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Open Access The semiotics of violence: Ninja, sorcerers, and state terror in post-Soeharto Indonesia

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The semiotics of violence: Ninja, sorcerers, and state terror in post-Soeharto Indonesia

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In July 1998, two months after President Soeharto resigned from power, several reports appeared in Indonesian and international media of a series of killings taking place in Java. The killings initially involved the murders of people suspected of practising black magic (dukun santet). Many of the alleged sorcerers and victims were kyai, venerated scholar/teachers of Islam who head boarding schools (pesantren). The bloodshed, entailing the killing of several hundred people over a period of five months, from July to November 1998, has come to be known as the ‘ninja killings’, named after the fabled Japanese martial arts experts with supernatural powers. The reason for this name is that the perpetrators of the killings, rumour had it, were dressed in black-clad ninja fashion and possessed mystical powers similar to their Japanese counterparts.

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