By Michael Scott Moore
As the United States tries to spread democracy throughout the Muslim world, a rare meeting with Islamic radicals in Indonesia shows the downside of the country’s post-Suharto representative politics: It has allowed fundmentalists to openly thrive in a country where they were once suppressed. Are there lessons to be learned here for Iraq?
An Indonesian soldier guards a Christian prayer service beside a church destroyed in religious fighting several years ago in Poso, Central Sulawesi province, Indonesia.
As people shopped for groceries at an open-air market on New Year’s Eve in the Indonesian coastal town of Palu, a homemade bomb loaded with nails killed at least eight people and ripped apart a kiosk selling pork. Christians on the island of Sulawesi eat pork on New Year’s, but devout Muslims, of course, don’t. Indonesian police believe the bombing is the latest tragic installment in a long-simmering religious struggle, like the decapitation of three Christian girls on another part of the island last October. Militants with machetes attacked the girls in a cocoa plantation while they walked to a Christian school, and — just to make sure they made their point nice and clear — they left one of the heads lying outside a church.
The message was war: Sulawesi is half-Christian, but jihadis there think the island should be sanitized for Islam. The idea is to win a limited war for shariah law in an area where radicals think they can set up an Islamic government. Scattered “secure areas” for shariah have existed in other countries, like the Philippines. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front built base camps there in the early ’90s, for example, and within a few years a network of Muslim villages on Mindanao Island answered to “the Bangsamoro Islamic government” instead of Manila.
This war has been mentioned by US President George W. Bush. Lately he’s been on the lecture circuit to refresh everyone’s memory about the war on terrorism. “The terrorists’ stated objective,” he has said recently in a handful of cities, “is to drive US and coalition forces out of Iraq and gain control of that country and then use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks against America, overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East, and establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Spain to Indonesia.”