Indonesia's Bashir a Lightning Rod

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Indonesia's Bashir a Lightning Rod

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On June 14, Indonesia released Abu Bakar Bashir from prison. Little known in most of the world, his name stirs instant anger in the hearts of Australians and the citizens of Bali—relatives and friends of the 202 people killed in the Bali bombing of 2002. Australian Prime Minister John Howard vigorously protested Bashir's release to Indonesian President Yudhoyono.

Bashir is a 68-year-old Muslim cleric and the believed leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a militant Islamic terrorist group, committed to creating a super-Islamic state by combining Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand. Active in all of these countries, JI also has ties to al-Qaeda.

For decades, Bashir operated a pesantren in Java. A pesantren is a religious boarding school, with its curriculum based upon the Koran. Perhaps our readers are more familiar with the term madrasa for a Muslim religious school.

In the early months following Sept. 11th, the Western press generalized about madrasas, viewing all of them as hotbeds for Islamic radicalism, but many of them are simply alternatives to unaffordable "public" education.

In countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, many people cannot afford public education (which is not free as it is in the West), so they send their children to madrasas instead. (Most madrasas do not promote terrorism, but some notoriously advance the strictest interpretation of Saudi Wahhabism.)

Muslims regard a pesantren school as higher ranking than a madrasa, because of its more conservative curriculum.

It is a residential learning center that completely immerses students into strict Islam. "Usually in rural areas and under the direction of a Muslim scholar, pesantren are attended by young people seeking a detailed understanding of the Quran, the Arabic language, the sharia [the body of Islamic law based solely upon the Koran] and Muslim traditions and history" ("Indonesia: Islamic Schools," Library of Congress Country Studies, November 1992).

When it became evident in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombing that the terrorists all graduated from Bashir's pesantren, many countries, including Australia and the United States, urged Indonesia to take action against him. Other graduates of the school perpetrated additional terrorist attacks throughout Indonesia.

However, prosecutors were not able to prove that he helped to plan or execute the attacks. Initially, they sought a sentence of 15 years, but the courts sentenced him to much less, and after standard sentence reductions, he served only a little more than two years.

Most nations in the region ban JI, but not Indonesia, perhaps in part due to the fact that the governing political party has several hard-line Islamists as members. Furthermore, a vocal minority of Indonesia supports militant Islamism.

A nation of diversity

Indonesia is unique. The largest Muslim nation in the world, it has a population of approximately 245 million (85 percent of which are Muslim) and spans more than 17,000 islands. It is also a democracy, whose government is successfully amalgamating a truly diverse people: Javanese 45 percent, Sudanese 14 percent (over 13 million), Madurese 7.5 percent, coastal Malays 7.5 percent and the last 26 percent a mixture of a wide variety of additional ethnic groups (CIA World Fact Book).

Islam came to the islands centuries ago, preceded by Hinduism and many animist religions. The earliest form of Islam was the mystical Sufism, and converts to it typically combined elements of their existing faiths with it.

Travel to the Middle East was extremely difficult in the early centuries of Indonesian Islam, so few people made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

With the advent of steamship transportation, more made the journey, which resulted in a movement to establish an Islam in the islands that was more like the faith practiced in the Middle East. Proponents of the change were the Muhammadiyah or "modernists." Those who held to the syncretistic or mixed faith are the Nahdlatul Ulama or "traditionalists" (Sejarah Indonesia, "An Online Timeline of Indonesian History," www.gimonca.com).

These two principal divisions of Islam dominate present-day Indonesia. Even though the nation taken as a whole is approximately 85 percent Islamic, the religion is not evenly dispersed throughout the islands.

For example, Aceh, a province known the world around due to the tsunami of December 2004, is 97.8 percent Islamic ("Indonesia: Islam," Library of Congress, November 1992). Bali (site of the 2002 bombing that killed over 200, injuring more than 300 others), by contrast, is majority Hindu.

Indonesia key strategic partner to West and ASEAN

If for nothing more than its huge Muslim population, Indonesia is a key strategic partner in today's world. Clearly, it carries weight with the worldwide Muslim community. In addition, the fact that it has a functioning democracy makes it a sought-after ally to the West.

Moreover, Indonesia is the largest member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), economically important to the United States and the West in an increasingly globalized market and strategically important in the worldwide effort against terror. Indonesia sits across the key choke point of the Strait of Malacca, through which more than 50,000 ships pass every year. It is the shortest sea route connecting Indonesia, India and China—three of the world's most populous countries.

"They transport about 30 per cent of the world's trade goods and 80 per cent of Japan's oil needs," according to C.S. Kuppuswamy in his paper, "Straits of Malacca: Security Implications," written for the South Asia Analysis Group in June 2004.

Because the strait is essential to world commerce, it is a prime target for terrorists, including JI and al-Qaeda. Therefore, the strait is of keen interest to the United States and other Western powers.

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the White House, as did his predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Recent visits to Jakarta by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld show America's wish to continue to develop a friendly relationship between Washington and the huge Muslim democracy.

Washington seeks and receives cooperation in the war on terror. The United States is also providing $157 million to enhance the country's educational system, particularly in math and science—clearly wishing to stem an anti-American prejudice.

Prior to her visit in March 2006, Secretary Rice said that she would be discussing the Palestinian elections with the Indonesians, noting that they have input, as well as influence with the newly-elected Hamas government. She made it plain that Washington hopes the Indonesians would encourage Hamas to align itself with the international community. She emphasized the "vibrant democracy" in Indonesia, where people can protest and speak their minds openly—unlike the autocratic, despotic and chaotic government of today's Palestinians.

Anti-American, pro pan-Islamism

Anti-American feelings ran high in Indonesia before the December 2004 tsunami crushed the primarily Muslim province of Aceh. That changed temporarily in the wake of the outpouring of enormous generosity by Americans to help them rebuild their destroyed infrastructure. More recently, American aid following the devastating earthquakes that took out more homes in Central Java than the tsunami did in Aceh, caused Indonesians to look at the United States more favorably.

Regrettably, there are signs that positive opinion is already fading, perhaps because it also reminded Indonesian Muslims of what they see in the broader worldview: Muslim countries dominated by a much wealthier Western world, principally the United States.

Jemaah Islamiyah preaches that message, sprinkled with readily available examples of Western decadence. (It also offers financial enticements to young men with no hope for profitable jobs elsewhere.) Few Indonesian Muslims adhere to the militant philosophy of using violence to establish a pure Muslim state, but many seek such a government by peaceful means.

Indonesia's millions would definitely like to see a reversal of Muslim fortunes in the world, although there isn't any single issue, or more importantly, any single leader presently on the scene to unite them with the Muslims of North Africa and the Middle East. Bible prophecy indicates that will change.

First, it shows that the United States will decline sharply, moving from the top to the bottom in many respects. For this story, see our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.

Second, it indicates that an issue or issues, as well as galvanizing leadership will emerge in the Islamic community. For that story, see our booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy.

Lastly, we anticipate that it is possible Indonesia will figure into one of the last events to occur before this age of humankind comes to an end. The final cascade of events described in prophecy is the seven trumpet plagues, the sixth of which involves an army of seemingly impossible size. Revelation 9:16 Revelation 9:16And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
American King James Version×
says, "Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them."

There are few configurations of nations that could field an army of that size. These would include China, India and Indonesia. China's available force for military service is approximately 550 million; India's numbers are about 430 million; Indonesia's are almost exactly 100 million (figures include men and women, based upon 2005 estimates, CIA World Fact Book).

Some or all three nations will be a part of the fulfillment of Revelation 9. WNP