ABDURRAHMAN WAHID: TOLERANT INDONESIAN MUSLIM MAJORITY DOESN'T SUPPORT
TERRORISTS; BUT ELEMENTS IN MILITARY AND GOVERNMENT FIND ISLAMIC RADICALS
USEFUL FOR KEEPING POWER
Abdurrahman Wahid, who was president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2000,
has long headed the largest Muslim organization in that country, the 30
million-member Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). From his home in Jakarta, he spoke
with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Oct. 17.
NATHAN GARDELS: Do you believe -- as Singapore, Malaysia and the United
States have charged -- that the Bali bombing was the work of Jeemah Islamiah,
which in turn is linked to Al Qaeda? What is their motive? What do they
ABDURRAHMAN WAHID: I don't know who the people are specifically, but
there is certainly an organization behind the bombing whose aim is to
pressure the government to be more Islamic. But this is a lost cause from
the get-go: The majority of Muslims in Indonesia not only do not like
violence, but they agree that Indonesia should be a non-religious state,
as it has been since independence in 1945.
GARDELS: The present government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri
has declared emergency laws to deal with what it finally has concluded
is a ''terrorist threat.'' Is this appropriate?
WAHID: Actually, if the government is at last keen on beating the
terrorists, it can do so without emergency measures. People who make bombs
and plot violence are violating the law. They should have been rounded
up and investigated long ago, but they weren't because some members of
the government found them politically useful in promoting the idea that,
somehow, a return to ''pure Islam'' is the answer to Indonesia's economic
and social problems.
Why, for example, did the vice president meet with members of Jeemah Islamiah
instead of investigating them? He wanted to use them to consolidate and
hold on to power.
GARDELS: As the spiritual leader of Jeemah Islamiah, should Abu
Bakar Bashir be arrested or left free to proselytize his intolerant brand
of Islam, which calls for the adoption of Sharia, the strict Islamic code
WAHID: In my opinion, he should be investigated for all the many
roles he has taken. Is he a spiritual or operational leader of Jeemah
Islamiah? What does he know? He must explain to the police his actions
and his ideas. If he is found to be connected to violence and refuses
to denounce the use of violence in his campaign to Islamicize the Indonesian
state, then he should be arrested, yes.
GARDELS: Some have worried about a backlash against the government,
as in Pakistan, if there is a crackdown on radical Islamic groups -- particularly
if the government is seen to be doing U.S. bidding. Do you see that at
WAHID: No. No. No. These radical groups are nothing. A small bunch
of people. Not more than 50,000 in a sea of more than 200 million Muslims.
They only have an impact because they receive financing from outside the
country and are useful to the agenda of various ambitious politicians.
I know Abu Bakar Bashir has said that the attacks in Bali were the work
of the Americans trying to invent an excuse to bring their anti-terror
war to Indonesia. I don't believe in this kind of conspiracy thinking.
It is crazy. The Americans are trying to eradicate terrorism, not foment
it. Bashir and some politicians are cynically playing to the ignorant
constituencies when they say this kind of thing.
GARDELS: The U.S. buildup for war in Iraq has caused anti-American
sentiment to grow among many Muslims. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohamad suggested the Bali bombers were angry about that. Do you think
that is true?
WAHID: Not in Indonesia, no. The majority is not against America.
GARDELS: As one of Indonesia's most prominent clerics, you have
been preaching against the Islamicization of government and for a non-religious
state for decades. How do you fight this new surge of Islamist terror?
WAHID: These narrow-minded Islamic groups will not flourish if
the government does not give them any political opportunity or hope of
influence. One of the reasons this government has not cracked down on
terrorism before is because some elements, including in the military,
felt the Islamic radicals would help them keep their corrupt hold on power
by agitating for a more Islamic, nationalistic state.
As I said before, why did the vice president invite these people into
his office when they are suspected terrorists instead of sending them
to the police to be investigated? In a clean society, a society free of
nepotism and corruption, such people would be thrown out.
This government has no courage to face the
terrorists. If it did, it would already have detained many thousands of
people from these radical Islamic groups and put them on trial under the
already extant laws. Invoking emergency laws now is a show of weakness.
(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/18/02)