Islam's Radical Twist in Indonesia
Ban of US movie highlights growth of fundamentalism among nation's youth
JAKARTA — THE Holocaust film epic, ``Schindler's List,'' is the latest target of Islamic revivalists in Indonesia.
The film, branded Zionist propaganda by conservative Muslims across Southeast Asia, was threatened with a government ban after thousands of young Indonesian Muslims demanded the award-winning Steven Spielberg film not be shown. Earlier, Malaysia considered a ban on the film for being too sympathetic to Jews and for sex and nudity scenes.
In Indonesia, where film censors say they would allow screening in exchange for cuts, the controversy over ``Schindler's List'' reflects a larger struggle to maintain the country's moderate brand of Islam and reputation for religious tolerance.
More than 80 percent of Indonesia's 185 million people are Muslim, making it the world's most populous Muslim nation. But the state-sponsored ideology known as Pancasila offers equality to all major religions.
Still, in recent years, Islam here has taken a radical twist, becoming more political and triggering incidents of religious strife. As Muslims confront a changing identity amid an Islamic revival, the potential for religious upheaval remains strong in this expansive archipelago, Muslim leaders and Western analysts say.
``Even in Indonesia, there are seeds of fundamentalism,'' says Abdurrahman Wahid, the country's most respected Muslim leader and a moderate who favors greater democracy.
Mr. Wahid, the thoughtful, soft-spoken leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization - the Nahdlatul Ulama or ``the rise of the religious leaders'' - has been fighting an uphill struggle to contain a right-wing swing among young Muslims.
With political opposition and the press still restricted, Islam is often the voice for dissent in Indonesia and is used by radicals who have been suppressed in the past.
In the last two years, there has been an outbreak of violence by radical Muslims outraged at what they charge is excessive proselytizing by Christians. Churches were burned, and some Christian homes attacked. In a high-profile incident in 1990, a magazine called the Monitor was shut down, its offices stoned by mobs, and its editor imprisoned after the weekly published a popularity poll in which the Prophet Muhammad finished 11th.
Last November, angry Muslim students demonstrated on university campuses against a state-sponsored lottery that was considered a violation of the Islamic injunction against gambling. Critics, who some Indonesian analysts said were trying to stir a new student movement, also attacked the lottery as a waste of poor people's money. Fearing student unrest, the government said it would reconsider.
As debate and outrage broke over ``Schindler's List,'' tensions were running high over the massacre of Palestinians in Hebron. Muslim youth demonstrated at United States diplomatic offices around the country and denounced growing contacts with Israel, with which Indonesia does not yet have diplomatic relations.
Recently, a flood of books and articles attacking Jews in major newspapers has appeared. Mostly translated from Middle East publications, they warn of Zionist threats and conspiracies and feed anti-Semitism as a common bond among Muslims elsewhere in the world, Western analysts say. ``Most Indonesian Muslims, particularly the intellectuals, are not anti-Semitic and do not want the country to become an officially Islamic state,'' an Indonesian analyst says.
Wahid, the Islamic leader who has been branded a Zionist and Christian by his opponents, says the Islamic resurgence resulted from President Suharto's efforts to woo Muslim groups. Although the president has defended the official secular policy of Indonesia, he has emphasized his Muslim roots in recent years.
To ensure his last years in power go smoothly, Western observers say the elderly Suharto has used Islamic conservatives to counterbalance the powerful armed forces and neutralize a powerful outlet for political opposition.
Beginning in the late 1980s, he has broadened the reach of Islamic courts, increased Islamic references in the national curriculum, taken his first hajj (pilgrimage), and allowed the establishment of an Islamic bank.
Almost four years ago, Suharto sponsored the creation of the conservative Indonesian Association of Muslim Intelletuals, an organization headed by B. J. Habibie, a prot of the president.
Calling Suharto ``fair-minded religion-wise,'' Wahid says the president is now trying to control the religious fervor among the conservatives he distrusts.
``The president's decision to appease fundamentalism by allowing them to take control of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals gave them encouragement,'' he observes. ``But I think he will strike against the fundamentalists if it goes above a certain level.''
Wahid, who wields power as the head of an organization with 30 million followers, has often been mentioned as a political leader in Indonesia. He hedges on his prospects, but still insists that ``religion should be above politics.... It's bad for Islam itself because politics can use religion for its own purposes,'' he says.
``Once they begin to legislate religious teachings into the law of the nation, then you begin to discriminate against the minority and the underpinnings of society get violated.''