Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Indonesia - The Enemy Within
Islamic Extremists And Their Dreams of a New Caliphate
Truth that is not organized can be defeated by evil that is. So
goes an old Sufi saying.
Moderate Muslims in Indonesia are working to get organized for a
war with hard-liners who are misinterpreting the Koran as a
political ideology that is driving the direction of Islam across
With around 200 million Muslims, the world’s most populous
nation of adherents to the faith is a tempting prize for
proponents of a new caliphate, and the hard-liners are busy
infiltrati n g mosques, communities, business, the bureaucracy
and government here.
The latest initiative to fight this hard-line push is backed by
the country’s two major Muslim organizations, the traditionalist
Nadhlatul Ulama and the modernist Muhammidiyah. Together, they
command the allegiance of an estimated 70 million people.
It should be no surprise that former President Abdurrahman
Wahid, who was once chairman of the NU, is leading the drive.
Also lined up are Ahmad Syafii Maarif of Muhammadiyah and,
perhaps most important of all, KH A. Mustafa Bisri of the NU,
two leading names among Muslims here and abroad.
They are backing the LibForAll Foundation, the brainchild of
former US telecoms whiz kid C. Holland Taylor, in rolling out
books, television programs and, unapologetically, even a
Holocaust Conference with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum
of Tolerance that attracted worldwide attention.
Taylor got out of a career in which he was credited with pushing
deregulation of the global telecom business and into the culture
and religion of Java and Islam in general. He believes a
two-year research program conducted by LibForAll in Indonesia
has unearthed a massive conspiracy driven by Salafist groups
such as Saudi Arabia’s Wahabis, the Muslim Brotherhood and
He says petrodollars are flowing into the country and being used
together with funds raised locally in an attempt to hijack
Indonesia’s innately tolerant Islam.
“You’re looking at a virulent ideology which uses the symbols of
Islam in order to attract support and also to intimidate into
silence their opponents,” Taylor says.
“The superficiality of the use of symbols and the aggressiveness
of the ideology facilitates obtaining cooperation from
opportunistic political parties and politicians who find it
easier to go along with the extremists rather than stand in
their way and be accused of being anti-Islam themselves. This is
particularly effective in a democratic era.”
Taylor argues that those who believe the hard-liners cannot
succeed in transforming Indonesia into an Islamic state only
need to look at Germany’s pre-Nazi Weimar Republic, a democratic
government overthrown by terror and intimidation is service to a
Solo in Central Java Province has already fallen to the
hard-liners, much as Germany fell to the Nazis. There, the
faculty of Muhammadiyah University is dominated by active
members of the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, and Hizbut
While Muhammadiyah issued a decree in 2006 closing its doors to
PKS members following the publication of an expose on the
hard-liners’ tactics written by Muhammadiyah deputy chairman
Haeder Nashir, Taylor says the decree came too late for Solo.
“They cannot implement the Muhammadiyah decree effectively
banning the PKS from using its facilities because they wouldn’t
have a university left,” he says.
Two years of field research was conducted by LibForAll in 17
provinces, recording interviews with 591 mainly extremist
leaders and unearthing a distinct agenda to establish a
narrow-minded concept of Shariah law, Taylor says. “What we
found was that the extremists universally had the agenda of
imposing their understanding of Shariah on the Indonesian public
and destroying Pancasila.”
The results of the research have been published in “The Illusion
of the Islamic State: The Expansion of the Transnational Islamic
Movement in Indonesia.” The book is in Indonesian but will be
issued at a later date in English.
Many of those interviewed were simultaneously members of a
radical organization and a mainstream group. While they belonged
to 58 separate hard-line groups, 75 percent were also members of
Muhammadiyah, a sign that it has been deeply penetrated by the
LibForAll also argues that the hard-line movement has been
working steadily toward its goal for decades. Beginning with the
Tarbiyah movement of Islamic study groups in universities, it
has now blossomed into a range of organizations, from the
violent to the peaceful.
These organizations include PKS, with its deep links in the
Muslim Brotherhood movement. Others, including the Crescent Star
Party, or PBB, are of older lineage, springing from the legacy
of the Islamist Masyumi Party of the Sukarno era.
The release of social shackles with the end of Suharto’s New
Order allowed the various groups within the hard-line movement
to flourish. Taylor warns that their success has been so
dramatic that Muhammadiyah is at risk of total collapse.
“If this is allowed to continue apace, Muhammadiyah may cease to
exist as it has been; it may continue to exist but it will be
controlled by the PKS,” Taylor says.
“Not only that, Muhammadiyah as a pillar of Indonesian society,
upholding Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution and the unitary
state of Indonesia, is likely to crash and at that point
Pancasila can disappear and the Indonesian nation state can
disappear, all as a consequence of PKS infiltration of
Taylor argues that it is a matter of public record that people
associated with the Wahabi movement and the Muslim Brotherhood
are in positions of power.
He sees a conspiracy of loosely related groups, from JI through
the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, and from Hizbut Tahrir to
PKS and the quasi-governmental Indonesian Council of Ulema, or
“The government has good relations with parties including the
PKS and the PBB. It is a matter of public record that there are
people associated with Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood
who are a part of this administration,” Taylor says.
His campaign hopes to make others in the government aware of the
Hodri Ariev, a young NU leader from Jember in East Java Province
who helped expel hard-liners from his own community, points to
the new governor of West Nusa Tenggara, M. Zainul Majdi, as
potentially a hard-line infiltrator into what is supposed to be
a moderate religious organization.
Zainul recently ruled to reject the resettlement of Ahmadiyah
refugees and is pushing for a complete ban on the sect in his
province, which would become only the second after South Sumatra
to do so.
As part of LiBForAll’s drive, a television series featuring
international examples of moderate Islam is expected to be
screened nationally and copies will be distributed to religious
schools across the country. Different versions will also be
produced for distribution in other Muslim societies to expand
the work of LibForAll.
Sadanand Dhume, Asia Society Fellow and author of the recently
published “My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian
Islamist,” agrees that there is a major threat to Indonesia’s
mainstream moderate Islam.
“While Indonesia remains the most liberal and tolerant Muslim
culture in the world, the past 30 years have witnessed the rise
of a determined and well-organized radical movement that
ultimately seeks to organize both society and the state
according to Islamic Shariah law,” he says.
“Whether the country’s pluralistic and nonconfrontational Islam
will prevail, or whether radical forces such as the PKS will
acquire a greater voice in politics and public life, will be the
single biggest determinant of Indonesia’s future,” he says.
Can Indonesia’s moderate Islam withstand the push from the
NU’s Hodri Ariev believes the only way forward is to fight back.
“There needs to be the creation of a network between members of
the younger generation of Muslims, especially with those who are
strongly oriented to spiritual understanding so that they cannot
be influenced by the hard-liners,” he says. “This is a
generation of Muslims who are not narrow-minded, who understand
Islam as a path and not as a goal.”
The Jakarta Globe
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Keith Loveard is a Jakarta-based writer and political analyst.