|January 19, 2002||atimes.com|
Indonesian militants a law unto themselves
By Richel Langit
JAKARTA - The government loathes them and Muslim leaders detest them. But Indonesia's Muslim fundamentalist groups, some of which are believed to have links with the international terrorist network Al-Qaeda, have remained untouchable.
While their number is very insignificant, their actions have scared off foreign investors, depriving the country of investment needed to pull Indonesia out of its current prolonged crisis.
Muslim leaders have also accused hardliners of tarnishing the image of Islam, which has always been associated with tolerance and peace in this country of almost 220 million.
Often the militant groups take the law into their own hands - all in the name of the Koran and other Islamic teachings - and go unpunished. In the process, they create the impression that Indonesia is a country of lawlessness, fundamentalism, violence and terror.
However, this is not all their fault. The administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri has done little to curb the movements of militant groups for fear of violating their basic human rights.
Additionally, Megawati, who took over the national leadership in July 2001, enjoys little support from the Muslim community. Going after Muslim radicals may constitute a suicidal move, therefore, given the strong resistance in the community against a woman president. The military, on the other hand, appears to be reluctant to crack down on radical groups, partly because of its own dismal human rights record.
Indonesians sighed in relief in December when the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's biggest Muslim organization with around 40 million members, and the Muhammadiyah, the second with 25 million members, agreed to embark on a campaign to fight "extremism" in order to change the image of Islam from one of hatred, violence and terrorism to one promoting peace and tolerance.
But until now, they have done nothing, and appear to have no clear idea, and therefore no common platform, on how to counter Muslim fundamentalist groups that tarnish the image of the country and Islam.
Obviously, a good image is hard to come by and any effort to change it has to deal with militant groups such as the Islam Defender Front (FPI), Laskar Jihad, the Indonesian Muslim Youth Front and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI). It would be an uphill battle with little chance of success.
Members of the much-feared radical group FPI, for example, often take the law into their own hands - raiding and ransacking entertainment establishments and suspected gambling dens and prostitution places nationwide - all in the name of Islam. Leaders of Laskar Jihad (holy war warriors) have sent hundreds or even thousands of armed, trained volunteers to regions plagued by religious conflicts without government authority and with security officers even trying to stop them.
In Ambon, the scene of widespread religious clashes that have killed thousands of innocent people since first breaking out in January 1999, the presence of thousands of Laskar Jihad troops from Java only aggravated the conflicts, despite the strong desire of local residents - Muslims and Christians alike - to end enmity and start living peacefully. Reports abound that Laskar Jihad members often threaten to kill local Muslim leaders who want to make peace with the Christians.
In Poso, Central Sulawesi province, another site of religious conflict, Laskar Jihad members have practically taken over the "war" against the Christians. Using homemade weapons and bombs, Laskar Jihad members hunt down Christians, burning churches and buildings belonging to them. The fighting subsided only after the United States, which is currently leading international campaigns against terrorism, identified Poso as a training ground for international terrorists, including those involved in the September 11 attacks.
Government officials and military authorities know about the presence and activities of Laskar Jihad members in war-torn provinces, but do not purge them. In fact, in Ambon, Laskar Jihad members often fight alongside Indonesian troops, who are mostly from East Java province, against local Christians.
On the island of Java, members of the fundamentalist group MMI have been busy with their proposal for the implementation of syariah (Islamic laws) in Indonesia. Their reasoning is simple: Indonesia is the world's biggest Muslim country, with almost 90 percent of its 220 million people following the Muslim religion. They consequently believe that Islamic laws should be adopted in the country. The activities of fundamentalist groups do not only undermine the government's authority but also scare off foreign investors who have chosen to adopt a wait-and-see attitude since Indonesia plunged into economic crisis in the second half of 1997.
Their open support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and international terrorist Osama bin Laden gives the impression that Indonesia's brand of Islam, which has long been considered tolerant and peace-loving, is a religion of violence, hatred, vengeance, and terrorism. Tensions have been exacerbated to the point where the NU and the Muhammadiyah have vowed to join forces to fight against these extremist groups.
But even leaders of the two organizations appear to be reluctant to go after militant groups. When Malaysian authorities cracked down on Muslim fundamentalists there, Muslim leaders in Indonesia warned Megawati against arresting fundamentalists, despite the fact that Malaysian authorities positively identified MMI chairman Abubakar Baasyir as one of the leaders of the Malaysian Mujahidin Council, a militant religious group linked to Al-Qaeda.
Nevertheless, people are watching closely how the two groups will handle radical Muslim groups. At the outset, the campaign is doomed to fail, but only they, the Muslims, can go after fundamentalists and change the image of both the country and of Islam in Indonesia.
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