- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

On Tuesday, an Indonesian court sentenced Jemaah Islamiya leader Abu Bakar Bashir to four years in prison. The verdict is both good and bad news. The positive side is that a dangerous man responsible for spreading jihad against the West will be taken off the streets and kept from preaching in mosques for a little while. The hitch is that he was found guilty of treason for trying to overthrow the government in Jakarta, not of being the mastermind behind Southeast Asia’s most active al Qaeda affiliate. The court’s split decision reflects Indonesia’s split personality regarding terrorism.

In reaction to Bashir’s conviction, Indonesia’s vice president, Hamzah Haz, lit into America and the Washington-led war on terror. “Actually, who is the terrorist, who is against human rights? The answer is the United States because they attacked Iraq. Moreover, it is the terrorist king, waging war,” the vice president said. His remarks were made yesterday to the heads of the pesantren, Indonesia’s Islamic boarding schools. These institutions have a very radical jihadist bent and often are funded by donations from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

Mr. Haz is a longtime defender of Bashir, who told CNN that, “Israel is Islam’s strongest enemy. America is being used by Israel to attack Islam. If Islam is attacked, there are only two responses: We are victorious or we die.” The cleric, a vocal supporter of Osama bin Laden, taught students at his school who are wanted in connection to numerous terrorist attacks across Asia, including last year’s bombings in Bali and the blast at Jakarta’s Marriott hotel a month ago.

In sentencing Bashir, Judge Muhammad Saleh ruled that there wasn’t enough solid evidence connecting the Jemaah Islamiya leader to the acts of violence carried out by his associates. The judge’s reluctance to take on radical Islam reflects the government’s fear of stirring up a hornets’ nest of popular opposition to Jakarta’s cooperation with the United States in the war on terror. The country, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, is already split over which side it should be on. For the most part, President Megawati Sukarnoputri and the military are trying to defend Indonesia’s secular status. Vice President Haz, who leads the country’s largest and very popular Islamist party, wants Mrs. Megawati’s job and thinks the nation should be run by Islamic law. Keeping the Indonesian government secular is necessary to prevent the country from becoming a terrorist sponsor vastly larger and more dangerous than the Taliban’s Afghanistan.

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