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It is precisely this shift from moderate Islam toward Islamism that is paralyzing government officials who desire re-election, thus preventing any meaningful action against radical Muslims from taking place.  Couple the unwillingness of the Indonesian government to act with the limited amount of attention paid to Islamism inIndonesiaby American policy makers and you have a situation ripe for disaster.

Due to its geographic expansiveness and historical background, Indonesia serves as a home to an eclectic array of Islamic organizations.  Various waves of colonization with differing origins when aided by the passing of time have resulted in micro-cultures within the larger Indonesian umbrella.  For an example of the strength of these isolated identities, one would need look no further than the Free Aceh Movement or the recently concluded revolution inEast Timor.

Despite these differences, a majority of Indonesians are linked by a common identity of Islam.  The sheer volume of Muslims within Indonesian society allows for the creation of political, religious, social, altruistic, and labor organizations that utilize Islam as a foundation for their beliefs or as a means to foster unity within the group.  These groups range in ideology from liberal/progressive to Islamist/terrorist.  Cause for concern, of course, comes from those that trend toward the latter end of the scale.  Many of these, moreover, are in key positions in the political and educational systems, thus allowing them to exert influence disproportionate to their current support base.

Contributing greatly to the shift in Islamic ideals – despite staunch opposition from many of its moderate former leaders and members, including Abdurrahman Wahid – is the Council of Ulemas, which serves as the main source of official Islamic doctrine in Indonesia.  Of its various radical utterances, the most indicative of its true orientation was the call to jihad that the Council issued in response to American military action against the Taliban following the attacks of September 11.[5]

The Council of Ulemas also threatens by fostering an environment conducive to the expansion of Islamist culture.  In July 2005, the Council issued a fatwa against the Ahmadiyah – who believe that Mohammad may not be the final monotheist prophet – that prompted a series of attacks on their places of worship.[6]

The Council of Ulemas has also demonstrated its ability to influence non-government entities such as PT Indoprom, an Indonesian media distributor.  Prior to the February 11, 2003, Newsweek release of an issue containing a depiction of Mohammad, the Council of Ulemas cajoled PT Indoprom into allowing it to review the magazine before allowing it to be distributed to tens of thousands of Indonesia subscribers.  As claimed by spokesperson for the Council of Ulemas in the Jakarta Post, the organization “has the power to ban the publication if it finds that the article insults Muslims.”[7]  Not only does this example vividly display the power the Council of Ulemas wields withinIndonesia society, but also exemplifies how Indonesian law is essentially being rewritten by those who favor a stricter, Islamist legal system consistent with Sharia.

Center for Security Policy

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