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Apocalyptic Thought, Conspiracism and Jihad in Indonesia.

On 13 May 2018, Dita Oepriarto, his wife, and their four children, killed themselves in three suicide bombings targeting churches in Surabaya, Indonesia's second biggest city. Dita's two sons, aged 16 and 18, exploded the first bomb while riding up to a Catholic church on a motorcycle. Shortly afterwards, his wife and their nine and 12-year-old daughters, detonated bombs strapped to their bodies at a Protestant church, badly injuring but not killing members of the congregation. A few minutes later, Dita drove his car into a carpark belonging to a Pentacostal church and triggered a bomb in his vehicle, killing three people. Apart from the six family members, another three people died in the attacks and dozens more were injured. Dita was the head of the Surabaya branch of Jamaah Ansharul Daulah (JAD), the main pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Indonesia. The next day, another family from the same JAD group blew themselves up in an attack on the city's police headquarters, killing ten people. The family's eight-year-old girl was injured in the attack but survived. The bombings shocked Indonesia, including most of its jihadi community, because of the involvement of child suicide bombers, the first such incident in Southeast Asia.

Initially, investigators suspected that the "Surabaya bombings" were a response to either events in Syria or to a riot by terrorist detainees in a police jail in Jakarta the week before, which had led numerous jihadis to attack police in support of the rioters. However, these were soon discounted as major factors given that the Surabaya JAD families had made little mention of ISIS's problems in Syria or the Jakarta jail riot in the months preceding their attacks.

It soon emerged that the critical factor triggering the bombings was eschatological (the study of the end of time, derived from the Greek word, eschaton or "end"): Dita and his colleagues had become convinced the world would soon end and that if their families did not martyr themselves, they might be damned to eternal hellfire. They had been avidly consuming prophesies on various jihadist websites about the imminent collision of a meteor with Earth, which would set off a string of calamitous events, followed by the appearance of the Mahdi (Redeemer) who would ensure those who had undertaken jihad would enter heaven with all their sins expunged. The families were certain that carrying out their bombings against perceived foes of Islam--Christians and the police--would guarantee their salvation. (1)

This terrorist attack was the most extreme manifestation of apocalyptic thinking among Indonesian jihadis. Many Indonesian jihadis, like their counterparts elsewhere, are inclined not only to see the world as rilled with brutal repression and aggression towards Muslims, but also to place these events in the context of the imminent end of the world. They see the plight of Muslims as part of a linear historical process that will lead to cataclysm and finally, the Day of Judgement. For them, history has a purpose; it is not cyclical or random, but rather is in the hands of God who controls all and has a grand design for the playing out of human events. It is the ultimate cosmic battle between good and evil. On the side of good are Muslims who hold true to their faith, such as jihadis fighting in the path of God; on the side of evil are infidels and those nominal Muslims who have failed the test of faith. Pious Muslims go to heaven; infidels and deviant Muslims go to hell.

This article examines apocalyptic discourses in Indonesia, with special reference to jihadism. To date, there has been no scholarly study of Indonesian apocalypticism, though there is an increasingly rich literature on eschatology and Islamism in other parts of the world. In particular, the emergence of ISIS in late 2013, with its extensive use of End of Time narratives to attract recruits, has led to detailed studies of its use of apocalyptic symbols and messaging, as well as the impact which these have on its followers. (2)

This article focuses on the two largest segments of Indonesian apocalypticism: the populist and the salafi-jihadi. The populist forms dominate the market with book sales exceeding tens of thousands per year. This literature is sensationalist and often driven by elaborate conspiracy theories and attention-grabbing marketing strategies. The jihadi material, by contrast, tends to have serious theological and ideological content and is intended for Islamically educated readers. The former can be found on the shelves of mainstream bookstores across the nation, while the latter feature mainly on jihadist websites and in magazines read by committed Islamists.

A key question posed in this article is: What is the impact of apocalyptic literature upon the thinking and actions of its Indonesian readers? Populist or conspiracist End of Time writings are often dismissed as innocuous and low brow, and of little consequence to Muslim radicalization, whereas salafi-jihadi literature, as is evident from the Surabaya bombing case, can contribute to lethal outcomes. This article makes two arguments. First, that populist literature has insidious effects upon its readership and that Indonesian apocalypticists often have implicit ideological agendas. Second, that jihadi End of Time discourses can have both a restraining as well as a galvanizing influence upon those inclined towards extremist actions.

Islamic Eschatology

The details of Islamic eschatology are complex and open to a great variety of interpretations. Unlike Christianity's Book of Revelation, Islam has no single, agreed-upon eschatological text. There are brief references in the Qur'an to the Day of Judgement, but most of the prophesies regarding End of Times are drawn from the corpus of hadiths (reports of the Prophet Muhammad's words and deeds). The reliability and meaning of many of these hadiths are often subject to intensive debate among Islamic scholars, and it is not unusual for a report to be dismissed as apocryphal by one group of scholars but to be held as credible by another. Thus, there is great scope for developing different apocalyptic narratives amid this diverse eschatological material and indeed, Islam has a long and rich literature on the End of Times.

Nevertheless, the broad features of Islamic End of Times understandings can be summarized as follows: there will be a sequence of catastrophic human and natural events that will presage the arrival of the anti-Christ, Dajjal, who will eventually be killed by the Mahdi, guided by Jesus. The Earth will then be destroyed and final judgement delivered on whose souls will be saved and whose will be damned. As numerous scholars have pointed out, Islamic eschatology draws heavily upon Jewish and Christian traditions. (3)

The precise sequence of events and the actors involved are where dispute arises, but nonetheless there is reasonable consensus that the following is foretold. Dajjal's appearance on Earth is one of the signs of the coming of the last hours, the Day of Judgment. He is abominable in appearance--usually described as reddish, fat, blind in one eye but a right eye "bulging like a grape". More importantly, he is the great deceiver who tempts Muslims into straying from the true path. He appears to be offering a choice between heaven and hell in each of his hands, but his heaven is in fact hell, and his hell, heaven. As such, those of weak faith succumb to his blandishments and enter what they think is paradise but which turns out to be hell; those who reject him enter his hell which turns out to be paradise. This is Dajjal's cruel deceit; he is leading the forces of evil on Earth, not the forces of righteousness. Only those Muslims true and resolute can read the word "infidel" marked on Dajjal's brow and see him for what he is--a monstrous figure who will lead them to destruction and eternal damnation. (4)

