The world’s largest Muslim country bans support for the Islamic State


Indonesian Muslims gather for special prayers near the Bajrah Sandhi monument in Denpasar on Bali island on July 28. (Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images)

Authorities in Indonesia this week condemned the Islamic State — the Sunni extremist militants who have taken over large chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria, killing hundreds of innocent civilians in the process — and ordered a ban on YouTube videos that in any way endorse the jihadists. Despite being home to the world's largest population of Muslims, Indonesia is a pluralistic state with myriad ethnic groups and religious minorities. Still, its government wrestles with the real fear of homegrown extremism.

"The government rejects and bans the teachings of [the Islamic State] from growing in Indonesia. It is not in line with state ideology ... or the philosophy of [diversity] under the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia," said Djoko Suyanto, a former commander in chief of the Indonesian military who now holds a senior cabinet post in the country's newly formed government, at a news conference Tuesday.

The Southeast Asian archipelago nation may be thousands of miles away from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, but it is no stranger to the call of global jihad. Government authorities believe there are about 30 Indonesians enlisted in the Islamic State's legion of foreign fighters, according to the Jakarta Post. A recent video uploaded on YouTube showed a jihadist named Abu Mohammed al-Indonesi urging fellow Indonesians to join the fight and flock to the Islamic State's self-declared Caliphate.

Indonesia's own jihadists have been largely subdued over the past decade after a ruthless crackdown by the country's security forces. But political Islam is strong in parts of the country, and there are pockets of low-level support for wider pan-Islamic causes. A worrying trend of violence toward religious minorities, including members of the beleaguered Ahmadi sect, persists.

Speaking to Australia's ABC News in June, Indonesian terrorism expert Sidney Jones said there were splits among the country's hard-bitten jihadists on which Islamist faction fighting in Syria to support. "I think the scary thing in some ways is that ISIS now seems to have more support from the most militant factions of the Indonesian jihadi community, where the less-radical ones are supporting the al-Qaeda-linked rival of [the Islamic State] called the al-Nusra Front," she said.

As Time magazine reports, Indonesia makes it possible to raise money or join jihadist groups overseas. That tolerance led to a spate of troubling incidents: Supporters of the Islamic State held a rally in Jakarta in March, while in June, Islamists dressed in Islamic State insignias disrupted a family weekend carnival day in the Javanese city of Solo.

The latest statements made by the government suggest that it intends to take a tougher line on such displays of solidarity.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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