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Indonesia Meeting Urges Greater Religious Tolerance


Religious leaders from around Southeast Asia and Australia are urging greater efforts to promote tolerance and understanding. They met in Indonesia to build inter-religious bridges to reduce the threat posed by extremists.

The one-day meeting includes religious leaders from 11 countries from Southeast Asia, with Australia and New Zealand.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was the co-host of the gathering in the central Javanese town of Yogjakarta.

"We are particularly focused on the issue of terrorism," said Mr. Downer. "Now the terrorists, to take terrorism, have very little support, but they do have some, and I think in dealing in terrorism it's important that people understand that religious leaders in the main are moderate, that they are opposed to violence, they are opposed to physical violence, they are opposed to abuse."

The question of how to engage mainstream Muslims in dialogue while marginalizing extremists is taxing many Western governments. A recent report by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board states that "the United States today is without a working channel of communication with Muslims and the world of Islam."

The president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at the meeting called on the faithful of all religions to work against terrorism and be a force for peace.

"Terrorism today must be regarded as the enemy of all religions," he added. "In the end, the forces of light, reason and hope must overpower the forces of darkness, despair and violence."

Monday's meeting was not without its critics. A leading Australian Muslim was not invited to attend, apparently because his opinions were too radical, but a controversial Christian leader was a prominent attendee.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. While the overwhelming majority of people are moderate, analysts warn that perceptions of anti-Islamic bias in Western countries are pushing people toward radicalism.

They say the considerable success of the Indonesian and other regional security forces in arresting militants is undermined by the ability of the extremists to recruit from an ever-growing pool of radicalized youth.

Politicians hope that by reaching out to moderate Muslim leaders, they will help them fight off the challenges of the radicals.

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