At the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival earlier this month, I met one of Indonesia’s leading anti-terrorism campaigners. Noor Huda Ismail graduated from Pondok Pesantren Ngruki, the Islamic boarding school co-founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the alleged spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyaah terrorist group responsible for the Bali bombings. Ngruki graduates led the 2002 Bali bombings, and Ba’asyir also served time related to the attack, accused of failing to notify authorities about the impending assault.
Ismail’s mentor when he entered Ngruki as a 12 year old, Utomo Pamungkas, received a life sentence on terrorism charges. In Temanku, Teroris? (My Friend, the Terrorist?), the former Washington Post Southeast Asia correspondent writes about how their paths diverged as students and beyond. As reported in Asia Times, Ismail’s observations led him to start a foundation to help convicted terrorists reject political violence through, among others things, currency trading and shrimp farming.
Meeting such fascinating individuals, from Ismail to China’s Ma Jian and hearing what they have to say about their lives and works in an intimate, idyllic setting make the Ubud Festival one of the world’s best literary events.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.