The appearance of Dajjal and final judgement is preceded by "signs of the hour". These are often divided into small and great signs that are precursors to a terrifying and calamitous series of events which end in everyone being held accountable by God for their deeds. Smaller signs are supposed to warn mankind of the approaching End Time and prompt them to repent. These signs usually revolve around ethical and moral decline, in which piety is replaced by pride, and truth by lies. Then we have the great signs that are an extraordinary series of natural disturbances, such as the sun rising in the West, the moving of mountains, stars falling from the sky, boiling seas and the like. All these herald approach of the End Times. (5)

At a key point in these events, Dajjal or the anti-Christ emerges, supposedly from Khurasan in Central Asia, but proceeds throughout the world drawing Muslims to his side. When Dajjal appears to be on the brink of victory, Jesus (Isa) descends to Earth, kills Dajjal, breaks the cross and converts Christians to Islam. (Some scholarly dispute exists as to whether Jesus is Mahdi or whether Jesus and the Mahdi are separate.) The death of Dajjal leads to the Day of Judgement that brings peace and harmony, and Islam's final triumph. Only God can know the exact timing of this event, and Muslims are reminded that their actions on Earth are both prescribed and assessed by Him on the Final Day, leading either to eternal reward or endless punishment. (6)

Until the mid-twentieth century, most apocalyptic literature was produced by ulema or writers of some learning regarding Islamic tradition, especially hadith studies. This began to change in the 1960s as a new, more radical form of apocalypticism emerged in the Middle East, written more often than not by lay professional authors rather than erudite Islamic scholars. This wrought a dramatic shift in the nature of eschatological discourses.

The most influential figures in this new style of writing were the Egyptians Said Ayyub, Muhammad Izzat Arif and Muhammad Isa Da'ud--all former journalists. (7) Their writings were conspiratorial in tone and virulently anti-Semitic. They described complex Jewish plots to control the world, linking these directly with Dajjal. Islam was seen as permanently under attack by Jews and their allies who were either working for or controlled by Dajjal. Jews were cast as controlling the world through a range of alliances and networks that variously included the Freemasons, the Vatican, the United States government and a great many other complicit or compliant groups. Da'ud's work was particularly fanciful, incorporating Dajjal-related conspiracies involving the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, Hollywood and the Ninja Turtles as part of Jewish plotting. (8) It is this latter form of literature that spread to Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s, eventually giving rise to home-grown varieties of fantastic apocalypticism.

The two best analyses of this literature come from David Cook and Jean-Pierre Filiu. (9) Both offer penetrating analyses but have quite different conclusions about the material. They note that this new brand of apocalyptists draw heavily on Jewish and Christian messianic and millenarian concepts in a bid to forge compelling and novel narratives. They see this literature as symptomatic of despair and hopelessness in the Muslim world, but also empowering its readership because not only does it claim to foretell the restoration of Islamic supremacy, it also reveals "secrets" of why things are the way they are. Ryan Bisel and Debra Ford similarly regard apocalypticism as driven by anxiety, insecurity and the need for reassurance of order amid seeming chaos. (10) Cook assumes a sincerity on the part of the apocalyptists, whom he sees as people seized with a desperate sense of impending doom who prioritize warning Muslims of their dire position and what they should do. There is no time for careful scholarship or referencing. He also notes how such writers are totally uncritical in their assessment of information and find meaning everywhere to support their theories. Filiu is more doubtful, perceiving these writers and their publishers as exploitative and opportunistic, and prone to preying on and amplifying fears of their readers. He notes how authors resort to ever more sensational or outlandish theories once their sales start to flag. (11)

Salafi-Jihadi Apocalypticism

A more specifically terroristic strain of apocalyptic literature emerged in the early 1980s when a number of influential jihadi intellectuals began directly linking contemporary events to End of Time narratives and the obligation for holy war. Abdullah Azzam, a central figure in galvanizing international support for the mujahidin war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, enjoined Muslims to wage jihad in order to precipitate an end of world struggle. (12) Al-Qaeda also regularly used apocalyptic symbols and messages. Osama bin Laden's secret hideout was given the name of Khurasan, the location whence the Mahdi was prophesized to emerge with a black flag army, and the organization's literature featured regular references to various global events that had eschatological significance. Bin Laden's trusted Somali leader, Fadil Harun, stated: "The Islamic armies must gather, rely on God, and support His religion and their brothers in Jerusalem" until the "awaited Mahdi" appears "to lead an ideological struggle, which will continue until the [Final] hour". (13) Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, who wrote voluminously on al-Qaeda-related doctrine and strategy, wrote in excess of 100 pages on End Times, drawing on medieval prophesies to enjoin jihadists to focus on the Middle East where Islam's Final Battle would be fought. (14)

Although al-Qaeda's leaders incorporated apocalyptic material into their doctrine and propaganda, it never formed a central element in their thinking or in their appeals to the Muslim community. Filiu described al-Qaeda as being "impervious to apocalyptic temptation" (15) and James Fromson and Steven Simon observed the organization's media presented the apocalypse as "inevitable but not impending". (16) Indeed, al-Qaeda leaders sought to curb the leader of their Iraqi forces, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as he developed increasingly bleak and urgent apocalyptic scenarios, and they later warned Abu Ayyub al- Masri, Zarqawi's replacement, against basing strategic considerations on eschatological interpretations, fearing it would result in irrational decision making. Masri expedited his establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq in 2006 because he was convinced that the Mahdi would appear within a year, going so far as to order his followers to conquer Iraq within three months and build pulpits for the Redeemer's return. (17) Many al-Qaeda thinkers particularly objected to the more unrestrained millenarian literature, believing the prophesies to be dubious and that Muslims could not know the identity of the Mahdi prior to his appearance on Earth. (18)

