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.”


Argentina orders freezing of Hezbollah assets on anniversary of deadly bombing

Updated 18 min 38 sec ago
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Argentina orders freezing of Hezbollah assets on anniversary of deadly bombing

  • Argentinian authorities have effectively designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization
  • Argentina’s financial information unit ordered the freezing of assets of members of Hezbollah and the organization a day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism

BUENOS AIRES: Argentinian authorities ordered the freezing of Hezbollah assets in the country on Thursday and effectively designated the Lebanese extremist group, which it blames for two attacks on its soil, a terrorist organization.
The announcement came on the 25th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people died. Argentina blames Iran and Hezbollah for the attack. Both deny any responsibility. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the country to mark the anniversary.
Argentina also blames Hezbollah for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 that killed 29 people.

In this file photo taken on July 18, 1994, a man walks over the rubble left after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires. (AFP)


Argentina’s financial information unit ordered the freezing of assets of members of Hezbollah and the organization a day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism.
The freezing of assets automatically places Hezbollah on Argentina’s registry, designating it a terrorist organization, a government source with direct knowledge of the action confirmed.
US and Argentine officials say Hezbollah operates in what is known as the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where an illicit economy funds its operations elsewhere.