“This attack should serve as an alarm bell for all Indonesians, and above all for Muslims. They need to recognize the danger of terrorism,” said a Jesuit based in the world’s largest Muslim country.
Father Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Jesuit and lecturer in philosophy at the University of Jakarta spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the terrorist attack Jan. 14 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, which left seven people dead, including five of the attackers. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Jesuit said the violence had nothing to do with tensions between Christians and Muslims in the country, which has been long known for its moderate and tolerant form of Islam. The priest speculated that the target of the violence were not Christians or other religious minorities, and that the attack were meant to send a message to the West, just like recent ISIS-inspired or sponsored terror operations in Istanbul and Egypt.
However, research by ACN has confirmed that Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism and harmony is increasingly coming under threat; there has been a significant rise in religious intolerance, driven by radical Islamism. Attacks against churches are on the rise, as demonstrated by the recent violence in the province of Aceh; a growing number of churches are being forced to close.
Other religious communities, such as the Ahmadiyya and Shia sects within Islam, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, adherents of indigenous traditional religions and progressive Sunni Muslims—who speak out against intolerance—are also facing increasing harassment and violence.
Acts of violence are perpetrated by radical Islamist organizations such as the Front Pembela Islam (FPI) or “Islamic Defenders Front,” which routinely carry out attacks on churches, Ahmadi mosques, and Shia communities with impunity. Islamist propaganda is gaining ground on university campuses and in mosques and pesantren, Islamic boarding schools. Islamist ideas are largely imported from the Middle East, particularly through funding for scholarships allowing students to takes courses in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and financial support for the publishing and distribution of Islamist literature.
“The authorities are confident of being able to depend on a strong anti-terrorist strategy, which has been in operation since 1988,” Father Magnis-Suseno said, adding that he nonetheless is concerned about the presence of numerous terrorist groups in the country. “In reality these groups are very much divided among themselves and cannot be lumped together or form a common front. The majority of these groups condemn ISIS, but two groups in particular indirectly support the idea of the caliphate:” the Jemaah Islamiah and the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT).
Father Magnis-Suseno does not think the growth in the number of supporters of Islamic State poses an immediate danger to Indonesia, but much will depend upon the political and economic development of the country, he stressed. “If the government succeeds, as it seems to be doing, in offering real prospects of a better future and reining in the rampant corruption, then young Indonesians will not go looking for alternatives such as ISIS,” the Jesuit said.
Aid to the Church in Need