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Moderate Muslims, Arise

Terrorism conducted in the name of Islam has been dealt a setback in the world's largest Muslim nation.

Indonesia's president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, decided over the weekend to arrest the nation's leading radical Islamic cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, who's viewed by the US as the mastermind of several terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia and may have been behind the Oct. 12 bombing of a foreigners' nightclub in Bali.

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Mrs. Megawati's move took courage. Her legitimacy relies in part on the support of several Islam-based political parties. More than 80 percent of Indonesia's 231 million people are Muslim, although only a small portion are fundamentalists, and fewer still are violently radical.

But the Bali bombing so horrified moderate Muslims and those who see Islam as a religion of peace that there was only a tiny protest after the arrest.

Mr. Bashir is the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a group which has had links to Al Qaeda and wants to impose Islamic law on Indonesia. The fact that the elected, secular government has now stood up to him should send a signal to leaders of other Muslim nations that they, too, can rally moderate Muslims and persuade them that a war on terrorism is not a war on Islam.

Megawati, however, needs to be careful not to reverse Indonesia's progress in restoring democracy and human rights. The country overthrew longtime strongman Suharto only four years ago. In reaction to the Bali bombing, the president armed police with emergency powers that will be used against terrorist groups, but also could be easily misused for political or criminal activities. She must carefully find the right balance between fighting violent radicals and protecting human rights.

The same is true in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in any number of Muslim nations where democracy and Islam are trying to coexist. In such countries, moderate Muslim leaders must be bolder in speaking out against radical fundamentalism that's either violent or that would erode secular democracy and human rights.

That's easier in Southeast Asia, where fundamentalist Islam is weaker than in the Middle East. A long history of multiple religions (Hindu, Buddhist, Christian) has left the region's Muslims with greater tolerance toward the ways of non-Muslims than in Arab nations.

It's a lesson that should not be lost.


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