Sharp drop in support for terrorism in Indonesia

Only 10% of Muslims say violence against civilians is justified, down from over 25%.

AFTER several years of terrorist violence in Indonesia, support for extremism has dropped significantly in the country, according to a Pew report yesterday.

Only 10per cent of Indonesian Muslims interviewed said violence against civilians could often, or sometimes, be justified. But about 70 percent rejected such acts completely.

The Pew Research Centre, an independent Washington-based group which studies global attitudes, carried out the survey earlier this year.

The report also noted a “troubling number” of Indonesians with a lot of, or some confidence in, the leader of the Al-Qaeda network, whose level of support now is considerably lower than in 2002. Today, some 33 percent believe in his ideology; four years ago, it was close to 60 percent.

It cited the spate of terrorist attacks in the country as one possible reason for the sharp drop in support for terrorism.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, has been hit in recent years by several major bomb attacks on Western-related targets, including the resort island of Bali, the Australian embassy, and a Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

The biggest attack – in 2002 in Bali – killed 202 people. Like the other high-profile blasts, it was blamed on Muslim militants tied to the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network.

According to Pew, more than a quarter of Indonesians said in 2002 that suicide bombing and other forms of violence to defend Islam from its enemies could be justified. Another 16per cent said they would support such attacks on rare occasions. Just over half felt that suicide bombings could not be justified at all.

These figures have since dropped dramatically.

Major-General Ansyaad Mbai, a top Indonesian counter-terrorism official, said that a spate of arrests of Islamic militants – some 300 have been caught thus far – and the break-up of JI into disparate cells made it hard for it to spread its radical ideology.

“With the bombings, JI and other extremist groups have lost a lot of credibility among Muslims in the country,” he told The Straits Times. “Many Indonesians once hailed Osama as a fighter and protector of Muslims, but they are having serious doubts about him and his supporters now.

“At the same time, with the arrests and numerous convictions, Indonesians now have a better idea of what JI is all about – a group of thugs who kill other Muslims.”

The survey also looked at America’s image, saying it had “undergone dramatic ups and downs” over the last few years.

As in much of the Muslim world, hostility towards the United States skyrocketed among Indonesians following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the US’ image rebounded when the devastating tsunami hit Indonesia in December 2004 and it stepped in with considerable aid.

“That act of generosity provided greatly needed assistance to victims of the disaster, and ultimately helped resuscitate America’s popularity somewhat in the world’s largest Muslim country,” the report noted.

Pew said the opinion of US President George W. Bush, who is expected to make a day-long visit to Indonesia on Monday, had also improved following the tsunami aid, but he remained largely unpopular.

In 2003, only 8per cent had a lot of, or some, confidence in Mr Bush to do the right thing in world affairs. Today, it is 20 percent.

Interestingly though, the survey pointed out that this low level of support makes Indonesia the most pro-Bush Muslim population included in the 2006 survey. Other Muslim populations surveyed included those in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain.

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