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Several Indonesia Islamic schools preach hard line TENGGULUN - Crowded around the dusty courtyard of a conservative Islamic boarding school in Indonesia's East Java province, the 20 fresh-faced students hang on their fiery principal's every word. It was God who gave permission for the bomb blasts that tore apart two nightclubs on Bali island a year ago killing 202 people, said Zakaria, calling the bars a sinful "hell" on earth. Some of the suspected bombers were his friends and taught here at the al-Islam school, added the bearded preacher, before steering the conversation to his hatred toward the United States.
"My message to America is 'if you want to be safe, don't hassle us'," said the 33-year-old Zakaria. Such hardline attitudes found in a smattering of Islamic boarding schools, known as pesantrens, have set alarm bells ringing that Indonesia is neglecting a vital cog in its war on terror -- dealing with what some see as educational incubators of radical and violent ideas.
But few analysts expect the government to do anything about the schools, especially ahead of elections next year when no politician wants to risk being branded un-Islamic. As the anniversary on Sunday of the Bali blasts draws near, the world's most populous Muslim nation is not alone in Asia in finding its Islamic boarding schools under scrutiny. Pakistan's have long been seen as hotbeds of militancy. The government has gone after the perpetrators of the Bali bombings and other terror attacks, catching 100 suspects, many of whom have had links to just a few pesantrens, including al-Islam.
But pesantrens overall are moderate and venerated in Indonesia, having educated much of the country's Muslim elite. They also form the backbone of the 40-million member Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's biggest moderate Muslim group that accounts for 12,000 of about 14,000 registered schools. "It's a hugely sensitive issue," said Sidney Jones of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) in Indonesia.
"I think it would be almost impossible for anybody to seriously scrutinise pesantrens as a source of terrorism without committing political suicide," Jones said, referring to Indonesia's first direct presidential election next year.

Bomber Brothers

Al-Islam has come under the spotlight because of its links to three brothers arrested over the Bali attack and who come from Tenggulun village -- Amrozi, Mukhlas and Ali Imron. A Bali court has sentenced the first two to death and Imron to life in jail. Indonesia has blamed the Southeast Asian militant Muslim group Jemaah Islamiah for the Bali blasts. Some security experts say the group is Osama bin Laden's Southeast Asian wing.
An August report by the ICG put al-Islam into the Jemaah Islamiah "Ivy League" -- a group of several schools where members of the organisation sent their children. The most famous was al-Mukmin, said the report, a school in the central Java city of Solo co-founded by Abu Bakar Bashir, an elderly preacher accused by some countries of heading Jemaah Islamiah. Zakaria is a graduate of al-Mukmin.
Beyond those few schools, Jones said a group of others could have looser connections to Jemaah Islamiah -- although she argues Indonesia's hard-won democratic freedoms should not be sacrificed unless direct links between teaching and acts of violence are found. As with many touchy issues, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has left the talking to others. But if Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi is anything to go by, closing pesantrens is out of the question.
"Pesantrens cannot be shut for shallow reasons," he said, speaking at an NU pesantren in the East Java town of Malang. "What's required is an approach so the social interaction and curriculum of pesantrens like that are not touched by terrorists," he said, referring to al-Mukmin and al-Islam. Wearing a checked sarong, purple traditional Muslim shirt and a white skull cap, Zakaria said three officials from the Department of Religion visited his school a few months ago.
He did not know if they had reached any conclusion. Al-Islam, 100 km (63 miles) from Indonesia's second-largest city, Surabaya, is made up of a few concrete and wooden classrooms, a small mosque and spartan sleeping quarters for 150 students. Police will not say if any schools are under surveillance, although security experts said al-Mukmin was being watched. In any case, would closing a few schools be effective?
Near al-Islam, Jaffar Shodiq relaxes outside his home, watching what passes for traffic in the village of 2,000, where farmers struggle to get much from parched rice and corn fields. Shutting al-Islam, which he helped found in 1993 and where he teaches, would not bother Shodiq, another brother in the large family of Tenggulun's bombing trio. "If it's closed, I will just build a bigger, more beautiful school," Shodiq said with a grin.

Posted in Religion @ 07 October 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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