Radicals losing moral ground with moderate Muslim groups



A survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre last December revealed some startling facts about Muslim attitudes in Indonesia towards terrorism. It suggested some 25 per cent of 220 million Indonesians felt terrorism was a legitimate weapon in defending Islam.

The United States war on extremism following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks was greeted with scepticism and hostility especially by fringe radical groups that appeared to set the tone of national debate.

What a difference 18 months has made. The bombings in Bali last year and the latest strike in Jakarta have turned the Muslim ground against extremism. The Oct 12 attack on the two nightclubs in the tourist island resort was criticised heavily. But even then, the criticism was diluted by conspiracy theories that the bombings were a US-led plot to drag Indonesia into its fight against global terrorism.

The Marriott bombing on Tuesday revealed little of such discourse. The moderate Muslim majority appeared to speak with one voice.

‘Kill them, kill them’ shouted one Indonesian who lost her son, calling for the bombers to be punished. Another declared that ‘they have no heart’.

And Indonesia’s top Muslim groups were also swift to condemn Tuesday’s attacks, suggesting that the battle for the hearts and minds of Indonesian Muslims has turned against the radicals.

The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, which together comprise 60 million Muslims, issued a joint statement that underscored concerns that the attack had damaged the name of Islam and Indonesia.

‘The perpetrators have not become just the enemy of the security apparatus in Indonesia,’ NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi said. ‘They have become the enemy of all Indonesians because they have hurt our feelings.’

Where questions were once being asked about the powers of security agencies to investigate radical groups, the Muhammadiyah is now urging them to step up intelligence action.

A joint statement by him, and Muhammadiyah chief Syafii Ma’arif, noted: ‘A lot of the bombing incidents remain unsolved… We demand that the government, particularly the police, improve their performance to counter terror.’

And both leaders took pains to point out that those responsible be punished ‘regardless of religion’.

What is interesting now is that the NU and Muhammadiyah appear to be forging a common position against militancy. It is no secret that both organisations, together with other moderate ones, have held regular meetings since the Bali massacre to explore ways to counter extremism. But in most cases, such talk never translated to ‘any systematic agenda of activities’.

Symbolically, cooperation between the two groups could counter religious extremism by extolling the virtues of moderation and religious plurality. Both these organisations are concerned now about the dangers of misinterpreting and ‘abusing’ the tenets of the Quran.

Reflecting the views of the majority, security guard Djoko Priyadi said: ‘Only mad people blow themselves up. Islam is all about peace.’

Increasingly, the bloody carnage seen on TV after Bali and Marriott is now beginning to affect perceptions and mellow once hard-held views on Islam’s place in Indonesia.

Militants like Amrozi and Imam Samudra, both of whom have gone on trial for the Bali attack, elicit angry comments. ‘They deserve to be shot for what they did,’ said driver Mohammad Chatam. ‘They must be dreaming if they think they will go to heaven.’

Ultimately, terrorism is a problem that afflicts both Muslims and non-Muslims in Indonesia.

The radicals have no support from the minority groups and are fast losing the moral ground with the moderate Muslims. The tide has turned against them.

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