June 18, 2006


Indonesia strikes back at Islamist hardliners (Gary LaMoshi, 6/14/06, Asia Times)

Last week was a rough one for jihadis in Indonesia. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration launched a long-overdue comprehensive campaign against violent Islamic extremists. In the country with the world's most Muslims, the outcome of Yudhoyono's initiative could prove far more significant in the global war for the hearts and minds of Muslims than the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [...]

The last straw stirring Yudhoyono's ponderous government appears to have been an attack on former president Wahid on May 23. At an interfaith forum in the West Java town of Purwakarta, members of FPI and other radical groups forced Wahid, virtually blind and limited physically because of a series of strokes, off the stage. The radicals cited Wahid's opposition to the anti-pornography bill as an insult to Islam.

Mainstream Muslim groups Nahdlatul Ulama - formerly headed by Wahid - and Muhammidyah, with a combined membership of 70 million, denounced FPI's action against Wahid. Hundreds of his young supporters from the National Awakening Party's paramilitary wing poured into the streets, clashing with FPI members.

It may not have been just the political cover from mass organizations and the prospect of further street violence that moved the government. If the extremists went after Wahid, a Muslim cleric and scholar as well as a former president, no politician could feel safe. While Wahid's iconoclasm and failed presidency - he was removed in favor of Megawati Sukarnoputri after two stormy years in office - have left him virtually powerless, he's still widely respected as a symbol of Indonesia's unique brand of Islam. Radicals might have miscalculated Wahid's political impotence as a signal they'd win applause rather than condemnation for attacking him. [...]

When the Indonesian police receive political support, as in the Bali bombings of 2002, they've proved they can act professionally and decisively. The Bali investigation featured star officer Mangku Pastika in charge, and the spotlight now falls on Jakarta police chief Gani to show his stuff. Even though vigilantism isn't restricted to Jakarta, the capital has seen the highest-profile incidents and Gani stands out as a symbol of police indifference.

On Friday, Home Minister M Ma'ruf announced an agreement with legislative leaders to enact a law enabling the government to dissolve organizations "disturbing security and order". Though the vague wording smacks of Suharto-era repression, human-rights activists didn't promptly unleash their usual complaints. Perhaps they realize that thuggery is a greater threat to rights than a potentially restrictive new law. They may also recognize that the real purpose of the proposal is to get political parties - Yudhoyono represents a tiny party and gets spotty support from the larger ones - and legislators to denounce vigilantism and withdraw their support from such groups.

These are all good, solid moves, breaking the government's deafening silence on extremist violence. Expect more this week: Yudhoyono (or Vice President Jusuf Kalla) will meet with the leaders of major Muslim organizations, and each group's head will denounce extremist violence as contrary to Islam. A similar meeting and announcement after the second Bali bombings last October reversed the groups' lukewarm criticism of terrorist violence - it's wrong but we understand why - and prompted a sea change in public opinion from indifference to condemnation of such acts of terror.

No one ever expected the Islamicist to do other than get their heads handed to them by the Far Enemy, but it's their lack of success with the Near Enemy that spells their doom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2006 4:07 PM

Heads either wrapped in bacon or smothered in pig fat.

Posted by: Sandy P at June 18, 2006 9:11 PM