- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

The leader of Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization says he is worried that the Islamic extremism undermining Iraq could spread and destabilize moderate Muslim nations like his own.

Din Syamsuddin, president of Muhammadiyah, said in an interview that moderate groups such as his were not capable of staving off an extremist threat.

“This threat is real. It is a threat not only to the United States, but to Muslims and Muslim leaders, and we don’t have the capability — like the state — to equip ourselves for our defense,” Mr. Syamsuddin told The Washington Times.

Established Islam in Indonesia is represented by major organizations such as Muhammadiyah, which is supported by about 35 million Muslims. Extremist groups such as al Qaeda say the moderate communities have sold out to secular governments and are therefore fair targets.

“This group has its own agenda to create chaos and fear in society, and it could create an Iraq-like situation,” Mr. Syamsuddin said.

Both Muhammadiyah and Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama — which has an estimated 40 million followers — run mosques, clinics, orphanages and schools while respecting the country’s secular government.

But Indonesia is also home to Jemaah Islamiyah, thought to be behind the 2002 Bali bombings, and Laksar Jihad, an Islamic militia group. Counterterrorism experts suspect Jemaah Islamiyah is linked to al Qaeda.

Mr. Syamsuddin said Muhammadiyah is working to curb anti-Western tendencies within the communities through religious teachings and social outreach.

But only the government can take the legal, intelligence and operational steps necessary to undercut or eradicate extremist groups that use terrorism to achieve their goals, he said.

“We do not support any radicalism or terrorism, but we do not want to give room for internal conflict” by openly confronting extremist groups, he said.

In order to prevent internal conflicts among Islamic groups, between anti-Western and mainstream Muslims or between radical groups and secular governments, both civilian and religious leaders must work to protect the majority of moderate Muslims, Mr. Syamsuddin said.

To that end, he called on the United States and its Western allies to avoid blaming all Muslims for the terrorist threat and to include Muslim leaders in the war effort.

“This is terror — we all condemn it. But when you combat terrorism without consulting Muslims and instead blame them, you create two things — a ‘none of my business’ or ‘we will fight it our own way’ attitude,” he said.

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