Why Is Islamic Extremism Growing in Indonesia?
The September 25 suicide bombing of a local church in Central Java pointed not only to a new level of attacks on religious minorities in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but to a political bent that accommodates Islamist extremism, reports Compass Direct News. “Radicalization of Islamic teachings and understanding is a problem in Indonesia,” admitted Dr. H. Nasaruddin Umar, director general of Islamic Community Guidance under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. “There’s a need to re-explain the concept of jihad.”
On September 25, Pino Damayanto (aka Ahmad Yosepa Hayat) blew himself up while wounding over 20 members of the Sepenuh Injil Bethel Church (Bethel Full Gospel Church), believing that it was his religious duty to kill “the enemies of Islam,” according to his understanding of “jihad.” National Police spokesman Anton Alam linked the 31-year-old bomber to the Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (Partisans of the Oneness of God or JAT). This terrorist group is believed to have been founded three years ago by Abu Bakar Bashir, who is currently serving a jail term for terrorism.
The Indonesian government values its reputation in the West. Because of this, the United States anticipates that the government will crack down on groups such as the JAT since U.S. investors are among the largest investors in Indonesia. And Washington’s war against terror has stakes in Indonesia, which came to light after the 2002 Bali bombings by the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group.
Dealing with terrorists alone, however, may not help much. The extremism that breeds terrorism needs to be checked, pointed out Rumadi of the Wahid Institute. There are extremist groups in Indonesia that are not known to have exploded bombs, yet they practice violent moral policing and persecute minorities, sometimes beating members of minority communities to death. According to the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a human rights group in Jakarta, there were at least 75 incidents, including violent attacks, violating religious freedom of the Christian community in 2010.
But the growing clout of extremist groups in street politics as well as in some mainstream Muslim organizations makes the government extremely cautious about taking action. Indonesia is more than 80 percent Muslim, mostly Sunni, according to Operation World. The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderates. “However, if not checked, the radicals may turn moderate Indonesia into another Pakistan or Afghanistan in the future,” warned a local Christian.
The government shrugs off the threat from extremists, claiming they are tiny in number. “Extremism in Indonesia has low support but high impact,” said Dr. Abdul Muti, general secretary of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second largest Islamic organization with more than 29 million members, mostly moderate.
Father, the darkness of Islam threatens the country of Indonesia with increasing violence from extremist groups. We pray courage for the government to rein in the corruption and violence. We pray protection for the Christians and courage to live lives of faithfulness before their Muslim neighbors that they might turn to the grace of Christ, their only true source of spiritual life. May the light of the gospel bring hope to this nation. In the Name of Christ, the light of the world, Amen.