Indonesians, like Muslims around the world, have been celebrating Eid-al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, and Indonesian police have taken steps to deter possible unrest or acts of terror during the holiday which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Some analysts say authorities in Indonesia should be especially wary of a possible increase in terrorism if there is a war with Iraq.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, and most of its 210 million people practice a moderate form of Islam. But several small extremist groups have engaged in violent acts against Indonesian or western targets.
Indonesia specialist Jeffrey Winters says some radical Islamic groups in Indonesia would likely use a war against Iraq as an excuse to cause further unrest. "I think a war with Iraq is going to be highly destabilizing to Indonesia's politics. It is going to put the wind back in the sails of the Islamic movement in Indonesia, because no matter what the United States says, the interpretation is going to be that this is an attack on an Islamic country, from the Indonesian perspective, for no other good reason," he says. "Because really the United States, I think for many people around the world, has not made a persuasive case of the imminent threat."
Mr. Winters, a professor of political science at Northwestern University in Chicago, says Muslim extremists in Indonesia may sympathize with radical groups elsewhere in the world, but they have their own local agenda. He says the timing of a possible war with Iraq is especially unfortunate for Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. "There have been demonstrations against Megawati's government for the first time, massive demonstrations around the country, because she raised prices on a number of key commodities: gasoline, fuel and so on, telephone, electricity," he says. "So, her government is against the ropes, and the elections are coming up in 2004. So, if the United States now goes to war with Iraq, that is going to give a major boost to figures like [opposition politician] Amien Rais and other more worrisome Islamic figures."
Calvin Sims, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says Indonesian extremist groups have taken advantage of international events to carry out raids against what they see as corrupting western influences. "When there's a particularly high level of anti-Americanism in Indonesia, due in part to some action in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, these groups often times go through tourist areas of Indonesia looking for Americans in hotels. And they call this "sweeping." They look for them and they say they are going to rough them up and send them packing," he says.
Indonesian Islamic leaders have expressed concern that extremist groups could become more active if the United States and its allies attack Iraq. Hasyim Muzadi, the chairman of (Nahdlatul Ulama) the country's second largest Muslim organization is quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying radicalism has abated following last October's bombings in Bali, but it could reemerge if there is a war with Iraq.
Nearly 200 people, many of them foreign tourists, were killed by the two bombs in Bali. Calvin Sims says that incident prompted Indonesia to begin cracking down on radical Islamic terrorism. "The U.S. government and other countries in the region in Southeast Asia have been pressing Indonesia for some time to crack down on what they said was a growing radical Islamic problem there. And Indonesia had been reluctant in the past, arguing that there was not enough evidence to justify arresting or detaining anyone. Bali changed all that, because of the number of people who were killed," he says.
At least 29 people have been arrested in connection with the Bali bombings, and police have identified some as members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical regional group with links to Al Qaida.
Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to want to create an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, bringing together all the region's Muslim areas. Some Jemaah Islamiyah members fought alongside other radical Muslims against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but Professor Winters says those past connections do not mean they are now working with al Qaida. "Linked in the sense, yes, that they had a common past, that they had contacts in the past. But to describe the people in, for example, Indonesia as being al Qaida operatives gives the sense that Osama Bin Laden and his friends at the top are calling the shots and sort of saying, "Blow up the Sari club in Bali." I think there's absolutely no evidence that anything like that has happened," he says.
A widely read online news service, detik.com, reports that Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil says the latest call by al Qaida terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden for Muslims to rally behind Iraq is not relevant to Indonesia. Mr. Matori is quoted as appealing to the Indonesian people to remain calm and not take any actions that could backfire on Indonesians themselves.