Indonesian Hard-Liners Losing Favor
Aug. 13, 2003
SOLO, Indonesia (AP) _ Wahyuddin is the principal of an Islamic school from whose ranks came key suspects in the bombings that have shaken Indonesia. But he can't bring himself to condemn them.
The 51-year-old father of eight talks of the bombings, both blamed on the al-Qaida- linked Jemaah Islamiyah network, as part of a ``global war'' against the West. Pushed further, he suggests Muslim casualties among the more than 200 people killed in the Oct. 12 bombings on Bali island and last week's Marriott hotel attack in Jakarta could be seen as innocent victims of ``stray bullets.''
``Maybe America was sad as a result of the bombings, but those who have seen oppression in Afghanistan and Palestine were happy,'' said Wahyuddin. He was interviewed during a weekend national rally of Islamic militants in the central Javanese town of Solo, home of his Al-Mukmin boarding school.
Such attitudes, and the gathering itself, highlight the challenges facing President Megawati Sukarnoputri as her secular, democratic government tries to crack down on militants in the world's most populous Muslim nation.
Prosecutors in Jakarta Tuesday demanded a 15-year prison term for Abu Bakar Bashir, Al-Mukmin's founder and the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, for allegedly masterminding a series of church bombings in 2000.
Wahyuddin's views are not shared by most Indonesians. Their practice of Islam is less hard-line than in other Muslim countries and they are outraged at the carnage carried out in the name of their religion.
Despite this, the violence is raising concerns that instability here could spread to other Southeast Asian countries and seed the ground for al-Qaida linked militants.
The bombers came of age on a diet of anti-U.S., anti-Zionist propaganda and a dream of dying as martyrs.
At least three of the alleged Bali attackers attended Al-Mukmin. Asmar Latin Sani _ the alleged bomber whose severed head was found in the wreckage at the Marriott Hotel _ was also a graduate.
Interviewed during the rally of the Majelis Mujahedin Indonesia, an umbrella grouping of Islamic hard-liners, Bashir's 23-year-old son Abdurrohim insisted that his father had been unfairly jailed at the Americans' behest.
``What they don't know is that if we get hit then we get stronger. We are only afraid of Allah,'' he said.
Wahyuddin acknowledges that many of his ex-students have been implicated in terrorism, but suggests that's not the school's fault.
``We can't be responsible for our graduates once they leave,'' he says.
Al-Mukmin is a small collection of run-down buildings at the end of a narrow alley. Police monitor the school and its alumni, but say they have no evidence to justify closing it or arresting its teachers.
As extremists push ahead with their campaigns of jihad, moderate Muslims are also trying to be heard.
In Jakarta, the Islam Liberal Network runs a Web site and weekly radio program that promote a tolerant version of the faith.
``The majority of the population is modern, open-minded, flexible,'' said Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, the founder.
Ulil, who has had death threats from extremists, says he is fighting for the soul of Indonesia's Muslims, who account for some 90 percent of the giant archipelago's 210 million people.
The political elite, sections of which had flirted with Muslim hard-line groups for decades, have all but deserted them amid public disgust at the bombings.
Vice President Hamzah Haz, an Islamist who once visited Bashir in jail, failed to show up at the Solo rally.
Since dictator Suharto's downfall in 1998, successive governments have struggled to pacify the sprawling chain of islands, several of which suffer separatist, ethnic and religious violence.
Washington, which funds the Islam Liberal Network, sees Indonesia as a key country in the war on terrorism and an example to other Islamic nations of a modern Muslim-majority democracy.
While Islam has become more prominent in everyday life since Suharto fell, political parties that support the imposition of Islamic law have never won much support and aren't likely to advance in next year's polls.
In Indonesia, alcohol is available, sexes mix freely, and hardly any women wear head-to-toe coverings.
``The hard-liners miscalculated,'' says Ulil. ``Before the bombings, they had some appeal, especially on the campuses. Now their credibility is destroyed.''