Muslim moderates in Indonesia
prevented Islamic extremists from using the Iraq war to gain
support by focusing antiwar rallies on peace, a leading U.S.
scholar of Islam and civil society said last spring at an East-West
Center program. They have also helped contain extremism by initiating
civic education in Muslim universities.
By organizing mass anti-war rallies like those seen in the
United States in the 1960s, moderates “seized the (Iraq) issue
from the extremists,” said Robert Hefner, an anthropology
professor and associate director of Boston University’s
Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. “Iraq,
to my astonishment, had little impact. The moderates reasserted
Hefner had just returned from Indonesia, where he examined
communications between the United States and Islamic communities.
Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and the Bali bombing,
moderate Muslims have mobilized radio programming and other
help Indonesians understand issues that might be used by extremists
and terrorists to build support, he said.
The moderate Muslims know there is a crisis, a struggle for hearts
and souls, and they are looking for political and cultural tools
to combat extremism,” he said.
After the Suharto regime collapsed in 1998, the moderates
initiated the largest civic education program in Asia and
in all the
Muslim world. The course is required
at all Muslim universities, reaches 18 percent of the country’s university
students, and is funded by the United States, through the Asia Foundation,
and by other international governments and agencies.
Muslim educators have also started introducing the course into
the upper grades at pesantren, Indonesia’s religious schools. The course, using textbooks
written at Muslim universities, looks at how democracy, plurality, and human
rights are compatible and vital components of Islam. Classes have triggered
much student interest, Hefner said.
Hefner noted that Indonesians take great interest in the political
process: 93 percent of voters cast ballots in the 1999 elections,
and a high turnout
at this year’s elections as well.
Susan Kreifels is an adjunct instructor in journalism at
HPU and is available at email@example.com