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Why U.S. must cultivate world opinion

forwarded by Susan Kriefels, East-West Center

 

Editor’s note: While this article does not directly confront the opinion expressed by the Ayn Rand Institute op-ed on this page, it does suggest why the opinion of moderate Muslims around the world is important to U.S. objectives and demonstrates an awareness of the possibilities of education in defusing future radicalism, both essential if the U.S. and the world are to ever win the war on terror.

 

 

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 themselves.”

Hefner had just returned from Indonesia, where he examined communications between the United States and Islamic communities. Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and the Bali bombing, moderate Muslims have mobilized radio programming and other networks to 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 is expected at this year’s elections as well.

Susan Kreifels is an adjunct instructor in journalism at HPU and is available at eastwestwire@eastwestcenter.org

 

 

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