Lunatic fringe or threat to nation?

Istiqlal mosque, Jakarta

Most Western analysts of Indonesian affairs, especially those with an eye on the country’s economic potential, tend to downplay the threat of “creeping fundamentalism” and Islamist extremism.

But such radical, many would say fascist, views continue to be expressed on a daily basis without the slightest attempt by the government to stand up for the rights enshrined in the country’s secular, pluralistic constitution. Some of the people expressing these views allegedly have the support of the security forces.

In the latest analysis warning that it might be time for this threat to be taken seriously, La Trobe University Institute for Human Security research fellow Gerhard Hoffstaedter wrote in  The Australian that the nation’s stability was under threat.

The issue is one of who gets to shape the nation and what sort of Indonesia will emerge out of the post-Suharto and post-reformasi period. If the government follows the convenient populist drive to appease the loudest and most intolerant groups, the brittle national consensus is in danger.

Islamist groups have managed to sway the government more than once and any more ground given to them will endanger the peace in a multicultural and pluralistic nation built on tolerance and the accommodation of difference. Any more erosion of these principles has the potential to destabilise the nation, something that is in no one’s interest.

Last month, Indonesia-based business analyst James Van Zorge condemned the “naivete of liberal politicians and nongovernmental organizations” in the face of “creeping sharia” – the growth of Islamic bylaws in blatant contravention of the constitution.

“Liberals think appeasement will win the day. On the contrary, their liberal instincts have made them into the unwitting accomplices of the Islamists,” he said.

The lack of political courage to take firm action will make the situation only worse over time. For once, a stake should be driven through the heart of fundamentalism — to do otherwise only courts disaster.

Combined with the continuing threat of homegrown terror and the total failure of the deradicalisation programme, it’s not a pretty picture for the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

And before anyone dismisses this anlysis as just the minority views of misinformed foreigners, check out this editorial last month in The Jakarta Globe titled “Islamic Hardliners a Threat to the Nation”.

(Photo courtesy of Pucasso via flickr)


2 responses to “Lunatic fringe or threat to nation?

  1. wow – did not know this was happening – read that poverty was a big problem – do you reckon if they all get jobs then they will be less likely to go radical – or is income and self esteem not a factor ?

    • I don’t think poverty is really the problem. It probably has more to do with poor education, corruption, a weak and complex sense of national identity and a failure of government to enforce the rule of (state) law against those who recognise only a narrow, hardline version of religious law.

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