Counter-Terrorism: The Importance of Religious Hatred



January 28, 2007: Hatred for other religions is a cornerstone of Islamic radicalism. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the city of Poso, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. In the late 1990s, Islamic militants from other parts of Indonesia flocked to Poso to take part in a jihad (war) against local Christians. This actually began as a Moslem attempt to grab permanent control of the local government. For decades, the Moslems and Christians had maintained the peace by having politicians from the two faiths alternate as head of the local government. Moslems in Sulawesi have long been hostile to the Christians, who comprise about half the population. The Islamic extremists saw Poso as an opportunity to recruit, and build a larger terrorist organization. Since the late 1990s, over a thousand people have died in and around Poso, out of a population of less than half a million. The government sent in thousands of additional troops and police to restore peace. 

In the last year, the police believed that they  had reduced the terrorists to about twenty hard core members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the local al Qaeda affiliate. On January 22nd, police tried to grab most of these men, after months of detective work to find out where they were. But the terrorists knew the police were closing in, and had assembled reinforcements. The subsequent battle left one policemen, and fifteen Islamic radicals, dead, and dozens more wounded. Over twenty militants were arrested, but several of the leaders got away. The Islamic militants are trying to spin this incident to their advantage, by claiming that the police (who were largely Moslem) are anti-Moslem. The dead militants are being portrayed as martyrs. 

Jemaah Islamiyah needs a boost, because over a dozen major terrorist attacks in the last five years has horrified, rather than radicalized,  most Indonesians. The Islamic radicals have been on the run, and most have been arrested. Poso is one of the few places where they can still operate openly without being quickly rounded up. Even less violent Islamic radicals, who do little more than harass women dressed in Western clothing, or men having a beer in a club, have become increasingly unpopular throughout Indonesia. While Indonesians support Islam in general, they are less enthusiastic in practice. But this has not prevented a small number of radicals from using terrorism against non-Moslems in an attempt to trigger an Islamic revolution. That has not worked, but it has left thousands dead, and demonstrated a common tactic among Islamic radicals the world over. In most countries where there are large Moslem and non-Moslem populations living close together, there has been this kind of violence. It's not just a pattern, it's a popular tactics. One that we will continue to see tried.


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