By Mark Durie
October 21, 2002
In all the discussion of the Bali tragedy this past week, many Australians have searched for a reason why so many innocent people have been killed. Surely such hatred must have some explanation? Could it be something we have done? Was it East Timor? The 'war on Iraq'? Our lifestyle? Our indifference to world poverty?
This bomb attack, and others like it, must be understood in terms of the strategic goals and world view of the Islamic terrorist organizations which carry them out. All these groups aim to establish the Islamic shari'a or 'Islamic way' as the law of the land. They oppose existing regimes in Muslim countries, which are rejected as un-Islamic. A second belief they share is that jihad is the best method for bringing this objective about. Countless books, tracts and training schools emphasize these two principles.
At the time of independence from the Dutch in 1945, calls for Indonesia to become an Islamic state were successfully resisted. The authors of Indonesia's constitution opted instead for pluralism, affirming a diversity of religions including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. The national motto is 'Unity in Diversity'.
However during the 1980's President Suharto, to prop up his ailing presidency, began to court Islamic radicals, who grew rapidly in influence. One of the effects of this political shift has been an escalation of attacks on Christian communities in Indonesia. The Barnabas Fund (UK) reported at the end of 2000 that half a million Christians have become internally displaced; more than 5,000 people have been killed; and as many as 7,000 have been forcibly converted to Islam. Local Muslim communities have also experienced great suffering in the violent confrontations.
Churches attacked or destroyed in Indonesia since Independence
|1996- present||Over 500|
Source: Indonesian Christian Communications Forum
There are renewed calls today for Indonesia to become a shari'a state. However an obstacle to imposition of the shari'a, apart from the many moderate Muslims, is the handful of provinces with significant Christian populations, or, in the case of Bali, a majority Hindu population.
In November 2000 the Laskar Jihad militia announced 'We intend during this Ramadan to ... carry out various activities paving the way for full shari'a at least in places that have now become exclusively Islam, such as the islands of Ternate, Tidore and Bacan.' This is a kind of code for religious cleansing of Christians from those regions. The town of Poso in Central Sulawesi used to have a population of 40,000, mostly Christian. By the end of 2002 it had been reduced to an exclusively Muslim population of 5,000, with all of its churches destroyed. Reports of the Laskar Jihad's operations in Ambon and Sulawesi describe a systematic progression through villages and towns, sometimes using equipment such as bulldozers, petrol tankers, rocket launchers and other military hardware. Villages are looted, burnt out and razed to the ground.
The Laskar Jihad is known to include fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's top political and security minister, has said of them 'They also play a role in defending truth and justice that is expected by Muslims in Indonesia. For me, as far as what they are doing is legal and not violating the law, then this is OK'.
The Laskar Jihad has proven links to the Al Qa'ida, which by its title is officially dedicated to world-wide jihad against 'Jews and Crusaders' (Crusaders means 'Christians' in terrorist-speak). An Al Qa'ida training centre near Poso was used by the Laskar Jihad as a staging base for many attacks against local Christians, constantly frustrating local attempts at reconciliation between Muslims and Christians during 2001. More recently the Laskar Jihad have proclaimed West Papua as their next theatre of operations. Thousands of militants have been gathering there to prepare the way for the next jihad campaing. Although the Laskar Jihad claim to have disbanded just hours before the Bali atrocity, their troops remain in Papua.
The label 'sectarian violence', used so irresponsibly by the media for all this terror, has served to conceal and minimize the overall impact of the radical jihad groups' activities within Indonesia. The world has allowed destabilization, terror and displacement to advance a very great way already.
The shift from jihad against Indonesian citizens to attacks on foreigners heralds a new phase in the struggle. Yet the goal of this operation must still be measured in terms of the way it could forward the pro-shari'a cause. It has certainly greatly weakened Hindu Bali and, by dealing the tourist trade a deadly blow, it will serve to isolate Indonesia from Western scrutiny and influence. Forcing Megawati to take action against militants could hasten her political demise, and leave the way open for a more acceptable replacement. It also helps the shari'a cause that the operation was conducted in Bali, where Muslims would be much less likely to have been hit as collateral damage.
As we mourn the lost, and express sympathy and sorrow for the suffering of survivors from the Bali attack, let us work and seek for peace in Indonesia, a return to religious harmony, and a stable future for this great nation.