Vast archipelago has ambiguous religious tolerance


INDONESIA:Despite catching a key terror suspect, Indonesia has gradually seen the rise of radical Islamist groups, writes Simon Roughneenin Denpasar-Bali

As an international religious tolerance gathering opens in Indonesia, it has emerged that the country's most-wanted Islamist terror suspect has been caught during a raid in central Java.

Abu Dujana is linked to the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 200 people, mostly foreign tourists visiting the southern Indonesian resort. Dujana, arrested on Saturday, will also be questioned about the 2004 Australian embassy explosion. Police took a number of days to identify him through DNA-testing and fingerprinting, as he operated under numerous aliases.

Dujana allegedly heads the military wing of Jemaah Islamiya (JI), a large but relatively inscrutable organisation founded in 1993.

JI seeks the creation of an Islamic state spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Philippines, southern Thailand, Singapore and Brunei. It is thought to have forged links with al-Qaeda, as well as Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern Philippine island of Mindinao.

Sisno Adiwinoto, an Indonesian National Police spokesman, said: "With this arrest, we have successfully stopped acts of terrorism in the future. He was a key figure in the terrorist network in Indonesia. After interrogating all suspects, we know that Abu Dujana, alias Yusron Mahmudi, is the chief of the military wing of JI."

Meanwhile, Bali is hosting an array of spiritual leaders from around the world to promote religious tolerance. Holocaust survivors and rabbis, representatives of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisations and key Hindu leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are among the delegates.

Just days ago, the Indonesian government refused to sign a United Nations Security Council statement denouncing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for comments made encouraging Israel's destruction.

Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, also a Muslim cleric, issued a statement denouncing Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust.

Wahid, along with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (an international Jewish rights organisation) and US-based NGO LibForAll, co-organised the gathering.

With more than 85 per cent of its 200 million-plus citizens listed as Muslim, Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic-majority country. Generally regarded as host to moderate variants of Islam, it has in recent years seen a growth of more radical Islamist entities. However, these are dwarfed by the likes of Wahid's organisation, which has a membership of 40 million. Indonesia's official religious policy is known as pancasila, and it grants tolerance to Islam and Christianity as monotheistic religions, as well as to Hinduism and Buddhism.

However, Indonesia does not recognise the state of Israel or Judaism as a religion. Its vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands spans a distance equal to that between Ireland and Iraq.

While the gathering of religious leaders may prove to be a landmark in attempts to promote conflict management, Indonesia has been riven by a number of ethnic and religiously demarcated conflicts since its founding.

Most notoriously, between 150,000 and 250,000 of East Timor's 750,000 majority Catholic population are thought to have perished during Indonesia's 1975 to 1999 occupation.

Elsewhere, the northern Aceh province fought to impose a Sharia system of local government for much the same time period.