Until after World War II, Islam was held in check in the Dutch East Indies, more or less, by the Dutch authorities. They were sensible enough to enlist the intelligent guidance, for a while, of a certain C. Snouck Hurgronje of the University of Leiden, who was possibly the greatest Orientalist since Ignaz Goldziher. While Hurgronje was not entirely unsympathetic to some Muslims who had been born into Islam and were struggling with it, and with its obvious effect on the exercise of mental freedom, including artistic expression, he was not fooled in the slightest about the doctrines of Islam. He never confused the inability to put into practical effect those doctrines at a time of maximum weakness vis-a-vis the Infidels with the discarding of those doctrines. And if the Dutch helped create an atmosphere in which the power of Islam was suppressed, the history of Islam in the Dutch East Indies also made for greater syncretism.
After all, it was not outright military conquest by Muslims in the 7th and 8th centuries, as it was in most of the Middle East and North Africa, that caused the East Indies to be populated by Muslims. Rather, it was five or six centuries later when the rulers of Java and Sumatra were converted to Islam. The first significant group of Muslims in the East Indies were Hadrami traders in Java, who set up trading entrepots and then slowly began to send out missionaries, some as part of military incursions, into the hinterland.
But the East Indies, originally Hindu and Buddhist, were slow to succumb. The same kind of violence that had been used, or could be threatened, elsewhere was not possible. During the Dutch interval, Christian missionaries were protected. In East Timor, the Portuguese overlords protected the missionaries who could work in conditions that permitted locals to convert without fear of death. This also contributed to that “soft” Islam that one associates with Indonesia — but it was “soft” only up to a point, and is becoming “harder” every day. And in any case it was never quite as “soft” as Westerners seem to think.
Now, the longer from the Dutch period one gets, and the more that Muslims in Indonesia, like Muslims everywhere, are more easily reached by the new means of disseminating the full and dangerous texts of Islam, where before the simple and illiterate villagers might have been Muslims but knew very little (beyond the Five Pillars) of what that might mean. Now they have thrust in their ears and before their eyes incessant Muslim propaganda. That makes it harder and harder to avoid hearing and having to take in, and being naturally swayed by, not a false Islam, not an Islam that has been “hijacked by extremists,” but the full Islam that was always there. But when Muslims were weak, and lacked the money and technological means to disseminate that full message, this Islam was in some places not fully known or understood.
And now, alas, Muslim money and appropriation of Western technology has meant that Muslims in the farthest islands can now be reached by the campaigners intent on disseminating to sometimes inattentive Muslims the full teachings of Islam — with the deadly results observable in Bali, and the Moluccas, and many other islands in the East Indian archipelago.
In Indonesia, 2,300 churches were destroyed in the year 2003 alone (source: The Barnabas Fund). New York Times, NPR, BBC, anyone interested? Any word from the E.U.? From the American State Department, telling the Indonesian government that the protection of Christians and other non-Muslims from Muslim fanatics is now the main task of that government? From anyone other than the Barnabas Fund? No? Why not?
Nike, Reebok, Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren, whoever or whatever you are — time to pull out, or threaten to pull out, of Indonesia. China, here we come. And that will leave Indonesia alone, now nearing or having passed its role as exporter of oil, and seeing even its own domestic supply dry up, and seeing fissiparous forces at work now on this island, now on that one. Yet Indonesia has still managed to inveigle the Pentagon into renewing military training and aid (the limitless lack of guile, the limitless credulity, of so many whose stock in trade is supposed to be unsentimental, unfoolable toughness).
Time to read the riot act to the Indonesian government, and for its generals to act, with their wonted gentleness.