Prison and Paradise: a tale of terrorism and its survivors

by Fatima Astuti
Jakarta - In Indonesia, religious violence and terrorism are always discussed in the context of the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people and wounded 240 others. The discussion always focuses on the perpetrators of the crime, those who were killed or injured, the role of religious movements in the bombings and how the Indonesian government handled the tragedy. No one talks about the survivors: the families of the victims, and the perpetrators, who were killed in the bombings.

The documentary film Prison and Paradise offers a unique angle on the topic of violence motivated by religion. It shows the irony of violence committed in the name of Islam by demonstrating how a violent act, which the perpetrators claim was religiously inspired, orphaned children – a social group which is often named in Islamic texts as deserving of special protection.

In Prison and Paradise, audiences follow the stories of five children – Alif, Aldi, Asma Azzahra, Oonita and Azzah Rohidah – who have all grown up in same country and with the same religion, Islam. What makes these children unique from other Indonesian children is that their futures were all affected by the death of their parents during the Bali bombings.

This is the main theme of the film, a documentary produced and directed by Indonesian independent filmmaker Daniel Rudi Haryanto. He was born a Christian and raised with two Muslim brothers to whom he attributes his traits of multiculturalism. Haryanto has produced several documentary movies that promote multiculturalism. Prison and Paradise, his first world premiere, competed with other documentary films for the Muhr Emirati Awards at the 2010 Dubai International Film Festival.

In the film, an interview with jailed perpetrator Ali Imron, who was in charge of securing the materials necessary to make the bombs used in the Bali bombings, reveals how indoctrination into a radical religious movement lead Ali Imron to neglect his family’s well-being.

“I didn’t look after my wife when she was pregnant,” says Imron in one interview. “Both my children were born without me.”

While the first half of the movie contains similar interviews with convicted Bali bombers Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Ali Gufron, all executed on 9 November 2008, the second half focuses on the surviving families. The story follows the film’s narrator, Noorhuda Ismail – an analyst who has dedicated his life to counterterrorism strategy – as he meets and interacts with the families of Alif and Aldi, sons of bombing victim Imawan Sardjono; and Asma Azzahra, Oonita and Azzah Rohidah, the daughters of convicted perpetrators.

In Indonesia, the family of a convicted criminal is socially stigmatised and seen as a social threat, leaving the mothers and grandparents with the difficult challenge of explaining the situation to children, who have to hide their past.

Watching Alif and Aldi getting ready for school, the film reflects on the grim future the victims’ families face as the children grow up without their fathers. The main victims of the bombing, as seen through the filmmaker’s lens, are these children – and their futures.

Prison and Paradise also offers new insight into countering terrorism: offering the perpetrator's family and the victim's family the opportunity to put themselves in one another’s shoes. The film suggests the importance of creating an imaginary ”space” where the family of the perpetrators and victims can meet. In this space, both families can identify similarities that could be used to build a bridge between them so that, in the future, peace can blossom.

Prison and Paradise leaves viewers with the clear message that the real victims of terrorism are children who have been orphaned by these terrible acts – a message hopefully strong enough to make a new generation of potential terrorists think about the impact of their actions. Indeed, engaging in such activities is in stark comparison to our role, under Islam, to protect these vulnerable and crucial members of our families and our communities.


* Fatima Astuti is Managing Director of the Institute for International Peace Building (IIPB) in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is also a founder of Cinema Society, a group of young people promoting films as a tool to transform the way Indonesians deal with conflict. This article is part of a series on the Consequences of Terrorism written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 22 February 2011,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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Other articles in this series

Israeli and Palestinian victims break cycle of violence by Robi Damelin
From victim to survivor: a foundation for peace by Colin Parry
Muslims #1 victims in terrorist attacks by Hussein Abdallah
A terrorist victim isn’t always someone else by Tahir Wadood Malik
A victim of terrorism speaks out by Bushra Mohsen
Resisting revenge: a terrorism victim stops the cycle of violence by Helen Thompson