Indonesian moderates send militant packing
Jaffar Umar Thalib has finally met his match.
Mr. Thalib, an Afghan war veteran and preacher, runs the Laskar Jihad, a Muslim militia that has participated in raids that have killed dozens in Indonesia's Maluku province over the past two years.
He says the ultimate aim is to convert Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, into a state run by Islamic law. And he's using Muslim anger at the air strikes in Afghanistan to recruit new members. If Indonesian authorities attempt to arrest him, Thalib threatens to spread his jihad to Indonesia's main island of Java.
Though only a small percentage of Indonesians share his views, Thalib has been able to cow local governments across the country. Last year, he had a follower in Maluku stoned to death for adultery, and he successfully defeated the murder charge by arguing that he had a right to apply sharia (Islamic law), Indonesian civil and criminal law notwithstanding.
But in late September, when he arrived on Lombok (a popular tourist island just east of Bali) to organize anti-American protests, Thalib was ever-so-politely run out of town.
"We told him, with all due respect, we cannot accept the use of violence - ever," says Hadi Faishal, who runs a development organization and is the son of a traditional Muslim leader on the island. "We also warned that if outsiders were brought in to cause a disturbance, we'd mobilize 10 times as many to stop them."
Most Muslims on Lombok, like most in the world, disagree with the militant Islam practiced by
Thalib and his followers. But generally, these moderate Muslims have been quiet in the face of extremism, more focused on the daily grind of making ends meet than on who would confront the radical face of Islam.
In fact, it was protecting their financial self-interest more than a desire to stand on Islamic principle, that prompted the residents of Lombok to organize.
The island had an unpleasant brush with extremism nearly two years ago, when an anti-Christian riot broke out in Mataram, Lombok's capital city. Churches and homes were burned in two days of violence that community leaders like Mr. Faishal later blamed on "provocateurs."
Hundreds lost their jobs as tourists fled the island, and for nearly a year, occupancy rates for resorts that had previously been filled with European, Australian, and American tourists hung near zero.
Faishal was determined that wouldn't happen again.
When he heard that Thalib had arrived on Lombok, he gathered up some friends and hurried to the Laskar Jihad leader's hotel room. They explained their position - and then had Thalib escorted to the port.
Worried that Thalib might return, arguing as he had in other parts of Indonesia that a silent Muslim majority supports his radical views, Faishal took preemptive action. He tapped into his father's connections with local Muslim scholars. Some 500 Muslim leaders convened on the island Oct. 15 for a conference on nonviolence and religious tolerance.
"The people of Lombok don't want an Islamic state: They want to live and prosper in peace," says Faishal.