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Indonesian Muslims Undecided in Terror War - 2001-09-20

In Southeast Asia, attention is focused on how Indonesians will respond to potential U.S. retaliatory strikes against suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan. The government of Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim nation - has backed the U.S. call to combat terrorism but without expressly condoning military action. Large and politically powerful Muslim groups are taking similar positions - although some small radical groups have called for a jihad - or holy war - against America.

Wearing traditional religious headscarves, 300 women gathered in Jakarta Thursday to call for peace. They condemned last week's terrorism against the United States, but they also feared retaliation would bring more death.

A'an Rohana, of the Muslim Sisterhood, says her group "wants to ask America to cancel the attack on Afghanistan because there will be more civilian suffering, but she refuses to support calls by radical groups for violence against U.S. targets. About nine small Indonesian Islamic groups have threatened a "jihad" or holy war against the United States if it attacks another Muslim country.

But the more dominant forces in Muslim Indonesia are advocating moderation - including two large Islamic organizations with political clout. The Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, has at least 40 million members and was the support base of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. While the Muhammadiyah has close to 30 million followers and is very influential in the legislature - where its former leader, Amien Rais, is Speaker of the National Assembly. Neither group has backed recent radical calls for a holy war against the United States. NU spokesman Yayha Staquf says his party strongly condemns both the terrorist attacks and the calls for a jihad. "We exactly disagree with the perspective that sees this matter as a confrontation with the U.S. or the West with Islam and Muslim society," he said. Doug Rammage is the author of a book on Islam and democracy in Indonesia. He says Muhammadiyah and the NU will be moderating influences if there is an Islamic backlash against a U.S. response to terrorist attacks. "The religious leaders in the organizations tend to be very conservative," he said. "They're unlikely to be a radical force. They can be a very stabilizing force."

Indonesians are watching to see what the United States will do and what kind of international coalition it can put together to root out global terrorism. Analysts say if the Indonesian government joins such a U.S. led action, it must make clear to its people that a war against terrorism does not mean a war against Islam.