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FEER: All Talk, No Action
By Dini Djalal, John McBeth
19/10/2001 1:55 pm Fri
[Kadang-kadang kita perlu membaca rencana yang tidak disenangi kerana
ia muncul kerana sikap pemimpin kita juga. Sekali lagi FEER menemubual
golongan yang tidak sepatutnya seolah-olah ia berkhidmat untuk Umno. Sekali
lagi, salah siapa FEER atau salah kita?
All Talk, No Action
Muslim radicals in the region have tried to whip up fervour against
the United States. But they've had scant success as most Muslims are
more concerned about domestic issues
By Dini Djalal and John McBeth/JAKARTA
HABIB MUHAMAD RIZIEQ is a man bent on waging Islamic holy war against
the United States and its allies, but the genial Indonesian
cleric--like other Muslim militants in Southeast Asia--is not having
much luck recruiting an army to the cause.
The 36-year-old Islamic Defenders Front leader's call for jihad
resonates among Indonesia's small, though vocal, band of Muslim
extremists, drawing a steady stream of self-styled mujahideen, or holy
warriors, from across Java and Sumatra--many in their teens--to his
ramshackle headquarters in a poor Jakarta neighbourhood. His
anti-Western rhetoric has spooked foreign nationals living in the
country and forced the temporary closure of the U.S. and other
But protests in Indonesia, already wearied by three years of communal
and political strife, have drawn only a few hundred hardline adherents
and the same pattern is being seen in other Muslim-populated areas.
Despite a broad reservoir of anti-U.S. sentiment--often stoked by a
hostile media--moderate Islam across Southeast Asia has proven to be
surprisingly resistant to extremism in a region struggling to
rationalize America's war on terrorism with showing Muslim solidarity.
Many are finding that problems at home are simply more relevant and
pressing. Others believe the financial cost of falling out with the
U.S. will be too much at a time when their economies are in trouble.
And there are some voicing their concerns through democratic
channels--notably Thailand's Muslims, who gained new, much-welcomed
freedoms under the country's 1997 constitution. (See story on page
But the danger remains--and Indonesian militants in particular may be
counting on it--that a long-drawn-out U.S. campaign will stir up more
widespread anti-American sentiment and draw support from those hit the
hardest by an economic downturn. Mindful of their large Muslim
constituencies, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad are hedging their bets and
have begun criticizing the strikes against Afghanistan after initially
supporting the fight against terrorism.
For the moment, their Muslim populations and those in other countries
are, generally, staying in line. In Jakarta, turbaned radicals
demanding a boycott of American products are now being greeted with
disapproving comments by people worried about how their actions will
impact on tourism, investment and Indonesia's shattered economy. "You
don't represent me or Islam," shouts a bystander during a recent rally
at the well-guarded U.S. embassy.
And though Malaysia recently witnessed the largest anti-U.S.
demonstration in its history, it may have been anger at globalization
as much as religion that brought the 3,000 protesters into the streets
of Kuala Lumpur. As in Indonesia, moderate voices in the opposition
Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, have been drowned out in a wave of
radical rhetoric designed mainly to score local political points. But
analysts dismiss the notion that it will ignite Malaysia's silent
majority. Like many of their Indonesian neighbours, they still simply
have too much to lose. (See story on page 17.)
Moderates among Thailand's 3 million Muslims are spearheading peaceful
protest--a boycott against U.S. and British goods rather than
threatening foreign nationals or fist-punching rallies. And in the
Philippines, the imagination of the country's 5% Muslim minority is
focused on the struggle for a measure of self-rule in the dirt-poor
southern provinces--above all Mindanao--and the lack of economic
opportunities for Muslims. "Right now I think Muslims are grounded in
the problems in their own backyard," says Datu Amilusin Jumaani,
secretary-general of the moderate Ulama League of the Philippines. "We
have a separate reality to that of Afghans."
Iqbal Siregar, Jakarta chief of the Islamic Youth Movement, or GPI,
acknowledges that the general public "doesn't yet fully support our
actions." When the GPI asked for volunteers to serve in Afghanistan,
only 700 men and women signed up and none are likely ever to get
there. But Siregar believes public sentiment against the Americans
will change as air strikes continue. "It's not impossible that the
public will ultimately sympathize with us, maybe not through
demonstrating with us but through funding our organization," he says.
