t’s an old notion – that there is something about the 400 million people living in the 21 countries between Mauritania and Oman that makes them uniquely ungovernable, except harshly: In this view, if they’re not under the thumb of autocrats, they will choose religious extremism. That belief was what kept the region’s postcolonial kingdoms and dictatorships in power for decades – and caused countries such as Canada to keep recognizing and providing aid to them.
And now, after the successful Arab revolutions of 2011 have descended into the inevitable interval of counter- and counter-counter-revolutions, after elections in Gaza and Egypt have brought unsavoury Islamists to power, after Hamas became the leading force in Palestine’s response to Israel, after Syria’s popular opposition movement has coughed up the black-clad ISIL militia, those questions are once again being taken seriously.
It can’t be blamed on religion alone (the largest Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Bangladesh…
he Modern Tokyo Times reported that the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Bangladesh mirrors a similar emergence of militant groups in Pakistan and threatens hopes for stability in Bangladesh. “Jamaat-e-Islami is a continuing cancer that threatens society directly along with sinister political forces that manipulate Islamists for personal gains,” MTT wrote. “Islamist violence directed towards the Hindu community is all too familiar.”
The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been accused of doing too little to stop such attacks, or to express enough concern about violent Islamic groups. His critics say that he panders to Muslim fundamentalism for political gain, despite his obligations in the constitution to protect freedom of worship. Mr Yudhoyono has dished out cabinet posts in his broad coalition to the leaders of the country’s main Islamic parties.
Certainly, cabinet ministers from the Islamic parties have been less than helpful in promoting Indonesia as the moderate, pluralistic country it claims to be. The religious-affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, has blamed the Ahmadiyah itself for inviting deadly attacks, saying it had strayed from mainstream Islam. In March he suggested banning women from wearing skirts that were above the knee, calling them “pornographic”. The information minister, Tifatul Sembiring, has made offensive comments about homosexuals.
The president has uttered a few vague public statements about non-violence and respecting other people’s rights, but he has largely left the problem to local governments. This has appeared only to embolden extremist groups, which now feel that they can act with impunity. Sometimes the police are in cahoots with the hardliners. The situation continues to worsen.
If the apologists for Islam couldn’t lie, they’d have nothing to say at all.