War within Islam

October 04, 2005

Indonesia is an affront to the forces of extreme Islam. Its archipelago is home to more Muslims than any other nation. It is a flourishing democracy, with its first directly elected president having taken office just last year. And its government has taken a stand against violent Islamic fundamentalists, hunting down leaders of the regional version of al-Qaida, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and disrupting much of that terrorist organization.

In 2002, when 202 people, including many foreign vacationers, were killed by terrorist bombs on Indonesia's island of Bali, the attack was widely viewed in part as retribution for Australia's backing of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Three years later, the second such obscene act on Bali - the simultaneous suicide bombings that Saturday killed about 20 people - represents an attack on Jakarta's moderation. The easy target of Bali, with its uniquely tolerant Hindu-dominated culture that draws tourists from around the globe, serves both political ends well.

Indonesia security forces - and those in much of the rest of the region - are now on alert for more acts of terror. In the wake of the first Bali bombing, Jakarta had been widely credited with drastically reducing the threat from JI, having convicted more than 50 terrorists involved in that and other attacks. But some JI key leaders are still at large. The group remains very active elsewhere in Southeast Asia. And Saturday's suicide bombings - a new mode of attack, once thought to be taboo in Indonesia - points to an even more hard-line jihadism.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elected last year, has shown himself an opponent of terror and proponent of a moderate, predominantly Islamic state. But that appears to have earned Jakarta a likely long-running war with radical internal foes, similar, in some ways, to those that have been fought in Egypt and Algeria. This is a war within Islam, not simply on the West, and one in which Washington needs Jakarta to prevail.

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