October 11, 2003


The Real Face of Indonesian Islam: Islamism, whose proponents favor an Islamic state, appears
to be losing ground in Indonesia, not gaining it. (R. WILLIAM LIDDLE and SAIFUL MUJANI, 10/11/03, NY Times)

Are Muslim conservatives likely to make a comeback in the 2004 elections? A national poll we conducted in November 2002 for the Center for the Study of Islam and Society at Indonesia's State Islamic University found that only 14 percent of the Muslim respondents share the values of the pro-Islamic-state parties.

These figures are unlikely to have been affected by the American invasion of Iraq, which angered many Indonesian Muslims but has little to do with their conception of the relation of Islam to domestic politics. Secular nationalism is deeply rooted in Indonesian history, even among pious Muslims.

The poll results also indicate that Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the bulwarks of moderate Islamic civil society, continue to command considerable loyalty among Muslim voters. Fully 75 percent of Muslim respondents consider themselves a part of or attached to either group. Membership in these two giant organizations also correlates positively with participation in secular civil society organizations and with participation in democratic politics.

Those numbers could obviously be worse, but you have to be worried about any fledgling democracy where 15-20% of the people are avowed totalitarians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2003 5:49 AM

I'm no fan of Islamism, but I don't see why you call it totalitarian. The Taliban was a very repressive government, but Afghanistan came nowhere close to the horrors of Nazi Germany or Cambodia under Pol Pot.

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 11, 2003 11:40 PM

Because it is, though not in the pejorative sense of being exterminationist:


Posted by: oj at October 11, 2003 11:54 PM

I suppose it depends on how you define totalitarianism. Following Hannah Arendt, I would say totalitarianism implies total domination over the people under its rule. Closely related is the requirement for demonstrative support of the state -- like the marches in the street in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia -- and massive use of informers and secret police to ferret out anyone insufficiently loyal to the state. Finally, totalitarianism demands the eliminiation of impure classes or races, depending on the ideology.

The key aspects are total domincation and the elimination of people who aren't sufficiently dominated. If the Taliban had started putting to death every suspected Sufi and Shi'ite rather than just prohibiting the practice of Sufism and Shiism, you could call them totalitarian. As it was, the Taliban was just a theocratic dictatorship.

Islam, in general, does not demand complete control over the economic sphere (see my comments on your review of Karen Armstrong's book). The idea that all economic activity can be centrally controlled strikes me as a modern pretension. Even the Islamists don't seem to have much of an economic plan. Neither the Taliban nor other Islamists seem to care how a Muslim makes his living, so as long as he follows shari'a and stays free of un-Islamic influences.

Posted by: at October 12, 2003 7:58 PM