Shadows of Bali Hang Over Indonesia

Problems With Islamic Extremists Continue

BALI, Indonesia, OCT. 18, 2003 ( Oct. 12 marked the first anniversary of the bomb explosions that killed 202 people on the holiday resort island of Bali. The attack also had a drastic economic impact on the local economy, a just-released report shows.

The report was prepared by the U.N. Development Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank. It notes that average incomes on Bali plunged 43% by mid-2003, Reuters reported Oct. 13. During the first eight months of this year foreign arrivals in Bali were down 35.2% from the year-earlier period. Overall, Indonesia has forecast 4.5 million foreign tourist arrivals this year, down from 5 million last year.

Indonesian authorities have been hunting down the Islamic extremists behind the attacks. A number of those involved have already been tried and convicted. In addition, last month an Indonesian court found Abu Bakar Bashir guilty of planning to bring down the government, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Sept. 3.

But prosecutors failed in their attempt to convict him on charges of heading the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which was responsible for carrying out the Bali bombings. More than a dozen of the Bali bombers attended his Islamic school at Ngruki in central Java, and he knows many of those accused of carrying out terrorist acts for JI.

And just days ago Abdul Jabar was convicted by an Indonesian court of involvement in two church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000, the Associated Press reported Oct. 13. Officials have blamed the attacks on Jemaah Islamiyah.

Schools for terror

Fueling the growth of radicals in Indonesia is the spread of radical Islamic schools. The Wall Street Journal, in an in-depth study published Sept. 2, reported that in the wake of terror attacks and U.S. pressure, governments in Southeast Asia have started to close some of the radical schools. However, many, including al Mukmin, an Islamic boarding school on Indonesia’s main island of Java, continue to operate. This school has produced almost all of Indonesia’s top terrorist suspects.

Al Mukmin school officials say there are no ties between their enterprise and the alumni who have participated in dozens of terrorist attacks throughout Southeast Asia during the past few years. Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal noted that pictures of automatic rifles and tanks adorn the walls of the school. A slogan above the door to the main classroom building reads, “Death in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration.”

Teachers say they don’t encourage students to attack Christians or people of other religions. “It’s not hatred, but it’s what God says,” explained Widi bin Hasbi, a 27-year-old teacher. “The Koran says that we don’t want Jews and Christians to live with Muslims.”

Indonesia has some 12,000 Islamic boarding schools. According to the Journal, the vast majority preach a message of religious tolerance, mixed with secular education in sciences and other topics mandated by the government.

A factor favoring extremism in some schools is support for a stricter view of Islam from Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported July 5. The Saudi influence is twofold: free tertiary studies in Saudi Arabia for selected graduates of Indonesian schools, and funding of the more radical schools in Indonesia itself.

In addition to the publicly distributed money for religious and educational purposes Saudi Arabia has also quietly disbursed funds for militant Islamic groups, the New York Times said. This money has allowed some extremists groups to keep going and motivated others to start recruiting.

The libraries of many Islamic schools are filled with books from Saudi Arabia; few of them hold any recent books by Western authors. The article reported that the Saudi religious affairs office in Jakarta churns out translations from Arabic to Indonesian — for a total of about 1 million books a year.

Amien Rais, speaker of Indonesia’s Parliament, admitted that his country needs to do more to curb the more extremist Islamic schools, Reuters reported Oct. 13. Rais is the former head of Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic group, Muhammadiyah. “The government seems a bit hesitant to pinpoint schools as cells of spreading terrorism,” he said. The Jakarta government fears that a crackdown would lead to a violent backlash, he speculated.

Interreligious tensions

In the last year there have been fewer episodes of violence between Christians and Muslims, but the problem has not gone away. A Sept. 25 press release from the U.S. group Christian Freedom International commented that Christians with professional credentials and advanced degrees are being denied employment and advancement in the job market.

Christian Freedom International president Jim Jacobson said that mob violence against Christians has also become a business tool. As well, there are unfair local regulations relating to the construction of Christian schools and churches. A pastor explained that the local government “will issue a permit for the construction of a church only if no one near the proposed site objects. If one person objects — no church.” Mosque construction faces no such requirements.

In the week before the anniversary of the Bali bombings, at least 10 Christians were killed in attacks in the Central Sulawesi province, Reuters reported Oct. 13. Also, a church was set on fire, along with dozens of houses. According to Reuters, Muslim-Christian violence in the region has caused about 2,000 deaths since 1999.

Dangers ahead

An Aug. 26 report on JI by the International Crisis Group found reasons to worry about Islamic radicals in Indonesia. According to the international research and advocacy organization, JI remains active and dangerous, despite the mid-August arrest of Hambali, one of its top operatives.

Even though more than 200 suspects linked to JI are now in custody in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, the group is far from destroyed. Information emerging from the interrogation of JI suspects indicates that it is a bigger organization than previously thought, according to the International Crisis Group. JI has communication with and has received funding from al-Qaida, but it is independent and makes most, if not all, operational decisions locally.

The report observed that the JI network is held together not just by ideology and training but also by an intricate network of marriages that at times makes it seem like a giant extended family.

Still, there are few signs of a surge in the power of Islam in the political arena, an analysis published Oct. 14 by London’s Financial Times observed. There is thus little risk that the world’s fourth most populous country — home to 200 million Muslims — may suddenly become an Islamic state.

Indonesian Islam evolved into two moderate branches that dominate worship within the archipelago. Nahdlatul Ulama incorporated local traditions and as a result become an agglomeration of Javanese mysticism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufi philosophy. The Islamic strain of Muhammadiyah is more clearly Middle Eastern yet still largely moderate.

Together those two organizations count as many as 100 million members, the Financial Times said. Nevertheless, the article noted that while a moderate majority still dominates, there is a risk that growing numbers of Indonesians could be drawn to fundamentalism and perhaps even violence. A good reason to keep a close eye on how Indonesia deals with Islamic extremists in the months ahead.

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