However, it has been with ISIS that we find the most systematic and potent use of apocalyptic imagery in a jihadi setting. Indeed, the notion of a looming Final Hour has been a major pillar of ISIS's media and ideological campaign. In basing its struggle in Syria and Iraq, ISIS sees itself as fulfilling an eschatological prophecy that an Islamic State must be created in Sham (Greater Syria) for the End of Time to occur. (19) Sham is where Dajjal and the Mahdi will have their final confrontation. In addition to this, the Syria--Iraq conflict involves three groups of "infidels" who are deemed partisans of Dajjal against Islam: the Jews (represented by Israel); the Romawi (the Christian West); and the Shi'a (referring to the Alawite Assad regime and its Iranian backers). A key argument of ISIS is that Muslims can help to accelerate the realization of God's plan for the Day of Judgement by fighting to defend and expand the Islamic State. Many of the tens of thousands of fighters who flocked to ISIS's black banners did so at least in part from a conviction that the Islamic State represented a critical element in movement to Judgement Day and that waging jihad would ensure their salvation.

ISIS's extensive media networks made potent use of apocalyptic symbolism. Its main online journal was Dabiq, named after a small village north of Aleppo, Syria, where, according to one hadith, the Final Battle between Muslims and their enemies will take place. (20) Since mid-2016, Dabiq has been renamed Rumiyah (Rome), a term drawn from classical prophesies which are now taken to mean the infidel West led by the United States and its allies. Entire issues of Dabiq have been devoted to apocalyptic narratives and imagery, describing how contemporary events fit those prophesized as presaging history's end. Every ISIS victory, every Western or Shia attack is placed within an apocalyptic framework.

ISIS's techniques conform to many of the characteristics identified by Richard Landes in his insightful analysis of apocalyptic messaging. He writes of the perception of "temporal compression" in which prophesized events that precede the end of history are conveyed as either imminent or already taking place. (21) Such narratives can take on a viral quality due to the sheer volume of social media traffic that ISIS can generate, a practice Charlie Winter calls "swarmcasts". (22) For avid readers, these narratives can replace the old quotidian and oppressive realities with a new, transformative sensibility. Such a state of mind opens new and energizing possibilities for action, including engaging in holy war. In a similar vein, J.M. Berger likens ISIS information campaigns to a quickening metronome, to which readers feel pressured to respond. He notes that many prospective jihadis become immersed in what might be called "apocalyptic time", in which the clock is ticking and commitments must be made before the individual is overtaken by events and caught on the wrong side of the final battle. (23)

The past three decades of salafi-jihadi apocalypticism are arguably the first time in Islamic history that eschatological thinking has had a major impact on theology and politics of the global Muslim community, shaping in a substantive way the rise of more extreme forms of jihad. Filiu contends that America's invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the massive bloodshed and destruction that ensued, stoked apocalyptic visions of a world in crisis and disarray. (24) Certainly, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as the emergence of the Islamic State, have provided vivid material for apocalyptists from across the Muslim world. The next section examines eschatological discourses in Indonesia.

Indonesian Apocalypticism

Indonesian apocalyptic literature is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only in the past 15 years that large numbers of books on the subject have been published. A search of catalogues and publisher webpages suggest that at least 50 and perhaps as many as 100 apocalyptic books have appeared since the early 2000s and that sales are likely to exceed 100,000 copies. A number of specialist publishers, some of which have close connections to the jihadi community, have emerged and found considerable success, both with works written by Indonesian authors as well as with translations of books by foreign writers. These publications have been distributed though mainstream bookstores, including the major Christian-owned chains such as Gramedia and Gunung Agung. The best-selling apocalyptic works claim to have sold tens of thousands of copies. (25) As a result, public awareness of End Time prophesies and theories is probably at unprecedented levels. Despite this, the 2012 Pew survey of global Muslim nations showed Indonesia to have one of the least apocalyptic cultures. Only 23 per cent of Indonesian respondents believed that the Mahdi's return was imminent, compared to Malaysia (62 per cent) and in the Muslim world as a whole, where more than half of those polled believed they would see the Mahdi in their lifetimes. (26)

Several reasons account for the rise in apocalyptic literature. To begin with, End of Time writings formed part of the boom in Islamist publishing that accompanied the fall of President Suharto's authoritarian New Order regime in 1998. For much of his 32 years in power, Suharto tightly controlled Islamist discourses and movements, fearing the potential of Islam to be a rival source of authority to his military-based and secularly-inclined regime. In the post-1998 transition to democracy, restrictions on Islamist expression and publications were lifted, leading to a proliferation in Islamist publishing. Secondly, the recurring upheavals in Indonesia and the broader Muslim world from the late 1990s were conducive to apocalypticism. In 1997-98, Indonesia was rocked by the Asian Financial Crisis and experienced an economic depression, which threw millions out of work and bankrupted tens of thousands of companies, leading to widespread political and social upheaval. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the early 2000s, the continuing Israel--Palestine conflict and the impact of terrorist attacks, such as those on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 and the Bali bombing of 2002, added to the sense of turmoil and as well as to perceptions that Islam was under siege and subject to international vilification. A string of natural disasters, from the catastrophic Aceh tsunami in 2004 to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions between 2006 and 2010, contributed to the sense of natural disorder. Last of all, Islamist authors and publishers followed closely trends in the Middle East and noted the popularity of apocalyptic literature there. They sought to test the market in Indonesia for such works and found a receptive readership. Translations of popular Arabic-language works were often promoted as "best-sellers" in the Middle East, as publishers cashed in on the growing interest among Indonesian Islamists in Arab world discourses and developments. Muhammad Isa Da'ud's book on the Anti-Christ being in the Bermuda Triangle, for example, was translated and published by several presses in Indonesia as Dajjal di Segitiga Bermuda [The Anti-Christ is in the Bermuda Triangle]. Moreover, works by Indonesian apocalyptists mimicked much of the content and presentational style of Middle-Eastern publications, with graphic, often lurid cover designs depicting bloodshed and destruction or images of Islamic fighters on horseback charging into battle with black banners and guns blazing. In effect, this amounted to genre replication. (27)

Of the three streams of apocalyptic works mentioned above--that is, classical, populist and salafi--jihadist--the two most commonly represented in Indonesia were the latter two. The following section examines some of the more widely read populist material, most of which is in print form, before moving on to analyse the more specifically jihadist discourses to be found mainly online and in Islamist magazines.

