Jakarta – In a heartening development in Indonesia's war against terror, the country's Muslim clerics have decided to form a task force to counter the influence of religious extremists. In the past, many clerics and Muslim politicians have baulked at supporting the government's battle against hardline religious groups for fear of being seen as supportive of the United States.
However, the change of heart came after the clerics viewed video recordings of three suicide bombers who claimed that their attack was part of a jihad (holy war) against the enemies of Islam.
The clerics were shown the recordings at Vice-President Jusuf Kalla's home over the weekend. They included members of the Indonesian Ulama Council, the country's highest religious authority; the progressive 30-million strong Muhammadiyah movement; and the more traditional Nahdlatul Ulama, which has some 40 million members.
After watching the video – which police found at the hideout of fugitive terrorist Noordin Mohd Top recently – the clerics were of the view that jihad, as understood by the terrorists, went against all religious teachings, said Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni.
"No religion in the world teaches terrorism and therefore we will form a team to overcome terrorism from a religous term," Mr Basyuni said.
The formation of the task force is expected to be announced formally later this month. Its broad objectives include tracking information about terror suspects, examining Islamic publications which promote radicalism and putting them on a list of banned publications.
One likely candidate is a memoir by Iman Samudra, who is now on Death Row after he was convicted for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings. His book, I Wage War Against Terrorists, is reported to promote a distorted view of the Islamic concept of jihad while preaching hatred of the West and non-Muslims.
The task force is likely to start its own publication, which will explain and promote the peaceful and tolerant face of Islam in a country where Muslims comprise 90 per cent of its 220 million people.
The Jakarta Post, in an editorial, said the clerics – whom it describes as having being conspicuously absent from the war against terror - should be applauded for setting up the task force.
"Simply condemning terrorist acts and dismissing the perpetrators as a misled few has, as we have learned to our misfortune, done little to stop the cycle of violence.
"Without the assistance of Muslim clerics with the authority to fight the 'ideological war', the police have been involved in a fruitless battle to shut down the terror networks. Apart from countering the terrorists' violent view of jihad, we need religious scholars and leaders of all faiths to actively encourage the preaching of tolerance in schools and in other public forums," the editorial said.
* Speaking up, finally (The Jakarta Post, Nov 23)
* Indonesian clerics form task force to fight terror (The Straits Times, Nov 23)
* Religious Affairs Ministry sets up anti-terrorism team (Antara, Nov 19)