http://www.nbr.org - NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

NBR Analysis

The NBR Analysis offers thought-provoking essays and briefs on the most important economic, political, and strategic issues in the Asia-Pacific region today.



NBR Analysis (Sep 2004)

Muslims, Politics, and Violence in Indonesia: An Emerging Jihadist-Islamist Nexus?

Zachary Abuza


Islam in Indonesia has always been defined by tolerance, moderation, and pluralism. Whereas in the Middle East Islam has been seen as anathema to democratization, in Indonesia, Islam created the foundations of civil society that made the transition to democracy possible. As Robert Hefner has eloquently argued, Islam was the force of civil society that facilitated Indonesia’s transition to democracy. [1] The burgeoning of civil society is positive, but the loosening of constraints on it has allowed "uncivil" society to flourish as well. Most Muslims in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, support the secular state, and only a small minority advocates the establishment of an Islamic regime governed by sharia, or strict Islamic law. Most Indonesians eschew literal interpretations of Islam and violence perpetrated in its name. Indeed, Muslim thinkers in Indonesia have made some of the greatest intellectual and theoretical contributions to the debates over Islam and human rights, Islam and democracy, and Islam and women’s rights. Nonetheless, political violence has sharply escalated in post–Suharto Indonesia and is increasingly associated with the rise of political and radical Islam.

The fall of Indonesian President Suharto radically altered the political environment in the archipelago. The strongman’s resignation left a weak democracy in which there was intense political competition between interim president B.J. Habibie and his successor, moderate Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid (better known as Gus Dur), and a parliament that had a newfound and intense sense of empowerment. Under the New Order regime (1965–98), the Indonesian Parliament (DPR) had "very little input in either the formulation or implementation of state policy. Nor did the DPR exercise vigorous oversight of the executive branch." [2] Suharto’s successors have often been stymied by a parliament that is no longer quiescent. Strong central government control also broke down as the provinces clamored to redress the historical legacy of over–centralization and demanded more autonomy and revenue sharing. Indonesia’s Big Bang decentralization of 2001 has had profound effects. As the World Bank notes, "Within one year, the Big Bang decentralized much of the responsibility for public service to the local level, almost doubled the regional share in government spending, reassigned two–thirds of the central service to the regions, and handed over more than 16,000 service facilities to the regions." [3] Yet the local governments had weak administrative capabilities, having been emasculated under the New Order regime, wherein local government coexisted with branch offices of a larger and more...

[Free preview ends here. The full text is available above as a PDF.]

[1] Robert W. Hefner, Civil Islam, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

[2] Ramlan Surbakti, "Formal Political Institutions,” in Richard W. Baker, Hadi Soesastro, et al., eds.,

Indonesia: The Challenge of Change, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1999, p. 68.

[3] The World Bank, Decentralizing Indonesia, Report No. 26191-IND, June 2003, p.i.

Table of Contents

Muslims, Politics, and Violence in Indonesia: An Emerging Jihadist-Islamist Nexus?
Zachary Abuza

Back Issues

Responding to China’s Assertiveness in the South China Sea
James R. Holmes
(Jun 14)

The Sea Change in Japanese Foreign Policy
Kenneth B. Pyle
(Jun 14)

Beyond Haiyan: Toward Greater U.S.-Japan Cooperation in HADR
Weston S. Konishi and Andrew L. Oros
(Feb 14)

Japan-Korea Relations: Time for U.S. Intervention?
Daniel Sneider
(Jan 14)

China’s Growth Slowdown and Its Implications
Dwight H. Perkins
(Nov 13)

The ASEAN Regional Forum: Beyond the Talk Shop?
Sheldon W. Simon
(Jul 13)

Will Abenomics Restore Japanese Growth?
William W. Grimes
(Jun 13)

The State of Cooperation in the East China Sea
James Manicom
(Apr 13)

Whose Pacific Century? The 113th Congress and Asia
Edward Gresser and Daniel Twining
(Apr 13)

Intensifying Contradictions: Chinese Policing Enters the 21st Century
Jonathan Walton
(Feb 13)

The Impending Tide of Chinese Investment in the United States
Robert A. Kapp
(Feb 13)

The Leap in North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Program: The Iran Factor
John S. Park
(Dec 12)

Northeast Asia Turns Its Attention to the Arctic
Linda Jakobson
(Dec 12)

Getting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Over the Finish Line
Deborah Elms
(Oct 12)

How Defense Austerity Will Test U.S. Strategy in Asia
Michael C. Horowitz
(Aug 12)

Does the United States Need a New Russia Policy?
Stephen E. Hanson
(Jun 12)

Can Pakistan’s Neighbors Help Deal with Pakistan?
Mahin Karim
(May 12)

Korea’s Elections and the KORUS FTA
Yoon-shik Park
(Apr 12)

After the Summit: Investing in Nuclear Materials Security
Christopher P. Twomey
(Apr 12)

Taiwan's Future: Narrowing Straits
Robert Sutter
(May 11)

More