Abu Fatiah al-Adnani

Indonesia's most prolific and popular apocalyptist is Abu Fatiah al-Adnani, who combines savvy entrepreneurship with a serious, but largely concealed, commitment to jihadi ideology. His writings on End of Times are usually deeply ambiguous, and his advice to readers on how to face the looming cataclysm borders on anodyne. But he has repeatedly captured public attention with his writings and succeeded in bringing awareness of apocalyptic prophesies to a wide audience.

Fatiah was born in Jakarta in 1975, and was raised in a strongly Islamist environment. Most of his education was at the al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Ngruki, Central Java, which was established, and for many years led, by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the founding emirs of the salafi-jihadi organization, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Al-Mukmin has produced more jihadis than any other school in Indonesia, with many of its graduates going on to be JI operatives involved in terrorist attacks. After completing his studies at al-Mukmin, Fatiah became a teacher at the Darusy-Syahadah Islamic boarding school in Boyolali, Central Java, another nursery of future jihadis and terrorists. According to several confidential sources, Fatiah is a well-regarded scholar of jihadi doctrine and an influential figure in JI circles, particularly in Central Java. Whatever his involvement in the organization, he appears never to have been detained by police on suspicion of terrorist activities, and none of his publicly available writings or comments in interviews give any overt indication of a militant jihadi orientation.

Fatiah is the manager of Granada Mediatama, which is an imprint of the Pustaka Arafah group, one of the largest Islamist publishing houses in Java. (28) He has published more than 40 books through Granada and Arafah, averaging, until recently, about one every six months. Nearly all have gone into multiple print runs. His biggest seller has been The Anti-Christ Has Emerged from Khurasan (Dajjal Sudah Muncul Dari Khurasan), (29) which was reprinted at least twenty times and, according to Granada, has sold more than 40,000 copies. Some of his other titles include We are in the End Time (Kita Berada di Akhir Zaman) (30) The Anti-Christ's Henchmen Dominate Indonesia (Kaki Tangan Dajjal Mencengkram Indonesia), (31) and Prophesies about the End Time Wars (Nubuwat Perang Akhir Zaman). (31) He has also been responsible for two large encyclopedias on the End of Times, which have sold well despite their bulk and relatively expensive price. (33) Within the Islamist publishing community, Granada Mediatama is regarded as one of the more financially successful presses.

It is useful to examine The Anti-Christ Has Emerged from Khurasan as an example of this genre of populist apocalyptism in an Indonesian context. Fatiah writes in the sensationalist mould of Egyptian writers such as Muhammad Isa Da'ud. The central assertion of the book is that the late Indian guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, was Dajjal. Sai Baba was a highly popular but also controversial figure, who built a massive preaching and educational empire and claims to have had more than 50 million followers worldwide. He faced serious and repeated allegations of financial misdealings, sexual harassment of followers and concocted health cures. (34) He died in 2011, five years after the first edition of The Anti-Christ appeared.

Fatiah accused Sai Baba of joining with Jews in a massive conspiracy to control the world and attack Islam, including in Indonesia. The text is laden with a mish-mash of fanciful and vaguely described plots, many of which are little more than insinuation and fevered speculation. For example, Fatiah alleges Sai Baba runs an "ideological network" in Indonesia which, inter alia, comprises yoga and theosophy associations, Falun Gong and Tai Chi groups, bio-energy power companies, soothsayer communities, Sufi brotherhoods, the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL), as well as the Shi'a and Ahmadiyah minority sects within Islam. Most of these groups feature prominently in works by Indonesian Islamists as inimical to the faith. Despite giving the book a title that states categorically that Dajjal is on Earth, Fatiah resorts to a technique common among professional apocalyptists and qualifies his assertion:
Sai Baba has about 90 per cent of the qualities and character of
Dajjal... However, the question that we cannot yet answer is: how and
when can we confirm that Sai Baba is Dajjal? We have to await the
arrival of the Mahdi. If Sai Baba lives until the Mahdi appears, then
one eye will be blinded by God and "infidel" will be written across his
brow. Then he will emerge from Khurasan with 70,000 Jewish soldiers...
and lay siege to Medina. At that point we can confirm that Sai Baba is
the promised Dajjal. (35)

In this way, Fatiah provides himself with a loophole by allowing for the possibility that Sai Baba is not the Anti-Christ. Indeed, Fatiah made no mention of Sai Baba's 2011 death either in later editions of The Anti-Christ or in any of his many subsequent books on Dajjal. The failure to account for wrongful analysis is not unusual in such literature and it points to the ephemeral nature of much apocalypticism. These are works intended for fleeting, often uncritical, consumption and few who read them would carefully scrutinize the text or assess the reliability of an author's theories on End Time. The quality of the writing is poor and the editing execrable, giving every sign of a text produced in great haste with the expectation it will probably also be read in haste.

How does Fatiah propose his readers respond to the looming catastrophe? In nearly all of his works, his main advice is two-fold: be more pious; and deepen one's knowledge of eschatology so that the signs can be discerned and correctly interpreted. He enjoins study of the Qur'an, strict adherence to Islamic ritual and becoming well informed about events across the world that may signal how imminent the end is.

