Radical Islam won a major victory in Indonesia on Tuesday, highlighting the recent surge of hardline ideology throughout Southeast Asia.
In a shocking verdict, a judge sentenced outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, to two years in prison on blasphemy charges. His crime? Interpreting a verse in the Koran to mean that a non-Muslim can legally rule over Muslims.
The verdict represents the buckling of the government — which is officially secular — to pressure from Islamist-inspired thugs and riff-raff. Over a period of several months, radical groups held massive protests demanding a guilty verdict. Some demonstrations numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In the end they were able to bully the government into caving to their demands. That will likely have ripple effects throughout the Muslim world.
While most Indonesians remain moderate, radicalism is on the rise in the world’s largest Muslim country, underscoring the rise of radical Islam all over Southeast Asia.
Last Christmas, radical groups roamed through shopping malls — with police protection — in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, and threatened local businesses not to force employees to wear Santa Clause hats. Wearing Santa garb is popular among young people during the Christmas holidays — even among Muslims.
Much of the Islamist influence in Indonesia and Southeast Asia comes from Saudi Arabia, which is increasingly pushing its ultra-strict, extremist version of Islam into the region.
At the same time, terror group ISIS is emboldening radical Muslim groups in Southeast Asia, who gain courage from the perception that ISIS is thumbing its nose at the U.S. and has overtaken a vast swath of territory in the Middle East, even though the group is on the defensive against a U.S.-led coalition.
Neighboring Malaysia has in recent years seen a turn toward a stricter version of Islam. The country has, for example, banned music that authorities deem as “un-Islamic” — largely the result of Saudi-financed imams.
Saudi Arabia’s radical influence in Indonesia goes back more than 30 years.
In 1980, the Saudi government established the Institute for the Study of Islam and Arabic, or LIPA, in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.
The school is tuition free, and has turned out thousands of graduates who studied an ultra-strict version of Islam, which is much different from the more tolerant version of Islam practiced by most Indonesians.
At LIPA, men and women are separated, and casual dress such as jeans, as well as music and TV, are forbidden.
The Saudis have plans to expand the university and set up campuses in other major cities, according to journalist Margaret Scott.
With a major win for radical Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, many Indonesians wonder if this is just the beginning.
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