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Indonesia extremists out to exploit anger over Burma unrest

With news coming in about abuses and mistreatment of Burmese Muslims, militants in Indonesia see an opportunity to urge violent jihad. Religious leaders – and the Muslims of Burma – have rejected such calls as unhelpful.

By Okky Feliantiar for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

May 10, 2013
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A bomb plot, coinciding with a noisy rally by the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), has rattled nerves in Indonesia, where extremist groups appear to have found a new pretext for violent jihad. The target this time is Burma, where Muslim communities have come under increasing attacks by local Buddhist mobs.

  • A member of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), a hardline group in Indonesia, protests against a film festival in 2010. FPI members have taken up the anti-Muslim violence in Burma as a rallying cry for militancy, with hundreds showing up to protest in front of the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta earlier this month. [Adek Berry/AFP]

    A member of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), a hardline group in Indonesia, protests against a film festival in 2010. FPI members have taken up the anti-Muslim violence in Burma as a rallying cry for militancy, with hundreds showing up to protest in front of the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta earlier this month. [Adek Berry/AFP]

Religious leaders, meanwhile, are urging Indonesians not to let anger over events in Burma feed the agenda of militant groups whose activities are contrary to Islamic teachings.

On May 3rd, officials said that they had foiled a plot to bomb the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta in retaliation for attacks against Muslims. "We are very certain that they would have launched the attack if we did not stop them," said Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia's anti-terrorist agency.

Thirteen suspects have been detained in connection with the alleged conspiracy, and seven others were killed by counterterrorism police in a series of raids on Thursday.

Abu Bakar Bashir, the jailed spiritual mentor of the hardline Jemaah Islamiyah, is thought to be encouraging campaigns for violence against Burma. According to Indonesian media reports, he addressed a letter to the Burmese government last August and warned that Islamists would bring about Burma's destruction.

Muslims in Burma: "we totally reject this call for violence"

Burmese Muslims, however, have staunchly rejected such threats, saying that jihadist violence would do nothing to help their community.

"This is not the solution. We totally reject this call for violence," All Myanmar Muslim Federation spokesperson Ko Ko La said in comments quoted by The Irrawaddy.

Abdullah Sahidi, a 57-year-old Islamic cleric living in Jakarta, agreed. Muslims, he said, would do better to focus their efforts on providing humanitarian assistance.

"Muslims along with the Indonesian government can continue their effort in improving health and education for Rohingya Muslims here (Indonesia) and in Myanmar. It will have a better impact than killing people under the name of Jihad," he continued.

Extremist violence is contrary to Islam, he stressed.

"We need to make sure everyone knows that doing 'jihad' by killing other people is not jihad; it is wrong. We should remind all of our Muslim fellows that the act of killing people by using bombs is not Islamic, and it is not what Muhammad, our prophet, teaches us," Abdullah said.

Even as the bomb plot was being uncovered, protesters gathered last Friday in front of the Burmese embassy to demand an end to the anti-Muslim violence.

For some, the rally was an opportunity to press the Burmese government to intervene and protect the rights of the Muslim minority.

"They had five demands: for [Burma's] government to stop the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, to return the Rohingya Muslims' rights, grant citizenship to them, ensure the welfare of Rohingya Muslims, and specifically for the Indonesian government to put pressure [on Burma] to help Rohingya Muslims," said Puspita Sari, a 24-year-old student who witnessed the protest.

But with hundreds of FPI militants showing up, however, the mood threatened to escalate into violence.

"They were calling for jihad, tearing pictures of President Thein Sein, and ripping up [the Burmese] flag. They can do unpredictable things, including harm people. I told my family to stay away from the location. Thank goodness we saw thousands of police there to secure the location," said Arif Asrudin, a 55 year-old Jakarta resident.

"Actually, even local people in the area were scared of the FPI movement," he added.

Analyst: Burma situation must be contained

Conflict resolution expert Rizal Panggabean said the Burma situation can have serious consequences for Indonesia.

"The Rohingya ethnic conflict in Burma/Myanmar needs to be resolved soon to avoid any bad situation involving radical groups, including Muslim hardliners and extremists," he told Khabar over the phone.

Indonesia has had long and bitter experience with intercommunal strife, he said.

Asked for answers on how to solve the problem in the Rakhaine state, Rizal said, "The Myanmar [Burma] government needs to accept Rohingya Muslims as citizens."

Reader Comments
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    • acehnese
      July 10, 2013 @ 03:07:32AM
    • This newspaper is garbage! Why are you saying that Muslims are extremists?
    • kuweqq
      May 11, 2013 @ 11:05:07PM
    • Nonsense.
    • Abdul Wahid
      May 10, 2013 @ 11:05:33PM
    • Fighting for something does not always mean violence, there are avenues that are non-violent. A peaceful method that does not result in casualties is a wiser choice.
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