It is easy to dismiss Fatiah as a calculating opportunist cranking out apocalyptic writings to a gullible audience for quick profit and fame. While his works have enjoyed considerable commercial success and probably have made him quite wealthy, financial gain and an elevated profile in Islamist circles would seem only part of the motivation for his activities. There is most certainly an ideological element as well. When asked by the Islamist magazine Suara Hidayatullah why he had written so extensively on End Time, he replied that he wanted to bring optimism to the Muslim community so that it would not give up hope in fighting Islam's enemies, such as the United States. It was important, he said, for Muslims to know the signs leading to the final battle so that they could be ready and ensure their salvation. He admitted that he had been fascinated with apocalyptic literature and prophesies since he was in secondary school and regarded it as "virtuous" (fadilah) to spread knowledge of them to his co-religionists. When asked for his views on ISIS and whether Muslims should go to Syria, he responded cautiously, stating that the Prophet Muhammad spoke of thaifah manshurah, "a group of soldiers, ulama and experts", who defend the true faith and eventually kill Dajjal. But he refuses to identify ISIS or any other jihadi group as thaifah manshurah, stating that he can only set out the general characteristics of such a group. (36) With such comments, Fatiah appears to be pursuing a shrewd strategy. On the one hand, he propounds shocking theories of global conspiracies against Muslims, and identifies foes who are, or work with, the Anti-Christ. On the other hand, he never advocates violence nor affiliation with particular jihadi groups, so there would be no obvious grounds on which the state might take action against him. In this way, he has avoided controversy and ensured his publications gain mass distribution in mainstream bookshops.

Despite his coyness on jihad, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Fatiah and other Indonesian authors in the populist mould see an ideological benefit in producing such work. Their accounts have a priming effect on readers, implanting a bleak Manichean, not to mention conspiratorial, view of the world, in which Islam's enemies are locked in battle with the faithful and will resort to any means to destroy it. While not explicitly urging people to take up arms, he nonetheless encourages his audience to believe in narratives that support jihadi responses. If a reader becomes convinced that the world is soon to end and that their salvation depends upon fighting perceived forces of evil, then the risk of engaging in extremism is elevated. Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger observe that apocalyptic fears often precede violence. (37)

Fatiah's work may have popular appeal but it appears not to have been widely read within jihadi circles. Indeed, some senior jihadi intellectuals look down upon his writings as superficial and fanciful, with one former senior JI ulema, Abu Rusydan, describing such works as "not contributing to proper understanding of the world and jihad". (38)

Amin Muhammad Jamaludin

The preference within Indonesian jihadi groups is for the less sensationalist literature from the Middle East. One particular work--Amin Muhammad Jamaludin's Tumult of the End of Time (Huru Hara Akhir Zaman)--had a particularly big impact. (39) Jamaludin is a graduate from al-Azhar University in Cairo, and his book first appeared in Arabic in 2001 before being translated and published by the Islamist Aqwam press in 2003. Such was the demand for the work that Aqwam reprinted it ten times within two years. Tumult was widely read and discussed among jihadis and helped shape perceptions during the later 2000s about interpreting events in the Middle East.

Jamaludin portrays events in the Middle East in the late 1990s and early 2000s as signifying the pending End of Time. The Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent emergence of the Taliban with Western support, Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait followed by the Kuwaiti Sultan's invitation to the United States and its allies to reclaim his land, the Soviet Union's 1989 defeat in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq are linked to Qur'anic verses and especially hadith prophesying the approach of the Mahdi. Particular significance was attached to the Taliban, who were seen as bearers of the black flags of God who emerge from Khurasan--a sign that the Redeemer's presence is at hand. Jamaludin states that these rapidly unfolding events require an urgent response from Muslims. Apart from preparing oneself spiritually, he is vague in recommending action. There is no reference to preparing for holy war or taking up arms, and instead Muslims are enjoined to protect themselves from Dajjal and monitor signs that the End Times are upon the world. The reason why Jamaludin's work became influential has much to do with its tone. There is none of the bizarre theories found in populist apocalyptism but rather concrete events are closely tied to scripture and hadith, giving an impression of scholarly rigour.

Indonesian Salafi--jihadi End Time Discourses

Interest in eschatology was high in Indonesia's jihadi communities throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, spurred in part by works such as Jamaludin's. Within JI, Indonesia's largest jihadi organization in the late 1990s and early 2000s, members discussed how to interpret global and local events and one of the frames used was eschatological. JI preachers also often incorporated references to Dajjal and the Final Battle in their sermons and teachings. One example of apocalyptic writing within the JI community is that of Imam Samudra, who commanded the JI team responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people. (40) He described Dajjal and the choice facing Muslims in the following terms:
At the End of Time, according to the explanation of several reliable
hadiths, Dajjal will appear, an evil creature who will divide the world
and its inhabitants. On the forehead of this creature is written the
letters "infidel" which is only able to be read by Muslims. This cursed
one-eyed Dajjal bears in his right hand something that appears to be
hell and in his left hand something that appears to be heaven. Most
humans will be trapped with choosing the accursed Dajjal's left hand
which means the pseudo "Heaven". But the Muslims will later choose
Dajjal's "right" side, that is Dajjal's "Hell".
Those who choose Dajjal's Heaven in this world will experience
everlasting Hell. And Muslims who have already chosen "Dajjal's Hell"
in this world, will be savoured in Heaven in future, eternal. Choosing
Dajjal's "Heaven" means opposing God's Law, opposing those fighting in
God's path, means bowing and submitting to infidels, un-Godliness and
arbitrariness, means defending iniquity and means waging war in the
path of the thoghut (un-Islamic leaders).
In present times, Dajjal, in fact, is already a reality among us....
[and] humans flounder around unknowingly, almost unable to
differentiate between what is right and what is unjust. What is good
becomes evil, that which is evil becomes good, and only a fraction of
mankind understands. People who are nervous about their faith will
suffer in Dajjal's "Heaven". They will sink in their temporary worldly
pleasures which will only satisfy their lust rather than their passion
for God. Humans have become the slaves of Dajjal, by gulping in the
deviant "virtual heaven".
God, I will seek protection from You rather than the chaos of the
treacherous Dajjal. (41)

