BAN JI AND PURSUE TERRORISTS FEARLESSLY © Duncan Graham
Jemaah Islamiyah, the shadowy terrorist group alleged to be behind the Bali bombing and other atrocities, should be banned by the Indonesian government, according to Hasyim Muzadi, leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).
With a claimed 40 million members NU is the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia and possibly the world.
Since losing his bid to become vice president in last year’s general election as Megawati Sukarnoputri’s running mate, Muzadi has been concentrating on his NU duties.
In a wide-ranging discussion at his home in Malang, East Java, Muzadi told The Jakarta Post that Indonesian Christians had nothing to fear from perceived intolerance. However some Protestant denominations were causing strife by seeking to Christianise Muslims.
He urged mainstream Protestants to rein in sects and follow the lead of Catholics whose welfare activities in education and medicine were more likely to attract adherents.
Below is an edited version of the interview:
Three years ago you told this newspaper that terror should be stopped. But since then there have been more bombings and more people have been killed. What’s going wrong?
I push the police to be brave enough to take action against terrorism and to join with NU. NU can give information to society that religion is not violent, but if there’s violence the police must act quickly.
Now there’s cooperation between NU and the police.
I have also told the Americans and the Australian ambassador that violence in the Middle East must decrease. Otherwise more violence there will increase violence here.
The superpowers, like the US, along with other countries should handle Middle East problems with wisdom, so terrorists do not bring their anger to Indonesia.
Indonesia is not a terrorist country but the victim of terrorism.
But countries like America and Australia think Indonesia is a terrorist country because you haven’t banned Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and some claim Indonesia isn’t taking terrorism seriously.
That is not true. JI in Indonesia is an underground movement and does not exist. So society doesn’t know who is JI. That’s known only by intelligence.
JI must be arrested through intelligence because it’s impossible to be arrested by NU. NU doesn’t know who is JI.
The leader of JI has been arrested but according to Indonesian law terrorism charges must be faced in court, and not through terror.
Terror creates terror. For example, in Thailand there’s terrorism which the government is fighting using terror.
Prosecuting terror through the courts takes a long time but it’s a safer process. All convicted terrorists should be executed.
Terror, like the Marriott Hotel bombing, killed Indonesians, not Westerners. The same thing happened with the Australian Embassy bombing where Indonesians were the targets.
There must be international cooperation to catch terrorists before they take action, but Indonesian law must be changed first.
The UN also said JI should be made illegal. Do you think it should be prohibited by the Indonesian Government?
But why doesn’t the government do it?
I don’t know. But we don’t know who is JI and what is JI. Society doesn’t know JI and no one confesses to being JI.
Many Westerners think that the reason the Indonesian government will not ban JI is because they are frightened of Muslim reaction.
Oh, no. All Muslims will support the government if they catch terrorists – but this must be according to law. If not the law must be changed. NU and Muhammadiyah all support the government if the government takes serious action against terrorism.
Following the train bombing in Spain the population crowded the streets. There were protests everywhere. That hasn’t happened in Indonesia. Why not?
Because in Indonesia it’s a terrorist movement. It’s the government’s responsibility to arrest and prosecute them. That is the problem. Countries that become the targets of terrorism have joined with America in the war in the Middle East. Otherwise I don’t think they’d become a target. That is why the bomb in Spain was more terrifying than bombs in Indonesia.
But I guarantee that NU and all Muslim congregations in Indonesia will support the government to arrest terrorists whatever their organisation.
Some Westerners get the impression that it’s only leaders like yourself, and the media and those directly concerned who are worried about terrorism, but the majority isn’t. Is that correct?
I think, yes. Because terrorism, if it’s handled properly by the government, will be finished soon. Terrorism isn’t a big issue in Indonesia because the mainstream in Indonesia is not violent. It’s different with Muslims in the Middle East.
Conflict in the Middle East is coarse while in Indonesia we have a united culture and conflict is limited.
You’ve been very strong in speaking out against terrorism but is that message getting through to the pesantren, the villages, the kampung, the mosques and prayer rooms?
I think that’s in process. Coordination with all religious leaders from headquarters down must be continuous and down to the grassroots. That’s necessary.
But it’s taking a long time.
No, no. In East Java it took two years for Muslims to be united with Christians after the church bombings in Situbondo (in 1996). I think in other places the process will take one or two years because we’re dealing with the problems of a society whose understanding of the issues is still low.
