Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Radical Islamism in Indonesia and Its Middle Eastern Connections

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Radical Islamism in Indonesia and Its Middle Eastern Connections

Article excerpt

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, followed by the Bali and Marriott bombings in 2002 and 2003, attention has turned to Indonesia. The country has become a so-called "hotbed for terrorist groups."1 However, facts also show that the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims practice a moderate form of their religion. While most Indonesians are concerned about the response of the United States to the terrorist attacks, the vast majority does not as yet support radicalism.2 Since the 2001 attacks, some radical Islamist groups have become increasingly vocal in the period. In addition, a number of reports have repeatedly argued that there are connections between these groups and transnational terrorist networks originating in Middle East, such as al-Qa'ida,3 though these ties have not been proven adequately.

With " the emergence of violent Muslim vigilante groups employing a jihadist discourse and mobilizing followers for jihad"4 in areas that never had any interreligious conflicts before, such as the Moluccas and Poso, no one can deny that Islamist radicalism has emerged in Indonesia. It has become one of the most noticeable events in the post-Suharto era.5 However, there is a difference between radical Islamism and terrorism. Indeed, all terrorist groups are radical by definition, but not all radical Islamist groups are terrorist. Islamist groups in Indonesia cannot be categorized in one or two simplified groups such as terrorist and non-terrorist or radical and non-radical. To make it more complex, there is also a religious fundamentalism, which is not necessarily radical.

This article will not seek to enlighten the discussion by identifying which group is which. Nor will it attempt to classify Indonesian Islamist groups into categories. Rather, this article's aim is to offer a partial explanation about the resurgence of radical Islamism in the post-Suharto era and to examine it in three ways. First, it places the existence of contemporary radical Islamist groups within the his tor ical context of radical Islamism in Indonesia, its past connection to colonialism, as well as more contemporary one to Middle Eastern Islamism. Second, it puts this resurgence within the larger context of global jihad movements by tracing the sources of the ideology of radicalism itself, which is the global jihad meta-narrative that dominates much of discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Arab countries. Third, it discusses the dissemination of radicalism in society, including how the media-particularly the internet-plays an important role in spreading the jihad meta-narrative and its stylized version of contemporary history.


The roots of contemporary radical Islamist groups in Indonesia can be traced to two local Islamist political movements in the country's history-the Dar al- Islam movement and the Masyumi party, as well as to several more recent transnational Islamist networks.6 Masyumi was created during the Japanese occupation as an umbrella organization for all Islamic organizations. Japan gave the ulama (the Muslim leaders) military and political training. Masyumi wa s thus politicized to compete with radical nationalist and pro-Dutch groups, which were seen as endangering Japanese authority. However, during its war of independence, the ulama declared jihad against the Dutch, who were attempting to reoccupy Indonesia. With its military capability, the Muslim leaders cooperated with the nationalist group in defending the independence movement.7

The Dar al- Islam movement began in 1948 as separatist movement of Islamist militias in West Java against the Republican government, which had accepted the unfavorable Renville Agreement with the Dutch.8 Led by a charismatic leader, Kartosuwiryo, this movement attempted to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia under Shari'a (Islamic) law. During the final years of the Indonesian revolution and until the capture of its leaders in 1962, it remained a serious competitor to the Republic of Indonesia and an alternative to the essentially secular republic led by Sukarno, the first president. …

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