In “Indonesia strikes back at Islamist hardliners,” in Asia Times (thanks to DFS), Gary LaMoshi details Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s campaign against jihadists:
DENPASAR, Bali – Last week was a rough one for jihadis in Indonesia. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration launched a long-overdue comprehensive campaign against violent Islamic extremists. In the country with the world’s most Muslims, the outcome of Yudhoyono’s initiative could prove far more significant in the global war for the hearts and minds of Muslims than the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Since the fall of General Suharto’s New Order regime in 1998, Islamic extremists have asserted their right to enjoy the fruits of democracy and impose the will of Indonesia’s Muslim majority as they presume to interpret it. They’re unperturbed that most Indonesians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, oppose their agenda. These radicals are no democrats. Politically educated under Suharto’s reign of physical intimidation and intolerance of dissent, they merely wish to substitute their own version of autocracy and repression (see Indonesia’s Islamists flex their muscles, October 27, 2005).
A handful of radical Islamic groups use violence as a first resort against their opponents, often with a wink from authorities. Violent extremism’s renaissance began with police using vigilantes to extract protection money from reluctant bar owners and blossomed with the military’s logistical support to send thousands of jihadis to the Malukus and central Sulawesi to undermine Abdurrahman Wahid’s presidential election victory in 1999. Armed mobs draped in the white robes of Islam routinely attack churches, homes and businesses they accuse of various heretical views while police take no action and perpetrators escape prosecution. Government reluctance to stand up to thugs gives the impression of implicit approval, or that the extremists serve a higher authority….
The last straw stirring Yudhoyono’s ponderous government appears to have been an attack on former president Wahid on May 23. At an interfaith forum in the West Java town of Purwakarta, members of FPI and other radical groups forced Wahid, virtually blind and limited physically because of a series of strokes, off the stage. The radicals cited Wahid’s opposition to the anti-pornography bill as an insult to Islam….
The Yudhoyono administration’s campaign against violent Islamists began innocently in the president’s Pancasila Day speech on June 1. Pancasila (Sanskrit for “five principles”) is the national philosophy enshrined by the nation’s founders and subsequently corrupted under Suharto. In his speech, Yudhoyono called for a revival of Pancasila and accused “invisible hands” of trying to spread ideas against the nation’s core principles of tolerance and pluralism. Although the “invisible hands” metaphor is hardly apt for white-robed mobs with stones and clubs, the message came through.
The speech was a nice bit of political shadow-boxing, indirectly confronting the extremists and recasting the debate in the government’s chosen terms. But Yudhoyono is becoming famous for saying the right things, when he does finally speak out, and then failing to follow through with effective action.
This week, the action began. On Wednesday, Widodo Adi Suptjipto, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, announced that the government will no longer tolerate groups that take the law into their own hands. While that may have been said before, Widodo added this important coda: the government will provide political cover for police and support their effort to enforce the law against these groups, no matter who their patrons may be….
These are all good, solid moves, breaking the government’s deafening silence on extremist violence. Expect more this week: Yudhoyono (or Vice President Jusuf Kalla) will meet with the leaders of major Muslim organizations, and each group’s head will denounce extremist violence as contrary to Islam. A similar meeting and announcement after the second Bali bombings last October reversed the groups’ lukewarm criticism of terrorist violence – it’s wrong but we understand why – and prompted a sea change in public opinion from indifference to condemnation of such acts of terror….
Long over due and good as far as it goes, but then there is this: “Militant Islamic Cleric Released from Indonesian Prison,” from AP, with thanks to all who sent this in:
JAKARTA, Indonesia “” A hardline cleric alleged to be a top leader in the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group was released from prison Wednesday to cries of “God is great” from scores of cheering supporters.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 68, had served 26 months for conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people and thrust Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, onto the front lines of the war on terror.
“I thank Allah that I am free today,” a smiling and waving Bashir said after emerging from a scrum of about 150 supporters and journalists waiting outside the gates of Jakarta’s Cipinang prison.
“I call on all Muslims to unite behind one goal, that is the implementation of Sharia law.”
Australia and the United States, which have accused Bashir of being a key Southeast Asian terrorist, said they were disappointed at his release, as did Australian victims of the Bali blasts.
His freedom has raised concerns that he could energize Indonesia’s small, Islamic radical fringe, but few believe the stick-thin, softly spoken cleric will play any direct role in terrorism in the future…..
Sure. Like Sheikh Yassin.
The “crackdown on extremism” in Indonesia will be hollow as long as Bashir is roaming free.