By Eric A. Billings
In October of 2005, several blasts rocked the resort island of Bali in Indonesia, the work of Islam of ascist militants who desire nothing less than the establishment of an Islamic state and the enforcement of Sharia. Their extreme means were matched only by the propensity of their views to be unyielding and intolerant of the beliefs and lives of others.
Despite the wanton and draconian nature of the attacks, however, the Indonesian government has since continued to largely ignore the growing influence of Islamism within the country’s borders. In fact, it might be recalled that only after much international prodding did the government even acknowledge in late 2001 the existence of terrorist training camps in Indonesia, only to have their Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda deny there was evidence that local Muslim organizations had ties to international terrorist networks.
Even more frightening than the suggestion of ignorance, it appears elements within the Indonesian government actually sympathize with the Islamist cause. After Abu Bakar Bashir – the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah – was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his connection to theBalibombings, then-Vice President Hamzah Haz visited Bashir and Jaffar Umar Thalib – the head of the terrorist organization Laskar Jihad – in prison.
While this growing trend is making meaningful inroads into the Indonesian political system, it should be noted that there are still many prominent leaders who are fighting to oppose Islamism. Perhaps the most significant among those is former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who has used his fame to launch a crusade against those who threaten to turn Indonesiainto a haven for Islamism and its associated terrorist organizations. Wahid has gone beyond mere words, moreover, creating the Wahid Institute, which is dedicated to the spread of religious tolerance and the perpetuation of a secular state in Indonesia.
Despite the efforts of some within the Indonesian political structure, there is a growing number of politicians who are unwilling to take a firm stand against Islamism. The reluctance of many governmental officials to take action is directly rooted in the growing radical tendencies of the Indonesian Muslim population. Although pundits regularly suggest thatIndonesiais a bastion for moderate Islam and is only plagued by a minute number of Islamists, a preponderance of evidence suggests that extremism has a strong foothold in Indonesian society. A recent survey taken by the Indonesian Survey Institute, for instance, found that more than one third of those surveyed favored the replacement of Indonesian law with Sharia and ten percent of the 2,000 people questioned nation wide considered suicide bombing justified in certain circumstances. Confronted by such sentiment, it is not surprising that an Indonesian citizen would be convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for believing that Indonesian Muslims should pray in Indonesian rather than Arabic.
Eric A. Billings is pursuing a Masters Degree in Public Policy at American University, and is a former research intern with the Center for Security Policy.
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