Indonesia: Moderate Moslems Smother Radicals


July 17, 2008: The downside of Indonesian tolerance is the survival of Islamic radical groups like the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front). This year, the FPI has regularly gathered over a hundred men and attacked rallies by non-radical Islamic groups. Police will arrest FPI members they can catch, but the government refuses to ban the organization. The government strategy is to keep as many Islamic radicals as possible in the open, where the police can more easily keep an eye on them. Meanwhile, the police can concentrate on chasing down a few dozen known Islamic terrorists still believed to be in Indonesia. Most Islamic terrorists have fled Indonesia, after several terrorists attacks between 2002-5 enraged the population and created an atmosphere of hostility against Islamic radicals that still persists. The last Islamic terror bombing was in 2005, and since then, most activity involving Islamic radicals consists of the actual, or potential Islamic terrorists getting killed or arrested.

One drawback with this approach to Islamic terrorism is that some of the more influential, and smarter, Islamic conservative clerics are working the system, getting the government to pass more laws that give Islamic radicals more power to impose more conservative customs on the general population. This threatens to backfire, because such unpopular laws cause widespread discontent. The basic problem Islamic terrorists have in Indonesia is that the local form of Islam was always pretty mild. The Islamic conservatives are concentrated in a few cities, where more hard core Islam is trendy among some university students and clerics. That's enough to cause trouble, but not to change centuries of religious customs and attitudes.

July 15, 2008: In Aceh, a group of armed separatists got into a gun battle with police. Four of the separatists were killed, and items recovered from the bodies indicated the men belonged to a group that did not accept the peace deal (that gave Aceh more autonomy, but not the independence the "Free Aceh" organization long demanded.) Recent elections put many "Free Aceh" leaders in top government jobs. But some of the "Free Aceh" gunmen are still willing to kill, or be killed, for total independence. This is very much a minority group, but there are still out there in the hills.

July 2, 2008: On Sumatra, police arrested a known al Qaeda leader, and nine followers. Also seized were 22 bombs, ready to use against tourist targets. When the terrorist cell was detected, they were in the midst of trying to find targets that would kill non-Moslem foreigners, without killing any local Moslems. Islamic terrorists have become acutely aware of how troublesome it is to their cause if they kill Moslems with their terror attacks. This is particularly troublesome in Indonesia, where the local form of Islam is very moderate, and openly hostile to Islamic radicalism. Tips from locals enabled the police to track down these terrorists and arrest them. Several computers were also seized, and many useful documents were found on the hard drives.

June 28, 2008: Australia has reduced its tourist warnings for Central Sulawesi and Maluku provinces. These two areas have been the scene of much religious violence (as Islamic radicals fought with local Christians) in the past. But Australian diplomats now consider the Islamic terrorist threat much reduced, and the areas safe enough (but still risky) for tourists. Australia has long provided the largest contingent among the foreign tourists visiting Indonesia. That changed after the 2002 Bali island bombing, but since then, the terrorist threat has diminished, and Australians vacationing in Indonesia has increased.


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