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Beyond terror

"Beyond terror" Continued...

Issue: "Samuel Alito," Nov. 12, 2005

The big question is why the government has done so little in those areas to squelch terrorism. Scott Flipse, East Asia director for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has traveled to Sulawesi and said locals were easily able to point out terrorist camps and even their trainees. "If we know where these groups are now, there needs to be the political will to act," he said.

With few prosecutions, local Christians theorize that the government has been impotent because sympathizers with the Islamic militants exist among the security forces and police. An even bigger worry is the military itself.

Since the fall of President Suharto, who ran a military dictatorship until 1998, the military has had little government funding, having to raise 70 percent of its budget from business and other interests. The military has no civilian oversight, leaving it largely unaccountable. At worst, some believe the military is abetting militant attacks, using sectarian violence to justify its size and presence. But, Mr. Flipse asks, "if the military doesn't stomp out terrorism, how is it going to get done?"

Mr. Yudhoyono is also strung across a wide political chasm. When he ascended to the presidency last year, he counted on the support of a broad spectrum of Indonesians. Christians and Muslim extremists alike voted for him, and he had to cobble together a disparate coalition to govern the fractious and farflung archipelago.

"Parts of the political coalition came from more radical fringe groups," Mr. Flipse said. "If they didn't vote for him, they are at least being offered protection to say things and do things they weren't [doing] before the election a year ago."

Fresh hopes for democracy bloomed when Mr. Yudhoyono took power, but now the reality is different. Radical Muslim groups have been issuing fatwas against moderate Islam, extremists have shut down dozens of churches in West Java and three Sunday School teachers are serving prison sentences for "Christianizing" Muslim children. In that climate, the pressure is on the government to protect its minorities. The world's most populous Muslim nation has always enjoyed a reputation as being tolerant and moderate. But as a virulent minority gains both power and publicity, Indonesia will have to battle for its very soul.

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