Despite its interest in matters eschatological, JI's leadership never gave End Time considerations primacy in their thinking. They did not dispute the importance of eschatology and regarded it as a valid subject for study, but were cautious about trying to fit inexact prophesies to contemporary events in a bid to show that the End of Times was nigh. In this regard, JI contrasted with the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI), which was founded in 2000 by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir while he was still JI's emir. Ba'asyir and other MMI leaders formed a committee in 2005 with the purpose of welcoming the Mahdi's descent to Earth, so convinced had they become that a string of natural disasters and rare astronomical events in 2005 presaged the approaching apocalypse. (42)

JI's wariness of allowing End Time thinking to determine strategic decisions was heightened by the emergence of ISIS in 2013, and especially the declaration of the caliphate in 2014. JI remained aligned to al-Qaeda and its Syria-based affiliates such as Jabhat al-Nusra. In response to ISIS's heavy promotion of apocalyptic narratives and calls for Muslims to fight in Sham, JI openly began to express doubts. For example, its magazine, an-Najah, carried the following cautionary advice:
Are there already signs of the end of time? That is the question asked
by some Muslims worried by the developments they see in the Middle
East. Especially the great sectarian war between [Sunni] Muslims and
the Shia in Syria. This is Sham where it's promised [by the Prophet
Muhammad] that the final jihad that determines the fate of humans takes
place. If true, then the faithful should be happy. This is evidence of
the end time prophesy. This is the start of the Muslim community's
great victory.
However, there is another question which is no less concerning. Is it
really the [final] moment? Facts indicate that although the location
fits, the conflict phase is not yet in keeping with the prophesy about
the last battle {malhamah kubro). The involvement of the West (Rum)
hasn't happened. Dajjal has also not yet appeared. Excessive euphoric
spirit has to be contained. What we need is rational awareness that
jihad is a personal obligation to retake Muslim lands that are
controlled by infidels. Rationality is important if we are not to be
too hasty in celebrating an outcome. (43)

JI's emphasis on rational examination of events and sober comparison with Islamic prophesies mirrors similar concerns long held within the al-Qaeda leadership, that unquestioning subscription to apocalyptic interpretations could lead jihadis into misjudgement and rash actions. JI leaders still believed that the final battle could take place in their lifetimes but they were chary of being stampeded into precipitate action by false signs. As always, the challenge was to know if one was interpreting events correctly.

With JI and other al-Qaeda-aligned jihadi groups showing circumspection on apocalyptic interpretations, much of the militant focus on End Times in Indonesia is now sourced to proTSIS groups, such as JAD and Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), another jihadist organization founded and led by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. Pro-ISIS websites such as Millah Ibrahim, Shoutusalam and al-Mustaqal carried content on Sham and the End Time, including Indonesian-language translations of Dabiq. After these sites were closed by the Indonesian government in 2015, similar kinds of material appeared on social media and Telegram chat groups. The impact of apocalyptic messaging for ISIS recruitment was significant. A desire to fight in Sham and to take part in the final events of history was a common factor in the decision of Indonesian jihadists to travel to Syria and Iraq rather than wage jihad in their own country. Many saw Indonesia-based struggle as peripheral to the central battle that Muslims were waging in the Middle East. This explained why well over 1,000 Indonesians undertook the risky journey to join the Islamic State in Syria between late 2013 and 2017. (44) It may also explain why relatively few of the 590 Indonesian fighters who are thought to still be in Middle East have returned home. (45) Since 2015 it has become increasingly difficult for Indonesians to go to Syria and Iraq, not only because the Indonesian authorities are detecting and apprehending would-be ISIS recruits as they seek to depart, but also because border controls in countries such as Turkey have tightened considerably. This has forced pro-ISIS groups to focus their attention on operations in Indonesia. Despite the closing off of Sham and the rapidly dwindling size and power of the Islamic State, eschatological thinking is still shaping the actions of Indonesian jihadists. The May 2018 Surabaya bombings mentioned at the beginning of this article provide the most graphic example of this.

Dita and the Surabaya JAD families appeared preoccupied with the End of Times and became convinced that this would happen in 2018. According to IPAC analysis, what appears to have led them to expedite their plans for an attack was a belief, gained from Islamist websites, that a massive meteor would soon crash into Earth, signifying the eschaton. (46) One of the popular sources for this kind of thinking in Indonesia was a 2015 online article by Dujanah al Arkhabily entitled "The Chaos of a Crashing Meteor at the End of Time". (47) It asserts that prior to God's sending of the Mahdi to Earth, a meteor will appear from the East and crash into the planet, unleashing a massive cloud of dust which blankets the globe and also sparks forest fires, simultaneous volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. These will be followed by epidemics, drought, starvation and the breaking down of society and states. A parallel is drawn with the devastation caused by Krakatoa's massive eruption in 1883, but the writer warns the meteor-triggered catastrophe will far exceed this. When the Mahdi descends, he will uphold the pillars of the Islamic State and rule as the Commander of Muslims across the world. False and errant Muslims will follow Dajjal but they will die; only the pious Muslims who give allegiance to the Mahdi will survive. In support of the prophesy, al Arkhabily cites the 44th chapter of the Qur'an, Dukhan (commonly translated as "Smoke" or "Visible Smoke"), which foretells a cloud of smoke enveloping mankind as a "painful punishment" to those who have turned their backs on God. He also quotes Companions of the Prophet who wrote of the Mahdi's coming being linked to a calamitous astronomical event.

The Surabaya JAD families would have preferred to travel to Sham as that was where the Mahdi would appear, but they knew that it was now almost impossible to reach Syria from Indonesia. Hence they resolved it was better to die as martyrs in Indonesia before the meteor struck and the dukhan enveloped the world. This accords with Berger's concept of "apocalyptic time": if the families waited too long, events may overtake them and their chance of entering heaven would be forever denied. As a result, the families spent some six months making more than 150 bombs which they would eventually use in their attacks on the churches and police station. (48) Although such extreme apocalyptic thinking countenancing the martyring of children is rare within JAD, the Surabaya bombing demonstrated the continuing potency of End of Time narratives for some sections of the jihadist community.


