In Indonesia, radical Islamic groups are pressuring President Megawati Sukarnoputri to pull her support for the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.
Last year, members of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) descended upon Blora Street in central Jakarta, smashing up karaoke clubs and bars. The FPI, along with the Laskar Jihad and the Darul Islam, are three of the best-known radical Islamic groups in Indonesia.
Their members number in the thousands, unlike Indonesia's dominant, mainstream Islamic groups: the Nhadlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiya. Together they boast 60 million members. Andi Mallarengeng, an analyst with the Partnership for Governance Reform, a think-tank funded by international donor agencies, says the leaders of radical groups mostly just seek publicity. "Of course they are trying to use the momentum of the September 11 after the attacks on Afghanistan to gain more popularity, to gain more support and to show their cause," he said. "But I think they are still marginal groups." Government agencies and private political risk analysts say the groups apparently are not tied to large overseas outfits committing terrorist acts. Domestically, however, the groups have been known to use violence to press their aims.
Founded in 1949, the Darul Islam is the country's oldest Islamic movement, and it seeks to create an Islamic state. Darul Islam spokesman Al Chaidar says some factions of the group fought against Christians in eastern Indonesia, and against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But Mr. Al Chaidar says using violence to spread Islamic law in Indonesia is a thing of the past. "I, with some enlightened friends of the Darul Islam, try to convert this organization," he said. "And then try to make this organization to leave its violent action toward non-violent movement." But at times Mr. Al Chaidar contradicts himself. After describing the group's peaceful goals, he provides a video tape of what he says is a secret Darul Islam training camp, which shows volunteers going through military-style drills in the forests of central Java. The FPI, which seeks to implement strict Islamic law in Indonesia, also has a reputation for violence, after a few incidents in which members destroyed bars and restaurants.
FPI leader Muhammed Rizieq Shihab says Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is wrong to back the U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. He says cutting diplomatic ties with Washington is the first step toward releasing Indonesia from what he calls U.S neo-colonialism and imperialism.
The radical groups dislike the United States, in part because of its support for Israel. There also is a belief that Washington has too much control over Jakarta.
Political analyst Mohammed Hikam is with the state-funded Indonesian Institute of Sciences. He believes the FPI is not really all that interested in foreign policy but uses it as a tool to press Jakarta for its domestic agenda, namely to implement Sharia law. "I don't think the call to break up with the U.S. is really the main agenda," he said. "The agenda is how to influence Megawati's government."
Of the three radical organizations, it is the Laskar Jihad that has most proven its willingness to fight for what it calls the defense of Muslims. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accuse Laskar Jihad of intensifying the fighting between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's eastern province of Maluku.
While these three groups may be marginal, they are outspoken. Their willingness to take to the streets is a concern. That leaves President Megawati unable to ignore them and pushes her to at least appear to listen to their demands.