Losing ground

After JI trio implicate him for church bombings, Bashir is losing claim to innocence.

Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is becoming increasingly isolated as public opinion here moves against him.

After holding the high moral ground for over a year by challenging his ‘American and Zionist detractors’ to prove his terrorist links, the man said to be the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network is losing friends from the mainstream, even if hardline Muslim groups continue to stand by him.

In the biggest indication yet of waning support, the leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Mr Hasyim Muzadi, yesterday indicated that Bashir’s claim to innocence has been undermined after a trio of JI detainees in Singapore declared him to be their leader and implicated him in a series of church bombings in Indonesia.

Earlier testimony at his trial here failed to link him with any crime. The cleric, accused of treason, denies the JI even exists.

Mr Hasyim told The Straits Times: ‘The NU’s position is that all violent and criminal acts must be investigated, and Bashir is not excluded from this.

‘If there is strong evidence against him then he must face the consequences. The more people accuse him, the harder it is for him to defend himself.’

Such views from the moderate NU were also expressed by members of another large Muslim organisation, the Muhammadiyah.

Senior religious leaders interviewed by The Straits Times suggested that they ‘will not do anything to stop the legal process, even if it means that Bashir has to go to jail’.

‘Yes, there was some concern initially that this was all a big conspiracy,’ said a Muhammadiyah cleric. ‘But now, it is harder to support him because he does not have a strong case.’

The shifting position of the Muhammadiyah and NU, which together claim the support of up to 60 million Muslims, is a blow for Bashir and his supporters, who were hoping to stir up a hornet’s nest in Indonesia with his trial.

But the minority radicals – especially from the Justice Party and the Crescent Star Party – remain unconvinced.

Political analyst Zaki Mansoer told The Straits Times: ‘Several of the Islamic parties… want more evidence. It is as simple as that. The interesting thing now is that the Muslim ground is shifting from one of disbelief to one in which they are more open-minded.’

Interestingly, one of Bashir’s staunchest supporters in government, Vice-President Hamzah Haz, has kept a low profile on the matter after making a public defence of the cleric a year ago.

After meeting Bashir at his Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Solo then, Mr Hamzah was quoted as saying: ‘There is no
terrorist network in Indonesia, particularly in this school.’

But after the deadly Bali bombings in October, he backtracked, saying: ‘No one who is involved in terrorism – ordinary people, government officials or Muslim religious leaders – has immunity from the law.’

Since then, there has been barely a hint of support from the Vice-President, with MPs from his Muslim-based United Development Party declaring that it was ‘now up to the courts to do the talking’.

Commenting on the trial, presidential aide Rizal Mallarangeng told The Straits Times: ‘The evidence that was given from Singapore underlines very clearly that the accusations against Bashir are not baseless. Public opinion in Indonesia is shifting against him.’

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