Indonesia's checks on Islamist extremism flawed, evangelical research body finds

(Photo: REUTERS / Beawiharta)Indonesia's new President Joko Widodo (C) with his wife Iriana Joko Widodo wave next to former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the presidential palace in Jakarta, October 20, 2014.Widodo was sworn in as Indonesia's seventh president at a ceremony in parliament on Monday, becoming the country's first leader not from the political or military elite.

A World Evangelical Alliance research group says that Indonesia's president's efforts to deal with Islamic extremism and promote moderate Islam are flawed due to a lack of strengthening the rule of law.

A new WEA Religious Liberty Commission Research and analysis report notes that when Indonesian President Joko Widodo took office a year ago, there were high hopes his government would check Islamist extremist violence.

"However, President Jokowi, as he is affectionately known, is yet to prove that he has the ability to meet that expectation," notes the report sent Aug. 29 about the world's biggest Islamic nation.

"Jokowi does seem to have the will, as he recognizes that religious extremism is a serious issue, unlike his predecessor Susilo Bangbang Yudhoyono, who neither acknowledged nor did anything to control the growth of extremist groups."

The report by the evangelical association commission also acknowledges that Jokowi's administration has promoted the idea of a modern and moderate Islam to fight the rise of Islamist extremism.

"However, there appears to be a flaw in the president's methodology to deal with the threat," says the commission's report.

The Indonesian leader "seems to be working towards making the Indonesian society more tolerant, which, of course, is remarkable, but his efforts are not accompanied by strengthening of the rule of law."

The report finds that since the beginning of his presidency, Jokowi has implemented a cautious bottom-up strategy needed to promote tolerance and moderation, while not directly confronting extremist groups.

"This perhaps explains why he has not been taking enough top-down measures required to improve law and order. And extremist groups seem to have little fear of action by the government yet."

The WEA Religious Liberty Commission says that one month after Jokowi took office, two extremist groups: the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Forum of Indonesian Islamic community (Formasi) blocked services in four Protestant churches.


They then threatened a Catholic church, St. Odilia in Cinunuk, in West Java province.

"There was an opportunity in these incidents for Jokowi to set the tone of his governance by taking strong action against these groups, but he didn't avail it," the report finds.

Of Indonesia's 256 million people, some 87 per cent are Muslims and about 9 percent are Christians. Two per cent of the population are Catholics.

The GKI Yasmin church in Bogor in Jakarta's suburbs also continues to hold worship services outside the presidential palace as its building remains sealed.

This is despite a directive of the Supreme Court for the local authority to allow the church use the premises. The city mayor says he will still not de-seal the church.

Jokowi has the power to enforce the highest court's order, but he has taken no action against the Bogor mayor, who is under pressure from extremist groups.

The GKI Yasmin congregation will hold its 100th service outside the palace, which is Jokowi's office, next month to carry on with their peaceful and prayerful protest.

Recently, Jokowi presided over the congresses of Indonesia's two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah.

The report says that both of which promote tolerant versions of Islam.

"Instead of pledging strong action against those who propagate extremist ideologies and indulge in violence, he called on the NU to increase its role as a representative of moderate and peaceful Islam and to address the issue of extremism."

The WEA commission's report said as Human Rights Watch noted, Jokowi sought to "outsource a solution to Indonesia's religious intolerance problem to NU and Muhammadiyah."


It commented that despite being influential and popular, the two organizations cannot be expected to handle the growth of extremism, which has many facets and some of the can only be dealt with by the State.

A recent editorial in The Jakarta Post stated this: "Indonesians need both organizations, widely considered the global face of Indonesia's 'moderate Islam,' to contribute much more and help protect them from today's strong appeal to violent jihad in the name of God.

"These 'moderates' tend to downplay the growth of homegrown terrorism, insisting they are minority. However, a few hundred recruits of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), found to be from Indonesia, are too many from a 'moderate' Muslim nation."

Jokowi also attended attend a national congress of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country's top Muslim clerical body which issued a fatwa saying the Ahmadiyya religious group was not part of the Islamic faith and that its followers were infidels.

The fatwa has led to numerous attacks and brutal, public murders of people from the Ahmadiyya community.

In a recent meeting of Indonesian Muslims in Yogyakarta, the MUI did not invite representatives of Ahmadiyya and Shia organizations.

Instead says the report, it sent invitations to extremist groups like the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), known for its jihadist ideology, and the FPI, which has targeted Christians, local newspapers have reported.

"Jokowi's political compulsions are understandable. The parliament is dominated by opposition parties, some of which are Islamist and can make it difficult for the president to function.

"However, just as Jokowi has managed to win their support for passing important bills, it is not impossible for him to make his way to adopt a strict policy in the area of law and order.

"After all, every incident of blocking of worship services, violent attacks and closure of churches is a blatant violation of law," says the report.

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