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
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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.”


Two thirds of African cities face ‘extreme climate risk’

Updated 2 min 23 sec ago
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Two thirds of African cities face ‘extreme climate risk’

  • The data also showed that some of the most populous cities on Earth — including Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City and Karachi — were all at “high-risk” of damage to their economies and populations
PARIS: Rapid population growth and poor infrastructure have put two out of three cities in Africa at “extreme risk” of the threats posed by climate change, according to a new analysis released Wednesday.
With UN figures showing 86 of the world’s 100 fastest-growing cities are in Africa, experts warned nearly half of the continent’s GDP was exposed to the perils posed by our warming planet.
The findings were laid out in the 2018 Climate Vulnerability Index which calculates an overall risk figure from more than 50 separate data sources, including state-of-the-art climate models, socio-economic factors and demographic trends.
It found Bangui in the Central African Republic, Liberia’s capital Monrovia and the Congolese city of Mbuji-Mayi to be the three most at-risk cities.
Eight African cities featured in the index’s top 10.
“It’s really assessing the ability to withstand climate-related shocks and this is what makes African economies stand out as at risk compared to the rest of the world,” said Niall Smith, an environment analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, which compiled the index.
The British-based risk consultancy also singled out DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa as being of particular concern for investors.
Currently home to 13.2 million people, the city regularly experiences weather events such as cyclones and flooding, which will cause greater disruption as the population swells to 26.7 million by 2035.
“Urban population growth at this projected rate will, without doubt, intensify the city’s alarming risk profile,” they said.
“Africa’s megacities already face issues like lack of clean water, sanitation and shelter.”
The study found that as much as 47 percent of Africa’s GDP — an amount totalling close to $1.4 trillion (1.24 tn euros) — to be at “extreme risk” from climate change by 2023, significantly higher as a percentage than any other continent.
“By no means are we saying don’t invest in these locations,” Richard Hewston, principal climate change and environmental analyst at Verisk told AFP.
“But climate risk should be one of the elements you consider. There’s a huge opportunity for investors and we would say that you need to go in with your eyes open by doing due diligence beforehand.”

The data also showed that some of the most populous cities on Earth — including Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City and Karachi — were all at “high-risk” of damage to their economies and populations due to climate change.
Scientists in May released the findings of a study suggesting that prompt global action to tackle climate change could save the world economy $20 tn by the end of the century.
But in many nations domestic political concerns still trump climate action.
Hewston gave New York as an example of a city with the technical know-how and political will to invest in climate defenses after it was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“But if you’re looking for other cities, say in Africa, or Dhaka or Mumbai, they also have competing aspects they look to fund so things like climate resilience don’t always top the list,” he said.
Verisk found that British cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast were the three cities best prepared to manage the impact of climate change.