January 21, 1985 | Bombing of world’s largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia

On this day in 1985, Islamist terrorists placed 11 bombs on the 8th century Borobudur Buddhist temple in Central Java, the oldest structure in the world.

A lot of religious-based terrorists seem to really hate those who worship different deities.

As my late mother always told me, never talk about religion and politics if you wish not to offend someone. I, of course, adopted a very different professional track, electing to talk about religion AND politics with all kinds of people! This is what happens when you choose to focus on terrorism, and more narrowly religious terrorism (and even more narrowly Islamist terrorism).

When it comes to modern religious terrorism it is quite clear that extremists who happen to adhere to one faith really hate those who don’t. Whether it is Islamist terrorists who loath just about everyone (including the vast majority of Muslims), or Buddhist extremists (NOT an oxymoron surprisingly!) in Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka or Hindu extremists or Jewish extremists or….we have lots of examples of ‘people of god’ acting very irreligiously.

Plenty of blame to go around

Today’s featured terrorist attack takes us down a twisted path, this time in Indonesia. In our era, Indonesia is by far the world’s largest Muslim nation (some 210 million believers). It was not always thus. Prior to the ‘advent’ of Islam the area was solidly Hindu and then Buddhist.

But when we think of Indonesia and terrorism we go immediately to groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and other modern day Islamist extremist organisations. These have carried out many spectacular attacks such as the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people.

Islamist terrorists seem to have a litany of grievances at their beck and call. It is all the ‘West’s’ fault. It’s all the fault of impious Muslims. It’s all the fault of Hindus/Sikhs/Jews/Buddhists/Yazidis/Ahmadis… There is plenty of blame to go around.

Evenso, the attack that took place on January 21, 1985 is weird. Islamist terrorists placed 11 bombs near the 8th century Borobudur Buddhist temple in Central Java, the oldest such structure in the world. The explosion destroyed nine of the temple’s 72 bell-shaped stupas or pagodas, tower-like structures containing relics of the historic Buddha. Five suspects were arrested shortly after.

Buddhism had nothing to do with the ‘massacre’

Here is the strange angle. There was speculation that the terrorists struck the temple in retribution for the 1984 Tanjung Priok ‘massacre’ when Indonesian law enforcement killed at least 33 people following a confrontation in a mosque. Authorities were upset at a Muslim cleric’s criticism of pancasila – Indonesia’s post-WWII national ‘philosophy (there are five principles: Indonesian nationalism; internationalism/humanism; consent/democracy; social prosperity; and belief in one God).

Most Islamist extremists are a narrowly humourless lot so it comes as no surprise that they don’t like pancasila. So, in response to a government action they attack a BUDDHIST TEMPLE despite the fact that Buddhism had nothing to do with the ‘massacre’??

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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