Competing views about the current strength of hardline Islam in the country.
On 9th June Ali Maschan Moesa, the head of the East Java branch of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said that today there were a great number of hardline Islamic groups in East Java which sought to establish an Islamic state or caliphate. He said this was disappointing and re-iterated NU's committment to Pancasila as the national ideology.
Ali Maschan Moesa
He also said that NU mosques, particularly in villages and out of the way places, were increasingly being "attacked" by hardline groups, which sought to take them away from the NU, or subvert them. suarasurabaya
Meanwhile an opposing view came from Dr Farish Ahmad-Noor, visiting (from Berlin) professor at Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University in Yogyakarta. Farish told a conference titled "Jihad Revisited - Shifting Dynamics of Radical Movements in Indonesia Today", in Kuala Lumpur that Indonesian hardline Islam was in a "cooling down" phase, and was weak.
He said that since the disbanding of the paramilitary group Laskar Jihad the words and political manouverings of such figures as Jafar Umar Thalib and Abu Bakar Bashir rarely gained attention in the mass media.
Jafar Umar Thalib
Farish visited both men at their respective Islamic boarding schools and found Jafar Umar Thalib, in particular, to be a forlorn figure. Travelling to Jafar's school, the al-Sunna pesantren on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, Farish said that the old militant and firebrand is now a very bored person. He said: All Quiet on the Jihadi Front
The former head of the now-disbanded Laskar Jihad was looking rather glum and down when I interviewed him recently.
In the late 90's Jafar was a man to be reckoned with:
Based at his pesantren in Jogja, Ja'far rallied his students and followers and created the notorious Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad), a semi-underground movement of militant volunteers who were then despatched to the Moluccas to avenge the killing of Muslims by Christians.
The arrival of Laskar Jihad in Maluku made the situation there much worse, he says, and after returning to Java the LJ focused its attention on the war on sin in the cities:
Laskar Jihad turned their attention to the cosmopolitan cities of Jakarta, Jogjakarta and Surakarta, where they became famous (or infamous) for their tough brand of moral policing: Attacking and destroying night-clubs, discos, cinemas, video stores, etc., all became their hallmark. In time their commando-like members, dressed in soldiers outfits, even raided hotels to demand that Western tourists leave the country.
But by 2005 the Laskar Jihad were a spent force:
The Laskar had become an embarrassment for the country and were told to disband in no uncertain terms. Local political observers argued that this pointed to intimate connections between the Laskar and the Indonesian security forces, something that Ja'far himself admitted in his press interviews three years ago. Having served their role as trouble-makers on the pay of the rich and powerful, they have had their strings cut and Ja'far Umar Thalib is now very much an isolated and discredited individual. Not even the other Indonesian radical groups like the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia or Front Pembela Islam would care to talk to him.
Now alone at his madrasah, Ja'far says:
I have returned to my original struggle, my original Jihad, which is education.
Farish concludes that the sad tale of Jafar proves that:
religious militancy in Indonesia remains an abberation, and not the norm.
On the campuses of the country Farish says that at, for example, Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University in Yogyakarta, militant preachers like Jafar are not successful in winning admirers. This is because students at Sunan Kalijaga study Islam in depth and are not easily swayed, while at secular universities there are many students who still support Jafar, he claimed. antara