Even though the grassroots society can be rough, they are not terrorists.
That’s why we have an agreement with other religious leaders so they inform their congregations so they don’t become violent. It’s not exclusive to Muslims, it also involves Christians.
There are local beliefs and the respective leaders must be responsible for passing information to the grassroots people.
There is still violence in Muslim society and there’s violence amongst Christians too. For example, from the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, the Methodists and others.
Do you think those groups are trying to Christianise Indonesia?
Yes, they are. That is why Christian leaders must control attempts to Christianise.
Later on Muslims, Christians and other religions can be united at the grassroots level. However this process is always disturbed by politics inside and outside Indonesia.
So what’s your message to Christians in Indonesia?
I think Indonesian Christians have no problem.
Should Christians be frightened?
How about the churches that have been closed in West Java?
Houses were closed that had been used as churches, not pre-existing churches. It’s illegal for houses to be used as churches.
The tough Muslim people take action because the Christians are violent too. Finally radical Muslims close the houses. NU members who force closures are wrong. Only the State has the right to do this.
What is your advice to Indonesian Christians living where the majority are Muslim?
Every month I meet with the Cardinal and leaders of Christian churches. I advise Christians to follow the Catholic way. Catholics are quieter, more systematic, better educated. If Pentecostals can follow their methods there’s no reason for ordinary people to fight.
But because the followers of Bethel and Jehovah go to Muslim houses giving Bibles to Muslims, finally anger erupts, and the churches are also angry.
The Catholics don’t just build churches; they also provide hospitals and schools. That’s good. People who follow them do so because they see the examples of the work of that faith.
So you think some Protestant churches have been immoderate?
Yes a few of them - Pentecostal, Methodist, Charismatic and Jehovah and some other sects in Indonesia. There are more than 200 denominations but the PGI (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia – Union of Indonesian Churches) can only control about 70. This means that 130 are out of control. When something happens they report direct to the West, to America, Geneva and Germany. This can make a small event become a world problem.
Though only three churches had been closed at the time, when I visited the Vatican people were saying that thousands of churches had been closed.
How about the Islamic sector in West Java. The Islamic sect Ahmadiyah has been attacked by ordinary Muslims.
Ahmadiyah has been prohibited by the state since 1978. Because it was banned it didn’t develop until after Reformasi and with it the freedom that allowed Ahmadiyah to return.
Village people feel that the regulation is still as before so there were attacks. But NU did not agree with the attacks because they were violent. So I went to the police and asked them to stop the attacks. If they couldn’t handle they should ask NU to stop the attacks.
Many people see the hostility in West Java and the threats against the churches as examples of growing intolerance. Do you think Indonesia is becoming more intolerant?
No, no. I said before if the police take speedy action and are helped by mass organisations, violence can be stopped.
The factor here is not religious intolerance but politics. For example, the Bali bomb which exploded last week was more about politics and religion while the first bomb in 2002 was about religious issues.
With the fuel price increases there were many riots. I’m concerned that the police concluded too quickly that the issue was about religion. Research first, then arrests and interrogate them. Later on form conclusions. Then we can decide whether the issue is religion or politics.
The impact of a wrong statement can be significant.
This is terror, not religion. What are the terrorists’ motives? Do they want to disturb the issues of fuel or religion? Nowadays some are too quick to say it’s religion, and then the issue gets enlarged.
In 2002 after the Bali bomb I went directly to Bali with the Cardinal and Christian leaders and then to Australia to explain the situation. But this time I haven’t been asked. I’m still waiting to learn of the terrorists’ motives for the second bombs.
When a country like Australia continues to call for the banning of JI and the jailing of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, what’s your reaction? Do you think Australia is interfering in Indonesian affairs?
Oh, no. As long as a country is disadvantaged by terror it has a right to speak and to be concerned about its citizens. So I don’t have any objection when Australian citizens are victims and there are joint ventures with Indonesian intelligence. That’s right.
Finally, Do you regret not being vice president?
No. I thank God I didn’t become vice president. I became a candidate with Megawati to keep the relationship between Islam and Indonesian nationalism, so Indonesia would remain a pluralistic society, united but diverse.
I was aware that there were weaknesses in Megawati’s government. Megawati is an honest person. Better to have an honest friend than a clever person who is dishonest.
Finally I became only the runner-up. But even though I didn’t become VP the principals I fought for remain.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 October 05)