The real life adventures of former al-Qaida-linked militant Nasir Abas have become a new comic book in Indonesia, chronicling his transformation from foe to invaluable ally in the fight against terrorism. The story of the soft-spoken, seemingly mild-mannered 42-year-old — recognized by strangers on the streets and even asked for the occasional autograph — is well-known in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Abas went from helping train Muslim extremists who carried out some of Southeast Asia’s deadliest attacks to informing police about the inner-workings of the Jemaah Islamiyah network. He’s also joined a government program to convince convicted terrorists that killing unarmed civilians in the name of their faith is wrong.
“I want children to learn from my experience,” Abas said of the colorful 137-page comic book I Found the Meaning of Jihad, which will appear in bookstores and be handed out at some schools and libraries. “I don’t want them to make the same mistakes.”
Indonesia, hit by a string of suicide bombings that has killed more than 260 people since Sept. 11, 2001, has been widely praised for its anti-terror fight. The government, partly through the use of paid informants and former militants working to persuade hard-liners to change sides, has rounded 680 suspects, trying and convicting many of them in open courts. Abas, a Malaysian national who now lives in Jakarta with his family, has been one of its biggest success stories.
Kids at an elementary school squealed when shown a copy of the book by nonprofit publisher Lazuardi Birru and called out to their friends, who eagerly huddled around and flipped through the lively, glossy pages. More than 10,000 copies have been printed so far. The comic traces Abas’ early days at an Islamic boarding school to his recruitment as a fighter against Western oppression in Afghanistan in the late 1980s.
Security experts say it’s good to find creative ways to battle hateful ideologies spread by al-Qaida and other extremist groups, as long as it’s part of a comprehensive counter-radicalization strategy. “We know young people are often targeted for recruitment by jihadist groups,” said Kumar Ramakrishna, a terrorism expert in Singapore. “So reaching out in innovative ways, such as through pop music and comics … is certainly a very good idea in my view.”