In the preceding discussion of Indonesian apocalypticism, the distinction has been drawn between populist and jihadi literature. The former appears more benign and diverting, and more commercially driven, with its rampant conspiracy narratives and garish marketing capped off with assurances of Islam's final triumph; the latter seems more malevolent and earnestly ideological, with at least semi-scholarly discussion about the possible alignment between classical prophesies and current events, and injunctions to prepare for, or engage in, conflict to defend Islam. A somewhat similar distinction has been made by Bisel and Ford who categorized apocalyptic discourses as having either a "comfort function" or a "pathogenic function". (49) They described most eschatological literature as "comforting" in that it eased the sense of anxiety and insecurity in religious communities at perceived injustice and chaos around them, and promised eventual moral order and bliss. By contrast, pathogenic texts and messaging, though rarer, literally cause "disease" in the form of a willingness to enact life-threatening violence, either towards a perceived enemy or oneself. (50)

Such categorizations are useful in allowing generalizations regarding a broad and complex literature but they also have their shortcomings. What is the relationship between the two categories? Is it really the case that most readers of populist texts derive psychological succour and perhaps some titillating entertainment, but do not experience marked changes in their outlook or behaviour? Such an interpretation underestimates the more insidious messaging contained in populist apocalyptic works, which implant paranoic and Manichean views of how the world works. The notion that Islam is locked in a continuing cosmic struggle with its non-Muslim enemies for whom no perfidious plot or act of barbarity is beyond resort can have multiple negative consequences. To begin with, it feeds sectarian sentiment and intolerance, which in turn undermines support for civic values in a democracy such as Indonesia. More seriously, as argued in the discussion of Fatiah's conspiracism, such dire views of global events can have a priming effect, inclining the reader to believe that extreme threats require extreme responses. There is always the risk that audiences susceptible to radicalization can, through their consumption of End of Time narratives, get caught in what Landes calls the "apocalyptic vortex", becoming convinced that Judgement Day is near. Dita Oepriarto and his JAD Surabaya colleagues stand as a graphic example of this "vortex", but so, also, do the many dozens, if not hundreds, of Indonesian jihadists who travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, convinced that they were likely to partake in the Final Battle by the Mahdi's side. Berger has observed that religious groups which are inclined to believe in apocalyptic narratives are likely to be more extreme than those that do not, because they see themselves as involved in the ultimate cosmological battle between good and evil, and faith and unbelief. He argues that the adoption of apocalyptic views often precedes perpetration of terroristic violence. (51)

Kevin McDonald, in his recent study Radicalization also points to the significance of End of Time narratives in convincing some Muslims to commit extremist activities. Having studied the social media conversations of ISIS recruits, he finds that consumption of apocalyptic, and especially conspiratorial, materials fractures their perception of reality. One of his case studies wrote: "It is so good to be able to discover the truth and to discover the things that are hidden. Above all it offers a concrete response to this unease." (52) He finds that the apocalypticism overwhelms its audiences with the enormity of these supposedly hidden truths, and destabilizes their everyday life. Everything "normal" become trifling compared to these End of Time revelations. He notes how the young jihadis feel comforted and liberated because they believe they now know the "truth", but are also deeply unsettled and disturbed by it. The only way one can escape this dangerous predicament is to radically break with one's past and reset one's future by undertaking jihad. (53)

The analyses of Landes, Berger and McDonald draw heavily on social cognition and perceptions of events as having religious import. Another intriguing theory is advanced by Michael Andregg, who suggests that the prevalence of End of Time thinking in Islam and other major religions can be explained by behaviour genetics and the "selfish gene" hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that humans innately believe that "they alone are at the centre of both the universe and God's love". Such tendencies support narratives that one's own community is "chosen" and will eventually rule the earth, vanquishing all others. (54)

Similarly, jihadist apocalypticism is far from monolithic. With ISIS we find the most sophisticated, aggressive and hortatory use of eschatological concepts and images to attract support and recruits. By contrast, JI approaches End of Time analysis with cautious scepticism, wanting to be certain that history is nearing its final stages before adjusting strategies devised for pre-apocalyptic conditions. It is possible that JI's warnings against over-enthusiastic acceptance of conspiracies and unfolding prophesies has deterred some jihadists against joining ISIS's cause, in which case sober apocalypticism may counteract the more fevered eschatological expressions.

GREG FEALY is Associate Professor of Indonesian politics in the Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. Postal address: Department of Political and Social Change, Hedley Bull Centre, 130 Garran Road, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia; email:

DOI: 10.1355/cs41-1d


(1) Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, "The Surabaya Bombings and the Future of ISIS in Indonesia", IPAC Report 51 (19 October 2018), p. 6.

(2) See, for example, William McCants, ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (New York City, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015), and J.M. Berger, "The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time: Social Media as Carrier Wave for Millenarian Contagion", Perspectives on Terrorism 9, no. 4 (August 2015): 61-71.

(3) Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2011), pp. x-xi.

(4) Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection (New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 67-69; David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (New York City, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2005), pp. 8-10.

(5) Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection (New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 66.

(6) Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, op. cit., pp. 8-9.

(7) See, for example, Said Ayyub, Al-Masih al-Dajjal (Cairo, Egypt: Al-Fath lil-Aalam al-Arabi, 1987), and Muhammad Isa Dawud, Indharu: al-Masih al-Dajjal Yaghzu al-'alam mm Muthallith Rermuda (Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Bashir, 1994).

(8) Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit., pp. 86-95; Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, op. cit., pp. 16-26.

(9) Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit.; and Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, op. cit.

(10) Ryan S. Bisel and Debra J. Ford, "Diagnosing Pathogenic Eschatology", Communication Studies 59, no. 4 (November 2008): 340-54.

(11) Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, op. cit., pp. 30-33; Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit., pp. 198-99.

(12) Jessica Stem and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (New York City, New York: Harper Collins, 2015), p. 220.

(13) McCants, ISIS Apocalypse, op. cit, p. 29.

(14) Ibid.; Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit., pp. 188-89.

(15) Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit., p. 186.

