by Marwaan Macan-Markar
(IPS) BANGKOK --
of the leading voices championing moderate Islam in Southeast Asia have been speaking up to condemn acts of terror and separate them from their religion.
After assailing the car bomb attack on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday that such attacks will continue "as long as people harbor hatred."
Mahathir said that terrorist attacks were "not a good way to fight for any cause, as it was not planned for ultimate victory but to exact revenge and retaliation," reported the English-language daily The Star.
In Indonesia, officials in Bali are questioning two Indonesians in connection with the attack that killed at least 182 people and injured more than 300, Muslim lawyers have chided the country's defence minister for blaming the al-Qaeda network for the attack without citing evidence.
"That was a reckless statement under the present circumstances; unfounded allegations might provoke a bigger problem," Mahendratta, coordinator of a group of Muslim lawyers, was quoted as saying by Antara, the Indonesian state news agency, on Tuesday.
Likewise, the agency quoted Bali Police chief, Brig Gen Budi Setyawan, as saying: "There is no clue. An international network could have masterminded it," Budi said.
Earlier, Indonesia's Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil went on record saying that the Bali attacks are "linked to al-Qaeda with the cooperation of local terrorists." The al-Qaeda group of Osama bin Laden has been accused by the U.S. as the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
On Monday, the leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), also cautioned against pointing fingers at Islam for encouraging such acts of terror.
"It [the Bali bombing] was an act against humanity and no religion can justify it. The authorities must solve the case and bring the perpetrators to justice, but must do so according to facts, not analysis," Hasyim Muzadi of NU was quoted as having said.
The "Islam encourages violence" or "Islam equals terrorism" debate picked up after last year's attacks in the United States, which killed nearly 3,000 civilians. Those who linked Islam and violence pointed out that the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks were all Muslims.
Among those who have raged against Islam have been leading religious figures in the United States. The past 12 months have seen people such as U.S. television evangelist Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham link Islam with the "forces of darkness," writes Chris McGillion in Tuesday's edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Falwell, who later apologized, said that the followers of Islam's Prophet Mohammad are "bent on destroying all non-Muslims," said McGillion, the paper's religious affairs columnist.
Similar views about Islam held by neo-conservative writers in the United States have also fed this debate.
In early August, the U.S. media reported that some neo-conservative writers and thinkers close to the administration of President George W. Bush were turning the pressure on Saudi Arabia for the conservative strand of Islam it practices that traces its roots to the 18th century -- Wahabism.
Wahabism, they implied, has an anti-U.S. streak, highlighted by the fact that the majority of the hijackers in the U.S. attacks -- and bin Laden, the man Washington accuses of planning them -- were Wahabis, whose idea of an ideal Islamic state was the Taliban's Afghanistan.
But Muslim moderates in Southeast Asia have been at pains since Sept. 11 to counter those who accuse Islam of encouraging violence, by offering the region's tolerant face of the faith as evidence that it is not so.
Indonesia, in fact, has been held up as a prime example of Islam's moderate face. It is the largest Muslim country in the world, with 170.3 million out of its 220 million people adherents of Islam. The Nahdlatul Ulama, with a membership of 40 million Muslims, encourages the country's faithful to take a moderate path.
Yet in the eyes of many, this image has suffered due to Saturday's massive bombing and will place this region's Muslims in a further predicament if investigators link militant Muslims to the bloodshed.
At the same time, statements from some religious leaders accused of holding extremist views are not helping create space for moderates.
For instance, the line of argument used by Abu Bakar Baasyir, an Indonesian Muslim cleric that intelligence officials in the region have linked to planned attacks, will not help deflect charges that Islam encourages violence.
Baasyir told journalists at a press conference that the Bali attack was the work of foreigners, "most probably the United States," to give the impression that Islamic extremists are present in Indonesia. The authorities will look to accuse Muslims -- including himself -- for the attack, he added.
In a commentary in Tuesday's Arab News, Abdul Qader Tash says a hostile approach, which "presents Islam as aggressive and antagonistic towards the West," is not the way to go.
"Our efforts will be wasted," he writes, if Islam is seen as trying to destroy the West and "build an Islamic civilization on its ruins."
In the wake of attacks like the Bali blasts, Southeast Asia's Muslims face the challenge of convincing many that Islam does not encourage violence by looking into the community and launching a debate about what has gone wrong with the way some Muslims interpret their faith and use the religion for political purposes.
October 15 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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