understand it,” he told local Afghan officials sitting on a grassy knoll and gorging freshly plucked apricots. “The more you teach me, the better I will perform at meetings with ministers in Kabul.” The initiative, begun in March, is the Afghan Police Protection Programme, or AP3, an anti-Taliban militia known colloquially as the Guardians. “Before the Guardians came, this district was 80 per cent insecure. The Taliban were everywhere,” said Sayad Jawad Bahunar, the sub-governor of the district. “But now people feel much safer.”...