Indonesia: President responsible for rise of radical Islam, says think-tank

Jakarta, 7 July (AKI) – Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is to blame for the rise of radical Islam there, leading think-tank International Crisis Group claimed on Monday.

The ICG said that Yudhoyono (photo) made a serious mistake in inviting the country’s main conservative Islamic body, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, to help shape policy in 2005.

This “opened the door for hard-line groups to press for greater state intervention to define orthodoxy and legislate morality,” said Sidney Jones, a senior advisor with the ICG.

The Brussels-based ICG made the claim in its latest report ‘Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree’.

The ICG claims the joint ministerial decree that recently “froze” the activities of the Ahmadiyah sect, is a consequence of the increased political power that radical Islamic groups have gained under the current administration.

Ahmadiyah sect followers are not recognised as Muslims by the religious authorities in the Islamic world because they deny the fundamental Islamic belief that the Prophet Muhammad was the last Prophet, although they accept him as a prophet and God’s messenger.

Nine months into his presidency, Yudhoyono accepted an invitation to open the 7th National Congress of the MUI on 26 July 2005.

On that occasion, he told participants: “We open our hearts and minds to receiving the thoughts, recommendations and fatwas from the MUI and ulema [Muslim scholars] at any time.”

In November 2007, Yudhoyono reinforced his first endorsement of the MUI in 2005 with a second appearance, this time before a national MUI meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the MUI issued ten guidelines for determining ‘deviancy’.

The MUI urged the government to immediately make its Coordinating Body for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakorpakem) more active at national and local government level.

The group also called on the government to increase its budget to enable it to better monitor compliance with the guidelines.

Under Yudhoyono, the MUI has taken on a more influential policy-making role than it ever had in the past, the ICG argued.

Radicals have also been seeking to influence government policy, and the links between the MUI and more militant radical groups are epecially dangerous, the ICG claimed.

In a way, the MUI is considered the radical Islamic movement’s chief lobbyist.

The MUI, is in theory supposed to be broadly representative. But in reality, the most active members of the executive board are often the most conservative.

These include several from organisations represented in the Forum Ummat Islam, a broad coalition of fundamentalist Islamic groups established in 2005.

FUI represents the link between the MUI and more militant grassroots groups. Among the latter, one of the most active is the Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

The HTI has led mass demonstrations backing an anti-pornography bill against ‘deviant’ sects, supporting a ban on the Ahmadiyah sect and opposing fuel price hikes.

A senior HTI official is also the FUI Secretary General.

“HTI provides the strategic thinking (for FUI) while the muscle power is provided by the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI) whose members often serve as the security guards for FUI demonstrations,” said the ICG.

 “This brings HTI, whose members eschew violence, into an alliance with a group known for thuggish attacks,” warned the think-tank.

The FPI was founded in August 1998, a few months after the fall of former dictator Suharto, who had ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years.

Officially, the FPI was formed as a vehicle for collaboration between religious scholars and the Muslim community.

Unofficially, however, the FPI is believed to have enjoyed the backing of Indonesia’s military chief 1998 to October 1999, General Wiranto.

It was one of several Islamic groups enlisted to counter pro-democracy activists, and has been able to act with almost total impunity. 

The FPI is often used by political elites needing religious legitimacy, in exchange for economic and material gains.

It is also suspected of links with corrupt elements of the security forces involved with protection rackets.

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