Poso, Indonesia: Between Islamic Radicalism and Corruption
A town known a year ago for its role as the base of operations for a regional terror group seems to be making progress toward moderation through the medium of education and “livelihood projects” in conjunction with the crack down of police on criminals and radicals.
1/28/2008 Indonesia (WorldPoliticsReview) Poso gained media attention as Indonesia’s new front in the war on terror in January 2007, when two police operations left 17 Islamic radicals dead. At that time, the town was an operating hub for regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah.
Twelve months on, Poso is a much safer place, and although sporadic pipe-bombings persisted through mid-year, just two small incidents were reported during the second half of 2007.
The police’s hard-nosed approach did a lot to rid the area of thugs, jihadists and radical Islamist teachers. But the Indonesian government’s soft-power offensive that followed the sound of guns is especially noteworthy.
Crisis Group noted that many Islamist fighters are still at large and could return. Moreover, the think-tank warned that “the stench of corruption” could undermine Jakarta’s good intentions.
Islamic radicalism and deeply entrenched graft are two of the biggest threats faced by Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population and is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to global watchdog Transparency International.
To fight Islamic radicalism in Poso, Jakarta has launched a series of programs aimed at moderating the views of young people, who have in the past too easily fallen under the influence of radical religious teachers.
However, not all of the government’s the programs are having positive effects. Some are feeding corruption and endangering the peace, according to the Crisis Group.
The livelihood projects now active throughout the province include a fishing cooperative, a fish farm, animal husbandry, four different kinds of automotive repair shops, a community forest project, organic cocoa cultivation, and a savings and loan program. The latter is one of the few that is for women only.
Another promising effort is the construction of the Ittihadul Ummat Pesantren, a large new Islamic school aimed at drawing students away from the radical pesantrens operating in the area.
The school, which will cost about $2.7 million, is modeled on the Gontor Pesantren of East Java, which is known for its modern teaching methods and emphasis on English and Arabic language training.
“To guard against charges of bias, the government in Jakarta also made funds available for the expansion of a Protestant theological school in Tentena,” notes the Crisis Group.