Indonesia’s ‘militant moderates’ fight religious intolerance

This picture taken on February 3, 2017 shows members of the Banser Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, a paramilitary wing of Indonesia's biggest Muslim organisation Nahdatul Ulama (NU), during a roll call in Sidoarjo. Clad in camouflage and armed only with their convictions, the paramilitary wing of Indonesia's biggest Muslim organisation is on a campaign -- to crush intolerance and defend the nation's inclusive brand of Islam. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2017

Indonesia’s ‘militant moderates’ fight religious intolerance

INDONESIA: Clad in camouflage and armed only with their convictions, the paramilitary wing of Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organization is on a campaign — to crush intolerance and defend the nation’s inclusive brand of Islam.
The “militant moderates” from the Nahdlatul Ulama, which boasts 45 million members, are on the march as worries grow over the rise of ultra-conservative forces in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Hundreds of them swooped recently on a hotel hosting a meeting of a radical outfit, Hizb Ut-Tahrir, which wants to transform Indonesia into a “caliphate” run by sharia law.
They surrounded the building and forced an end to the meeting, before members were escorted away by police.
Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 255 million people are Muslim but the nation is home to substantial religious minorities and several faiths are officially recognized.
It is these traditions that the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has existed for almost a century, is seeking to defend.
It has been taking a more muscular approach by increasingly sending out its paramilitary wing Banser to take on the hard-liners.
“My forefathers the clerics, as well as Christians and others, established this republic together,” Banser’s national commander, Alfa Isnaeni, told AFP.
“We all need to defend this legacy.”
The NU says it has felt compelled to step in and expand its activities in part due to the weakness of the government, which has long faced criticism for failing to crack down on ultra-conservatives. 
There has been a growing number of attacks on minorities in Indonesia, from Muslim Shiites and Ahmadis to Christians, and concerns about intolerance surged after Jakarta’s Christian governor was jailed for two years last month for blasphemy, in a case seen as politically motivated.
Indonesia is not governed by Islamic law, with the exception of western Aceh province, and efforts by hard-liners to transform the archipelago into a sharia-ruled state have gained no traction.
There is little chance of this changing — a recent survey showed only one in 10 Indonesians support a caliphate — but the surge in intolerance has nevertheless caused jitters.
Members of Banser, which has a force about two million strong, do not carry arms but rely on sheer force of numbers to get their message across.
They confiscate banners and flags at rallies by hard-line groups and hand them over to the police, justifying their actions by saying they are preventing conservative forces from trampling the country’s inclusive ideology.
They also oppose Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative form of Islam that originates in Saudi Arabia, and have forced preachers who follow the doctrine off stage at public gatherings in some places.
Their battle cry is “N — K — R — I” — the Indonesian acronym for the term “the United State of the Indonesian Republic,” highlighting their desire to keep the country together and strong.
“Anyone disagreeing with ‘NKRI’, or calling for a caliphate, will have to face us,” Isnaeni said.
In recent weeks, they have also helped protect several members of the public targeted by hard-line Muslim groups after posting anti-radical messages on social media.
The group holds rallies across Indonesia and has signed up thousands of new recruits to strengthen their efforts.
The organization is not just fighting radicalism in the street but also on a theological level.
NU youth wing Ansor wants to open dialogue with Islamic organizations and governments to build a global consensus among Muslims on adapting the interpretation of ancient Islamic laws known as “fiqh” so that they suit the modern world.
It wants recognition among Muslims that followers of Islam and others are equal, and a focus on the importance of the modern nation state and a constitution as guiding principles for a country, as opposed to sharia law.
The NU’s efforts have sparked anger among conservatives, with some accusing them of being un-Islamic and defenders of non-Muslim “infidels” and Shiites, a Muslim minority regarded as a deviant sect by Indonesia’s mostly Sunni Muslim population.
Greg Fealy, an expert on Islam from the Australian National University, praised NU’s “impressive” efforts but warned: “I suspect real world political considerations and interests will prove a major obstacle to this being taken up internationally, let alone in Indonesia.”
But NU’s secretary general Yahya Cholil Staquf believes promoting a more moderate form of Islam is urgent to tackle hard-liners.
“We must fight them before they cause more damage,” he told AFP. “We will fight this to the end.”

At least one dead in multiple shooting in Dutch city of Utrecht

Updated 1 min 27 sec ago

At least one dead in multiple shooting in Dutch city of Utrecht

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least one person is dead and multiple others injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands.

Police have not ruled out terrorism as a possible motive in the shooting that left several people “heavily injured” - the shooter remains at large. Police have erected a white tent over an area where a body appears to be lying next to a tram where the shooting happened, AP reported.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökman Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

The Dutch anti-terror coordinator has raised the threat alert to its highest level around the central Dutch town of Utrecht following the shooting incident on a tram in the city, with the shooter still on the run.

Paramilitary police have increased security at airports, mosques and other vital public infrastructure. Police have also advised schools in the area to keep their doors closed.
Anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 
“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 
Dutch police say they are looking for a least one person who might have fled by car.

Spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 
“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.


Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the government is currently holding crisis talks.

Aalbersberg earlier said on Twitter that he was having “crisis consultations”, adding: “Terrorist motive not excluded. Information not yet full.”


Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)