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Between Pardonand Praise

Public approval for the work done by radical Islamic organizations is on the wane, even though significant numbers still approve.

THERE is some bad news for those who identify with hardline Islam. The results of a survey done by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) indicate that public approval of radical Islamic organizations has tended to decrease over the past three years. “There is a significant decrease in this tendency,” said Saiful Mujani, LSI Executive Director, when conveying his institute’s findings last Friday. This survey polled 1,200 respondents from all of Indonesia’s provinces.

For Saiful, the results of the poll are not surprising. The survey, which has been conducted annually since 2005, also indicates a decreased tendency in Islamically-oriented political values compared to secular political values. A total of 57 percent of respondents said they held secular political values, 33 percent held Islamic political values, and 10 percent had no preference.

The organizations that were categorized as Islamic movement organizations were those that were founded on Islamic values, and which aim at spreading Islamic values or to defend Islam from powers considered to be a threat. These include, among others, the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), Islam Defenders Front (FPI), Jemaah Islamiyah, Ngruki Islamic Boarding School, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), Justice & Prosperity Party (PKS), and the United Development Party (PPP).

In general, respondents said that they did not approve of the work of the FPI, MMI, or HTI. This was caused by many factors, among them mass media coverage. “The frequent news coverage of the sweepings done by FPI also influenced the decline in approval from respondents,” said Saiful. Other factors included limited personnel and sources of funding. One thing which may not be overlooked is resistance from the secular segment of society. He pointed out the defeat of the PKS candidate in the election of the Governor of Jakarta as one form of resistance from the secular group. From all of the respondents, “Those actively involved in these organizations was less than 2 percent,” said Saiful.

Ahmad Sobri Lubis of the FPI Central Leadership Board did not care about the results of this survey. “That’s only a survey. It could happen that those who were surveyed did not actually know anything,” he said. The findings, he said, did not reflect the true state of affairs. “In the field, our efforts have received a wide level of support.” Chairman of the MMI Data and Information Center, Fauzan Al-Anshari, felt the same way. “These findings are odd. As someone in the field who is publicizing this, I have seen great public interest,” said Fauzan.

He said that he believes more in the findings of the Islamic and Public Studies Center of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in 2004. This body found that there was 75 percent support for Shari’a or the Islamic legal system. “That figure is more rational, because Muslims account for about 88 percent of the total population of Indonesia,” said Fauzan.

According to him, this decrease in approval could also have been triggered by media coverage which focuses on the negative aspects of the activities of radical Islamic movements such as MMI and FPI. He mentioned the matter of reporting on the sweeping of nightclubs. “The media only highlights the negative side,” said Fauzan. Sobri Lubis agreed with Fauzan. “The media’s dreadful campaign could have triggered the emergence of this sort of view,” he said.

Fauzan also did not agree with the finding of the LSI survey which said that the public is tending to be more secular. Even if this is true, this is only to be found in the cities. However, he also recognized that the values of Islamic law being expounded by the MMI, including efforts to encourage the application of Islamic law and the birth of an Islamic criminal code, have not been widely disseminated to the greater public. “Because ustad (Islamic scholars) at the lower levels are still mostly focusing on the promotion of good moral behavior,” he said.

A different opinion can be heard from the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), an organization which has been fighting hard against radical Islamic views. “My comment is alhamdulillah (praise be to God) and astagfirullah (I ask God’s forgiveness),” said Hamid Basyaib, a JIL activist. “Alhamdulillah because most of the public has a secular viewpoint. Astagfirullah because there are still 33 percent who support hardline Islam,” he said.

However, Hamid is still thankful that the stance of this 33 percent is not reflected in support for Islam-based political parties. The LSI survey also found that the number of respondents who vote for Islamic political parties, namely PPP and PKS, tended to stagnate between 5 to 7 percent. “The sentiment for these two parties had tended to remain stagnant, if not decrease,” said Saiful.

Abdul Manan

Tempo Magazine, No. 07/VIII/October 16-22, 2007

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