Indonesia, the country with the highest number of Muslims, appears to be in the forefront of a movement to encourage moderate Islam and rooting out extremism.
This is spearheaded by two of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organizations – the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah. The Centre for Moderate Muslims inPhilippines is also supporting the effort to push for a moderate interpretation of Islam as to a foil to some radical versions coming from the Middle East.
Moderate or smiling Islam would hopefully score a victory in Aceh which has just conducted its first peaceful polls to substitute the violence waged for three decades by the separatist Free Aceh Movement. It took a tsunami for Jakarta and the rebels to reconcile and give peace a chance. Both sides have a genuine desire at this stage to let democracy work, and this in turn would be the best showcase of the brand of Islam that is compatible with democracy.
But the victory of the smiling face of Islam is not certain if developments elsewhere are closely monitored. Encouraged by the radicals, conservatism amongst the general population seems to be growing, as reflected in the push for syariah laws and outcry over issues such as the Playboy magazine.
On 6 Dec 2006, as a precaution against the rise of radical Islam, Indonesia instituted one of the strongest measures against militancy by reviving a grassroots spy network. Home Affairs Minister Mohammad Ma’ruf announced that Jakarta would establish a Regional Intelligence Community (Kominda) in every district and province as a nationwide effort to combat terrorism with the personal support of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Kominda’s responsibility is to accumulate and maintain a database of every “indications or incidents that are threats to the national stability in the region.” It would consist of representatives from the military, intelligence community, law enforcement corps and customs/immigration offices.
However, the effectiveness of this spy network in combating radical Islam remains in doubt. The Home Affairs Minister tried to defuse criticisms by arguing that the spy network would not lock in on citizens and does not have the powers to arrest or detain anyone. If this is the case, what is the network for? Without the teeth of enforcement or its applicability on private individuals, the network functions more like a coordinating body for administrative work, information-gathering and an early warning system, so says the Home Affairs Minister. It remains to be seen how this contributes to efforts in fighting terrorism.
Some question the fundamental nature of this initiative, saying that it harks back to Suharto-era dictatorship. This may be so but its advocates seems to argue that the spy network is an effective way to pushing back the onslaught of radical and militant Islam as the struggle for the soul of the religion continues.
Moderate leaders to bring back “smiling face of Islam” (Straits Times, 9 December 2006)
Extremists using religion to spur terrorism (Straits Times, 9 December 2006)
Jakarta to deploy grassroots spies (Straits Times, 7 December 2006)
Ex-Aceh rebel runs for governor’s post (Today, 7 December 2006)
Indonesia to reactivate grassroots spies (Today, 7 December 2006)
Popular cleric takes second wife, sparking interest in polygamy ban for govt officials (Today, 7 December 2006)
S’pore Islamic group lauds Mid-East truce (Straits Times, 8 December 2006)
Playboy Indonesia editor goes on trial (Straits Times, 8 December 2006)
Aceh votes for peace (Today, 9 December 2006)