mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Radical Islam On The Rise In Indonesia?

Despite President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech “A New Beginning”, the killing of Bin Laden, and the extensive drone program, Islamic radicalism appears to be on the rise in a number of places around the world. This is obviously a threat to America, but it’s especially threatening to Islamic minority sects, like the tolerant and pacifistic Ahmadi muslims, or Shi’ites, who are seen as apostates by Sunni radical. And naturally the Christian communities that have lived in Muslim countries for centuries aren’t safe either.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, and has traditionally been far more tolerant of religious diversity than its counterparts in the Middle East. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, even Indonesia does not seem to be escaping the recent spread of radical islam.  Millions of Ahmadis, Shi’ites and Christians living in the country are increasingly feeling unsafe. Last year, three Ahmadi Muslims were beaten to death by an angry crowd; more recently, two Shi’ites were killed and 35 of their homes torched. And as in Pakistan, the Indonesian government and police are often of little help:

According to witnesses, police officers stood idly by during the attack. After the incident, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, instead of consoling the Shiites and offering state protection, suggested they convert to “mainstream Islam” and relocate from Sampang.

Indonesia’s president Yudhoyono has mostly been silent, and is above all focused on maintaining power, having to compromise with his more Islamist-oriented coalition partners. Meanwhile, more than 350 local governments have passed laws based on Sharia. Most notably, the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party is now in charge of the well-connected agricultural ministry.

Extrapolating from western history, many observers reassure themselves with the thought that modernization will inevitably turn Islam into a peaceful and tolerant religion — and that moderate Islam is the wave of the future. We can hope that this is so, and the world of Islam is so large, so complex and so filled with so many different societies at different stages of development that there are places where this is so.

But in many countries, in Islam as at earlier stages of western history, modernization can go hand in hand with religious radicalization. Oliver Cromwell and his Protestant zealots who desecrated cathedrals and knocked out “idolatrous” stained glass through the British Isles were modernizing, forward thinking people in their way. As traditional rural populations move to the cities, the folk Islam of isolated rural communities, still often influenced by pre-Islamic rituals and ideas, often shifts to a more ‘orthodox’ — and in some cases — radical book Islam. And as larger number of Muslims from poor countries like Indonesia continue to make the hajj, wider radical currents in a place like Saudi Arabia are better positioned to influence practices and doctrines in the far flung corners of the Islamic world.

It is naive to think that modernization, like a magic genie popping out of a bottle just in time, will tame the fires of radicalism that currently burn so intensely in so much of the world. In Indonesia, parts of Africa and many other places around the world, the radicals look like the modernizers, sweeping centuries of tradition, folk piety and Sufi mysticism away just as the early Protestants closed the monasteries, cracked down on folk superstition and did their best to replace traditional doctrines and forms of piety with ideas taken directly from the Holy Book, their only, infallible guide.

The west’s road from religious reformation to pluralistic, tolerant democracy was a long and a winding one. It’s not clear that the Islamic world is even on the same road, but if it is, we may see more radicalism and violence rather than less as the process gathers strength.

Features Icon
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service