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Indonesia has the tools to beat radical Islam JAKARTA - The flames of Islamic fundamentalism are not confined to the Middle East and Central Asia. Indonesia is increasingly in the news because of its large Muslim population, the rise of fundamentalist rhetoric and purported connections to international terrorism. The emergence of violent Muslim vigilante groups employing jihad rhetoric and mobilising followers for jihad is one of the most conspicuous new phenomena in Indonesian Islam.
The bomb blasts that rocked Kuta, Bali near midnight on Oct 12 profoundly affected almost every aspect of Indonesian life. After years of official denial, that horrifying incident triggered awareness that terrorism does exist in Indonesia and its homegrown fanatics are linked to a global terrorist network.
Soon after the Bali bomb conspiracy was uncovered, earlier explosions that had rocked various parts of the country were re-examined. Not all of them were definitively connected, but the renewed investigations revealed ties between a number of disparate terrorist groups. The perpetrators of these bomb blasts are now understood to belong to linked, hardline Islamic organisations.
Recently, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, revealed the links between Islamic radicalism in Indonesia and international terrorism. The document - Al-Qaeda In South-east Asia: The Case Of The Ngruki Network - is an exhaustive review of reliable public data and identifies a handful of individuals with possible direct or indirect links with Al-Qaeda.
The good news, however, is that the ICG finds no evidence of an extensive Al-Qaeda network in Indonesia. The evidence of international penetration of Indonesian radical groups is limited.
Nevertheless, Indonesians would be mistaken in thinking that they have nothing to fear. The ICG report was narrowly conceived and intended to focus on a single issue, namely the evidence of an Al-Qaeda presence in Indonesia. Some important questions remain. Is radical Islam ratcheting up its influence in post-Suharto Indonesia? Are elements within the military continuing to support radical Islamic militias opportunistically, as they started to do in recent years? Are elements of the political elite appealing to radical Islamic sentiment, as a way of leveraging their power? Are moderate Islamic intellectuals facing increasing criticism and challenge? Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions is yes.
The stakes for Indonesia are high. When the United States declared war on terror, Bush administration officials characterised Indonesia as a strategic partner in the struggle. Mr Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence and former US ambassador to Indonesia, said that the US must bring new seriousness to helping Indonesia in its quest to secure a stable democracy and prosperous economy.
But Indonesia can do so only if it demonstrates an unrelenting commitment to anti-terrorist policies. Foreign investment is already at its nadir, due to the lingering political crisis following the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, and to doubts about the soundness of the country's institutional and legal capacity. Backtracking on official resolve to fight terror would not convince international business to start investing again.
The authorities have natural allies in the large, moderate Muslim organisations, especially the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, which lead Indonesian civil society. These groups are fed up with how radicals have smeared Islam in Indonesia and they are beginning to work together to challenge the extremists head on. This is not to say that they agree with the US critique of Indonesian policy. But these two prominent, national-membership organisations may succeed in dampening Islamic militancy where the government, afraid of waging the battle it must fight, has failed dismally.
The real conflict ignited by the terrorist attacks is not between Islam and a US-led, Judeo-Christian 'crusade'. The greater challenge is the ongoing struggle within the global Islamic community, the ummah, between moderate, progressive Muslims and fundamentalist extremists. This battle for hearts and minds will be fought on two fronts: The first is theological and educational, while the second concerns socioeconomic issues and the civil society agenda. In both cases, the experiences of Indonesia will be critical.
In essence, extremism and fundamentalism can be countered only from within the faith. No amount of US intervention will turn the tide against bigotry and ignorance. In fact, too much meddling by Westerners could radicalise the community even more.
Moderate believers must look to examples such as Indonesia, where Islam has encountered and interacted with new and alien forces. In Indonesia (and to a lesser extent, Malaysia), science and technology, commerce and modern management, as well as the all-important challenges of democracy, human rights and gender equality, are being tackled head-on in authentic terms of Muslim discourse.
Finally, moderate Muslims must explore Indonesia's vibrant and indigenous Islamic traditions. The country's rich vein of Islamic scholarship has embraced new ideas and sought to interpret the Quran in a manner that reveals its compatibility with democracy, human rights, gender equality and social justice. Indonesians have the tools to thwart radicals' efforts to usurp Islam. The fight will not be easy, but it can be won.

Posted in Human rights @ 14 June 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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