(16) James Fromson and Steven Simon, "ISIS: The Dubious Paradise of Apocalypse Now", Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 57, no. 3 (May 2015): 19.

(17) McCants, ISIS Apocalypse, op. cit., pp. 32, 41.

(18) Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit, p. 186.

(19) Stem and Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, op. cit., pp. 220-28.

(20) Philip Scott Segrest, "ISIS's Will to Apocalypse", Politics, Religion and Ideology 17, no. 4 (December 2016): 354.

(21) Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millenial Experience (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(22) Charlie Winter, "Apocalypse, Later: A Longitudinal Study of the Islamic State Brand", Critical Studies in Media Communication 35, no. 1 (January 2018): 105.

(23) Berger, "The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time", op. cit., pp. 61-71.

(24) Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam, op. cit., p. xx.

(25) See Granada Mediatama website, available at <>.

(26) Pew Research Center, "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity", August 2012, p. 5, available at <>; Stern and Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, op. cit.

(27) It should be noted that there is a rich millenarian tradition in pre-colonial and colonial Indonesia, which often resulted in social unrest and sometimes rebellions. Even Darul Islam, Indonesia's earliest post-independence jihadist movement, had an almost cultic veneration of its leader, S.M. Kartosoewirjo, which included strong millenarian overtones. See, for example, Hoik Dengel, Darul Islam dan Kartosuwirjo: Langkah Perwujudan angan-angan yang gagal [Darul Islam and Kartosuwirjo: Failed Steps to Realize Ideals] (Jakarta, Indonesia: Sinar Harapan, 1995). These millenarian discourses vary from the Islamist apocalypticism discussed in this article as they are primarily parochial in focus.

(28) International Crisis Group, "Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah's Publishing Industry", Asia Report 147 (28 February 2008), available at <>.

(29) Abu Fatiah al-Adnani, Dajjal 'Sudah' Muncul dari Khurasan [The Anti-Christ has Emerged from Khurasan] (Solo, Indoensia: Granada Mediatama, 2006).

(30) Abu Fatiah al-Adnani, Kita Berada di Akhir Zaman [We are at the End of Time] (Solo, Indonesia: Granada Mediatama, 2009).

(31) Abu Fatiah al-Adnani, Kaki Tangan Dajjal Mengcengkram Indonesia [The Anti-Christ's Henchmen Dominate Indonesia] (Solo, Indonesia: Granada Mediatama, 2007).

(32) Abu Fatiah al-Adnani, Nubuwat Perang Akhir Zaman (al-Malhamah al-Kubra) [Prophesies about the End Time Wars] (Solo, Indonesia: Granada Mediatama, 2016).

(33) Abu Fatiah al-Adnani, Ensiklopedi Akhir Zaman [The End Times Encyclopedia] and Negeri-Negeri Akhir Zaman [States and the End of Time] (Solo, Indonesia: Granada Mediatama, 2015).

(34) See, for example, "Secret Swami", BBC News Documentary, broadcast, 11 June 2004.

(35) Abu Fatiah, Ensiklopedi Akhir Zaman, op. cit., p. 274.

(36) Suara Hidayatullah, edition 6/XXVII (October 2014): 52-57.

(37) Stern and Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, op. cit., pp. 225-26.

(38) Author interview with Abu Rusydan (Thoriquddin), Kudus, 24 June 2011.

(39) Amin Muhammad Jamaludin, Huru-Hara Akhir Zaman [Tumult at the End of Time] (Solo, Indonesia: Aqwam, 2003).

(40) Ironically, there is some doubt as to whether Imam Samudra was a JI member at the time of the Bali bombing, even though this was regarded as a JI operation. Samudra had been a Darul Islam member and was one of the few Indonesians trained in northern Pakistan in 1993 who refused to join the newly formed JI, deciding to return to Indonesia instead.

(41) Imam Samudra (Abdul Aziz), "Diary Imam Samudra", handwritten, unpublished document, Denpasar, 2003, p. 3.

(42) Kirsten E. Schulze and Joseph Chinyong Liow, "Making Jihadis, Waging Jihad: Transnational and Local Dimensions of the ISIS Phenomenon in Indonesia and Malaysia", Asian Security (5 February 2018), p. 3, available at <>; and Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, "Indonesians and the Syrian Conflict", IPAC Report 6 (30 January 2014), p. 2, available at <>.

(43) Ibnu, "Revolusi Arab dan Jihad Akhir Zaman" [The Arab Revolution and End of Time Jihad], an-Najah, Special Edition (25 August 2015).

(44) IPAC, "Indonesians and the Syrian Conflict", op. cit.

(45) Pradipta Pandu Mustika, "Jaringan Teroris Mulai Menyasar ke Timur Indonesia" [Terrorist Networks Begin to Target Eastern Indonesia], Kompas, 21 May 2018.

(46) Institute of Policy Analysis and Conflict, "The Surabaya Bombings and the Future of ISIS in Indonesia", IPAC Report 51 (19 October 2018), p. 6.

(47) Al Arkhabily, Dujanah, "Huru-Hara Saat Jatuhnya Meteor di Akhir Zaman" [Chaos When a Meteor Collides at the End of Time], 16 July 2015, available at <>.

(48) Institute of Policy Analysis and Conflict, "The Surabaya Bombings", op. cit., p. 6.

(49) Bisel and Ford, "Diagnosing Pathogenic Eschatology", op. cit., pp. 341-43. It should be noted that the pathogenic aspect of their study focuses on the Branch Davidian sect in the United States and not recent jihadist violence.

(50) Ibid.

(51) Berger, "The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time", op. cit., p. 63.

(52) Kevin McDonald, Radicalization (London, UK: Polity, 2018), p. 71.

(53) Ibid., pp. 175-77.

(54) Michael Andregg, "ISIS and Apocalypse: Some Comparisons with End Times Thinking Elsewhere and a Theory", Comparative Civilizations Review 75 (Fall 2016): 89-93.
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Author:Fealy, Greg
Publication:Contemporary Southeast Asia
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Date:Apr 1, 2019
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