No Nice Way to Put it: Despite diplomatic niceties, Indonesia has a terror problem.
National Review Online
October 28, 2003
by Paul Marshall
When President Bush met with Indonesian political and religious leaders last week, he expressed America's appreciation for "Indonesia's strong cooperation in the war against terror," stressed the two countries' shared "commitment to democracy and tolerance," and praised Indonesia's defense of "the inalienable right of all to worship freely."
The president was being diplomatic. The reality is that Indonesia has been the weakest country in the region in combating terrorism and extremist Islam — and that its traditions of religious toleration are rapidly being undercut, including by the government itself.
In recent years, the authorities responded slowly, if at all, when terrorists killed ethnic Chinese, bombed dozens of churches on Christmas Eve in 2000 (with bombs disguised as presents so that children would pick them up), and, aided by overseas militants, massacred thousands of Christians in the eastern islands.
It took international pressure in response to the horrific Bali bombing a year ago for Indonesia to start taking sterner action against terrorists. Since the bombing, the Indonesian government has arrested, tried, and sentenced members of Jamaah Islamiya, a terrorist group, for the bombings in 2000 and the Bali bombing. And Laskar Jihad, the group responsible for the massacres of Christians, announced that it was disbanding — one of the unsung victories in the war on terrorism.
But the terrorists are coming back.
Armed Islamists, some from Pakistan, have been infiltrating the island of Sulawesi. In the last two weeks, coinciding with the anniversary of the Bali bombing, they have attacked five villages, burning churches and homes. The regional chief of police, brigadier general Taufik Ridha, claims that he does not know the motive of these crimes, even though the attackers separated out Christians (including a six year old girl) and then shot them in the head or hacked them to death; and despite the fact that many of the weapons used were the same as those used in 2000, and that large quantities of ammunition, grenades, and bombs have been found in the area.
President Bush has also promised $157 million to help improve education in the country's schools, including Islamic boarding schools called pesantrens. The funds are needed, especially as the Saudis are pumping in money to replace Indonesia's tolerant Islam with its own Salafist version. However, Indonesia has been reluctant to clamp down on existing extremist pesantrens that have been breeding grounds for terrorists, even those run by Jamaah Islamiya. Many of these schools are still functioning, including Al-Mukmin Ngruki, the largest source of Indonesian jihadists.
The country's parliament has resisted continuing attempts to introduce strict versions of Islamic sharia law on a national level, but radicals have responded by trying to Islamicize the country in small steps. In the province of Aceh, engaged in an independence struggle, women have been attacked for not covering their heads; and in villages throughout Java, radicals have tried to impose sharia on a local level.
The Indonesian government's own agencies are also beginning to push a more radical agenda. The department of religious affairs has produced a draft "Law on Inter-Religion Harmony" that, among other things, obliges everybody "to maintain the teachings and values of his respective religion," and forbids views "not aligned with the principle teaching of such religion." Words that are "repugnant . . . to a religion" could carry a sentence of five years, and the same fate would await anyone who "intentionally utters words . . . with the intention that people will not follow any religion that is based on the belief in one God." This means the state can enforce religious conformity, require people by law to follow the decrees of a Muslim religious teacher (or any other monotheistic one, for that matter), and ban all religious dissent.
Indonesia is by far the largest country in Southeast Asia, is an oil and gas exporter, and sits astride the world's busiest shipping lanes. As President Bush has said, its success "as a pluralistic and democratic state is essential to the peace and prosperity of this region." But it is plagued by terrorism and is being destabilized by creeping Islamicization. Behind all the diplomatic speeches and public niceties, the U.S. needs to say so.
Paul Marshall is a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.