Jakarta – Having achieved some success in the "physical war" against terrorism, the Indonesian government now plans to step up its "ideological war" against terrorists to prevent them from influencing Indonesians. Apart from the creation of a task force comprising Muslim clerics to counter the influence of religious extremists, the government is also considering closing down a famous Islamic school and banning books on militant ideas.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said in an interview with Reuters last week: "There have to be two wars. Firstly, a physical war by the police, and secondly, an ideological war carried out by Muslim clerics."
Mr Jusuf recently invited clerics from Indonesia's major Muslim groups to his house to view the tapes of young bombers who declared that their bomb missions were part of their jihad (holy war) against Islam's enemies.
The clerics, who later said that they were disturbed by the bombers' mistaken views of jihad, have agreed to form a task force to help the government counter extremist views.
The Vice-President said the clerics had to correct or review religious curricula and evaluate religious books in circulation. The Religious Affairs Department has already been in contact with some Islamic boarding schools whose teachings need to be corrected, he added.
When asked about the infamous Al-Mukmin boarding school, which was co-founded by jailed cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, Mr Jusuf said: "Yes, Al-Mukmin is certainly one that needs to be further analysed and given information so that their curriculum is in line with the national curriculum."
The Vice-President said the school has to close "automatically" if there are some serious deviations. "I mean serious deviations, if they have wrong teachings, it could come to that (closure)."
He cited as an example Al-Mukmin's refusal to allow its 2,000 students to salute the Indonesian national flag.
Mr Jusuf said the government would soon ban a widely circulated book of militant ideas written by one of the 2002 Bali bombers, Iman Samudra, who is on the Death Row.
However, the chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country's second-largest Muslim organisation, feared that the banning of Islamic books thought to forment radicalism, such as Iman's memoirs, could be counter-productive.
Mr Din Syamsuddin, while agreeing with the government's view that these books are dangerous, said a ban would only encourage curious people to seek them out.
Mr Din suggested that instead of issuing bans, the government should encourage the publication of books to counter false teachings on jihad.
"I do wonder how books that contain teachings justifying acts of terrorism are able to circulate. But if they are banned now, it will just make people curious and encourage them to read the books. It would be better to publish books that explain the true teachings of Islam," Mr Din told The Jakarta Post.
Mr Din, who is also the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country's highest religious authority, said he had read several of the books being evaluated by the Religious Affairs Ministry.
"It is clear that suicide bombings are against Islam. The religion forbids murder, let alone mass murder. Those books are poisoning the minds of people who do not really understand Islam," he said.
* Muslims split over ban on 'radical books' (The Jakarta Post, Nov 27)
* Jakarta's new war on militancy (The Sunday Times, Nov 27)