In Indonesia, U.S. policy toward Palestine has long been a point of
contention among the country's Muslims. But the resentment has
sharpened with the emergence of radical Islam in the past three years.
"In better times those groups wouldn't have a chance, but there is a
huge number of unemployed, widespread dissatisfaction and no ideology
for people to explain themselves in," says Sarwono Kusumaadmadja, a
former cabinet minister. "The elite is uncaring and the mosques are
increasingly taking care of social problems."
Indeed, what worries many analysts is that the radicals might
eventually attract the economically dispossessed. One major obstacle,
however, appears to be money, or lack of it, to attract the
underprivileged. Even Rizieq's Islamic Defenders Front, whose Islamic
underpinnings cloak links to the underworld and the police, operates
on a shoestring budget.
But though they find common ground in what has been a decades-long
campaign for a Muslim state, or at least the establishment of Islamic
law, Indonesia's radicals have never been united and are often sharply
divided over doctrinal and other issues. Ultimately, they and others
in the region are more preoccupied with local concerns than the plight
of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Take the Laskar Jihad, perhaps Indonesia's most militant group. The
group's leader, Ja'far Umar Thalib, a veteran of the 1980s Afghan war
of resistance against the Soviet occupation, has made himself scarce
in recent weeks. When asked why the group was not taking part in the
anti-American protests, one of his associates said it was "still
internally consolidating its response" towards the U.S. assault on
Afghanistan and added that it was wary of inciting violence. Thalib
himself has poured scorn on bin Laden's Islamic credentials and says
he refused an offer of funds from the Saudi millionaire. He told a
press conference on October 16 that: "Religion-wise, bin Laden is
empty. He only has followers because he has money." Some analysts
believe the Laskar Jihad is keeping a low profile because it fears a
military crackdown that would set back its domestic agenda of making
inroads into Christian areas.
Hardline activist Eggi Sudjana, who heads the Muslim Workers'
Brotherhood, cites economic reasons for his union's silence. He says
he doesn't support sweeps against U.S. citizens and interests "because
it will do nothing to stop the bombing." Boycotting American goods and
attacking U.S. franchises would only lead to job losses for
Indonesians, he reasons.
And Philippine Muslims seem even more removed from the issue, for all
the attention given to the Abu Sayyaf and its bin Laden connections.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, for example, is concentrating on a
fresh round of peace talks initiated by President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo earlier this year. The talks are backed by the
Organization of Islamic Conferences. Shariff Julabbi, a member of the
MILF negotiating panel, says getting involved in the Afghanistan issue
will only "complicate the matter."
For the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace pact with
the government in 1996, the cause for concern is the future of the
shaky autonomous administration created as part of the deal on
Mindanao. If the central government fails to push development, warns
Mohammednur Ajihil, former executive assistant to the head of the
MNLF, Nur Misuari, younger Muslims could become disillusioned with
What worries many commentators in Indonesia and Malaysia is the way
government and moderate Islamic leaders surrendered the rhetorical
high ground to the extremists. After her initial statement in
Washington supporting the campaign against terrorism, Megawati only
succeeded in angering all sides with her subsequent inaction. Her
recent criticism of the U.S. strikes is clearly aimed at domestic
Like most of Indonesia's political and business elite, Dewi Fortuna
Anwar, a former aide to ex-President B.J. Habibie, worries about the
damage that could be done to the country's national interest. "We
can't survive economically without interacting with the international
community," she says. "This is a time when she should have showed
leadership and acted as a bridge between the Muslims and the West.
Indonesia was well placed to do that."
In Malaysia there are also serious concerns about how the field is
being left to the extremists. Zainah Anwar, commissioner in the
government's Human Rights Commission, worries about the growth of a
"reactive, conservative, defensive and potentially dangerous kind of
Islam." She says there is little room for dissenting Muslims, and
little room for those of other faiths to raise questions. "Very few
Muslims even discuss Islam in public, as there is the potential of
being accused as an apostate."
Farish Noor, a prominent Malaysian scholar of Islamic affairs, puts it
more succinctly. "The move towards religious politics is not like
going into a supermarket where you can buy something and if you don't
like it you can take it back." he notes. "A religious administration
is God's administration and you don't vote God out of power. We have
to be very careful where we are going."
Deidre Sheehan in Manila, S Jayasankaran and Lorien Holland in Kuala
Lumpur, and Shawn Crispin in southern Thailand contributed to this