ISIS has Indonesian officials on edge. As the Islamic State loses ground in their so-called caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria, its supporters seem more focused than ever on establishing a second front in Southeast Asia. ISIS-linked rebels seized Marawi in the southern Philippines. Here in Indonesia, terrorists have stabbed police officers, suicide bombed police patrols, and plotted numerous other failed attacks all in the name of ISIS.
Police are often the target. So it's no wonder police departments nationwide are looking for something, anything, that makes officers feel safer. Even when that something is magical martial arts.
In Sukabumi, a small city in West Java about 4 hours outside Jakarta, local police have sought the help of Fajar Laksana, the head of a local Islamic boarding school who is known to possess some serious pencak silat skills. "Pencak silat" is just an umbrella term that means "martial arts" in Indonesia. It covers everything from the brutal punches, elbows and kicks seen in The Raid to stuff that's more… magical. Fajar believes that silat practitioners can gain supernatural powers through meditation, prayer, and studying the Quran.
"They are trained in three areas," Fajar told local media. "The first is the physical, to overthrow and disable the opponent. The second is inner power, through breathing. And the third one is supernatural powers, through prayers— wirid [post-shalat prayers] and hijib ijazah amaliah [good deeds[ all combined."
Fajar is teaching the police the Muang Bodas school of silat. It's the kind of martial arts that allow people to show off with feats of strength like getting hit with a whip that's on fire or throwing around a flaming coconut. You can see a demonstration of these skills below:
Fajar told reporters that he would basically turn the police into elite terrorist-fighting superheroes, complete with supernatural powers of their own. He said that officers would become living weapons, and even possess the ability to sense when danger is near, sort of like a third eye version of Spiderman's spider-sense.
"With no need for firearms or others, insha Allah, every fist, kick, and body part will become a weapon," Fajar said. "The bullets are our breathing and good deeds, opening the inner eye as well as intuition through premonition when ill will is near."
What's going on here? Well, it's important to remember that the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims (almost 70 percent) believe that magic is, to a certain extent, real. So people with magical superhuman abilities and the immense, sometime mystical, power of silat are pretty common ideas in Indonesia.
Do a quick YouTube search and you'll find numerous TV news reports talking about some pretty unbelievable stuff without a shred of disbelief—like this report where the anchor talks about a murderer who possessed a magical ring that made him impervious to bullets. A police sniper eventually had to shoot his magical ring before the bullets had any effect, the anchor explained like that's totally a normal thing to happen during a police standoff.
Silat even played an important role in Indonesia's independence fight, Fajar said. So of course it could be used to fight terrorists, he concluded.
"Pencak silat was used by our forefathers to fight colonialism," he said. "With nothing but sharp bamboo and shouts of 'Allahu Akbar,' they managed to fight colonizers equipped with more advanced weapons. The shouts ignited our spirit and gave up the energy needed to defeat the invaders."