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Muslimedia: Hundreds in south-east Asia sign up for jihad ...
By Abdar Rahman Koya
16/10/2001 3:15 pm Tue
Hundreds in south-east Asia sign up for jihad against American
By Abdar Rahman Koya in Kuala Lumpur
George W. Bush insists that nations who do not support the "war
against terrorism" are themselves terrorists: Muslim leaders in
Southeast Asia have their own reasons to take the 'ultimatum'
seriously. Already suffering huge political and economic
difficulties because of the East Asian crisis, both Indonesian and
Malaysian regimes now have to contend with the growing
'Islamist' tendency in domestic politics, and a resurgence of
Islam among their Muslim population.
Such Islamic fervour is most visible in Indonesia, where Muslims
have largely regained the sense of Islamic identity that the
authorities had tried to dilute during the Pancasila era introduced
by former president Suharto Recent reactions to events unfolding
in other parts of the Muslim world suggest that Muslims there are
waking up after decades of confusion. Muslim groups are almost
completely united in their opposition to any policy that supports
the west's current war against Muslims.
Jakarta, for example, has been the scene of large anti-US
demonstrations, with large crowds of young people waving
Palestinian flags and posters of Usama bin Ladin at the British
and American embassies. But, in the clearest indication yet of
anger against US policies, civil-action groups emerged months
before September 11, sometimes visiting hotels to warn American
nationals to leave or be forced to leave.
The Islamic Youth Movement, one of the many emerging
'action-oriented' groups that are recruiting volunteers for
Afghanistan, did not mince words. "If one Afghan is hurt or killed
we'll boycott American goods," said its commander, Handrian
Syah. "If two, we'll search for Americans living in Indonesia. If
three, we'll take the life of the American ambassador here. If
more, we'll destroy the American embassy." Said a spokesman
for Laskar Jihad: "We'll see how big the American military
operations against Afghanistan are - the bigger their action, the
bigger our reaction." Western expatriates have begun to leave
Indonesia; as we go to press, efforts are under way to evacuate
To date tens of thousands of Muslim youths have reportedly
signed up for the jihad in Afghanistan. The Indonesian
government has warned that it will revoke the citizenships of
those who serve against the US in Afghanistan, but few are
taking this seriously. In a country ravaged by decades of
economic plunder and now on the verge of breaking up,
citizenship is the last thing that most people care to protect.
Like Pakistan's Musharraf, president Megawati Sukarnoputri
decided to do her bidding early. Within days of September 11
she rushed to meet Bush in the White House, an 'honour' that
Mahathir of Malaysia has been trying to wrangle since early this
year. Although Megawati flew back to Jakarta with promises of
aid (US$630 million in total) from the US, this 'achievement'
now threatens to become a liability.
The more established Muslim organisations have been vocal
against any attempt by Jakarta to sing the American tune; even
so-called 'moderate' Islamic organisations have voiced their
disapproval of pro-US policies. All have warned the government
against becoming a US puppet, with parliamentary speaker
Amien Rais calling for jihad.
Anti-US sentiment is also felt in other parts of the Malay
archipelago, not least in Malaysia, where Islamists have become
a dominant force in the opposition since the beginning of the
reformasi movement. Religious and political divisions in
Malaysia, which has a non-Muslim population of 40 percent,
have widened, partly because of the west's anti-Islam
The non-Muslim press and media are having a field day,
demonising Muslims as "terrorists" and "extremists". Their aim is
of course the Islamic party, PAS, as well as other local Islamist
groups. It appeared to have the intended effect, when the
Democratic Action Party, a Chinese-dominated party in the
opposition's Alternative Front, withdrew from the coalition citing
disagreement with PAS?s long-term aim of establishing an
But fears of non-Muslims drifting further from PAS have not
prevented the party leaders from proclaiming their support for the
Afghans. Nik Abdul-Aziz, its supreme head, has called on
Muslims to help defend Muslims in Afghanistan. PAS's stand
was confirmed on October 8 when Fadzil Noor, its president,
called Americans war criminals.
While Megawati basked in the glory of rubbing shoulders with
her western mentors, Mahathir prided himself on a
telephone-call from Bush, who is supposed to have assured
Mahathir that the Americans are against "terrorism", not Islam.
The Malaysian regime had panicked when the US listed the
country as one of those harbouring 'terrorists', an allegation
that the regime now denies, although a few weeks ago it had
been fighting so-called local "Islamic militants".
After the strikes on October 8, Mahathir - who is eager to put
his West-bashing image behind him - immediately acted as
spokesman for the US: "The US stand is very clear. They are
against what they believe are terrorist hubs," he said. He issued
a warning: "We will not tolerate anyone who supports violence
and will act against these irresponsible people or anyone who
Although there have been no large-scale anti-US protests in
Malaysia, the US embassy has taken precautionary measures.
Within hours of the attack on Kabul on October 8, the US
embassy in Kuala Lumpur came under heavy security, and
policemen patrolled areas with American residents.
Western nationals, in particular Americans, are feeling the
pressure as a result of their governments' policies. Muslims in
this region have a long history of loyalty to Islam. Thousands
travelled to Afghanistan during the1980s; many were martyred
there. Malaysian Muslims have been described as soft-spoken
and a people of few words. They may well prove to be even
more when it comes to rising in defence of their Muslim brothers
thousands of miles away.