Readers of this blog may ask: so what? Who cares? Well, for one, Mr. Abu Bakar Bashir is a spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah of Southeast Asia, a part of al-Qaeda's global network.
While Jamaah Islamiyah has been under pressure in recent years, thanks to the government's crackdown (JI was involved in ethno-religious conflicts and several bombings all over Indonesia), the arrest and the sentencing of Mr. Bashir to 15 years in prison is unprecedented. While the government did arrest, imprison and sentence many terrorists to death, it usually treads very carefully around religious figures such as Mr. Bashir.
This is not Mr. Bashir's first brush with law. In 2005, after years of intense U.S. pressure, the court handed Mr. Bashir 3 years in prison for his involvement in the notorious Bali Bombing of 2002, which subsequently was reduced and further commuted to around 2 years. The reason for such a short-term sentence was immediately clear. During his time in prison, he was visited by various dignitaries, including then Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz. When he was released, he received a hero's welcoming. Basically, the judiciary was bulled and under heavy pressure to give him as light a sentence as possible.
This time, Mr. Bashir was arrested and sentenced under the accusation of "raising funds for a paramilitary camp in Aceh that police believe served as a training ground for militants to carry out attacks on government assets and state leaders." Surprisingly, now no VIP has run to his defense. There are no more "useful idiots" showing their indignation on national TV. In fact, most news channels only briefly talked about the sentencing, then returned to the regular discussion on the corruption scandal that is currently embroiling Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's party.
I think we can make two conjectures out of this. First, people are simply sick and tired of all these radical Islamists. They are tired of all the violence and the bombs. This fact is reflected in the 2009 election, where the Islamists parties' share of votes declined significantly. Thus, the politicians are simply adapting to this new development, and nobody is protecting Mr. Bashir from his just dessert.
Second, Mr. Bashir's organization is no longer that useful politically. In Indonesia, there's a tradition of patrons protecting violent mass organizations, such as most famously the Islam Defender Front (FPI), which is supposed to be protected by several retired Islamist generals. As a result, these organizations can act with impunity, and that used to include Mr. Bashir.
The fact that Mr. Bashir was sentenced for 15 years means that his organization is no longer important, and considering his connection to al-Qaeda, this may also reflect on al-Qaeda's influence in the region, which is becoming more and more irrelevant, especially with the decimation of its commanders worldwide. Hopefully, this can be a good indication for our progress in defeating al-Qaeda and its ilk all over the world.