- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

JAKARTA, Indonesia Aisyah is a heavyset Jakarta housewife who hopes to die as a martyr in Afghanistan.
She has told her two teen-age sons that she might not come home from the jihad she hopes to wage.
"I told them: If I die over there, you must follow," Aisyah, 38, said after adding her name to a list of hundreds of would-be warriors who say they are willing to risk death in defense of their fellow Muslims.
A 10-day registration drive at the Islamic Youth Movement (GPI) office in Jakarta attracted 776 applicants, including Aisyah and 17 other women. Registration closed on Oct. 2.
"We will send our troops if the United States government attacks Afghanistan," vowed Iqbal Siregar, who heads the GPI in Jakarta.
His colleague Handriansyah, the tough-talking commander of GPI's Jihad Brigade who goes by a single name, has threatened action on the streets of Jakarta as well, saying his followers will expel Americans, destroy the U.S. Embassy and even kill the ambassador if Afghans are hurt by American bullets.
Mainstream Islamic organizations have criticized the jihad registration, saying millions of destitute Afghans need humanitarian aid, not soldiers.
At the same time, a prominent Islamic scholar says GPI has only a superficial understanding of what a jihad really is.
Other militant groups also claim to have opened jihad registration posts, but despite their bravado, few if any of the holy warriors will ever reach an Afghan battlefield, partly because they lack funding.
Mr. Siregar, an easygoing man, said the jihad recruitment is as much an outlet for people's emotions as it is an attempt to build a genuine fighting force in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.
"We also want to show the Islamic world that this has set an example of Islamic solidarity," Mr. Siregar, 34, said while two young men earnestly completed their applications. He said the threats by Handriansyah shouldn't be taken literally and were made in the heat of emotion.
"We don't hate the American people, but what we hate is imperialism, vanity and arrogance," he said, sitting beside a painting of Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. officials have identified as the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of foreigners.
GPI was founded in 1945, the year of Indonesian independence. It claims 10,000 members across the country.
Mr. Siregar enthusiastically welcomed an American reporter. Neither he nor his followers showed any animosity except toward U.S. foreign policy.
Expressing a view that is widespread here even among centrist intellectuals, he complained that the United States employs a double standard by, for example, not condemning Israeli attacks against Muslims in the Palestinian territories.
"For us, Osama bin Laden is not the target of American aggression toward Afghanistan but basically America wants to smash the symbols of Islam," he said. "The United States regards Islam as dangerous."
If Islam is under threat, young men like Agus Kartono say, they are ready to protect it.
"Engaging in a holy war is an obligation of Islam," said Mr. Kartono, 23, who works as a cleaner at a cafe. He said he had hoped to fight with Muslim forces after they began battling Christians almost three years ago in Indonesia's Maluku provinces.
Thousands are believed to have died in that conflict. Mr. Kartono said his parents forbade his going because they needed him to pay for his younger brother's education. Now he has his family's permission to fight in a new war far from home, even though his training is rudimentary.
"I learned from my dad," he said as he filled out the three-page application.
Combat volunteers were asked about their education and work experience, their health and any special skills they could offer. They also had to list religious books they have read and their motivations for jihad.
The men who qualify will undergo basic training at an unspecified date, said Mr. Siregar.
"We will look for a location in Indonesia that resembles the atmosphere in Afghanistan because they say it's extraordinarily cold at night over there," he said.
The holy warriors lack weapons with which to train, but Mr. Siregar joked that former East Timor militia leader Eurico Guterres might be able to lend them some. Mr. Guterres, a Roman Catholic, visited the Jihad registration center to offer his support.
Mr. Guterres has never been charged in connection with a campaign of murder carried out by militias backed by the Indonesian military before East Timor's 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.
Mr. Siregar said a core of about 50 Indonesian veterans of the Malukus conflict and the Afghan war against the former Soviet Union were ready for immediate departure to Afghanistan if America began military action, which it did Sunday. He would not let a reporter meet any of the veterans.
Women like Aisyah will not see combat, but with the right qualifications they could serve as medics or translators, Mr. Siregar said. "Or maybe, more perfectly, they could run a canteen," he said.
Aisyah, her head covered in the style of devout Muslims here, said she will serve wherever she is needed. Her commitment is not matched by her knowledge of Afghan politics.
"What's it called? Oh, Taliban," she said, after a reporter reminded her of Afghanistan's embattled regime.
Some jihad hopefuls undoubtedly have genuine religious motives, but Azyumardi Azra, rector of the State Institute of Islamic Studies in Jakarta, said he suspects many are simply looking for something to do. About 40 million people more than 37 percent of Indonesia's work force were unemployed last year, according to the national news service, Antara.
Mr. Siregar confirmed that some of the jihad applicants were jobless, but he said most were students. Some, like the cleaner, Mr. Kartono, work in low-paying jobs. Another jihad applicant, Anto, 24, sells children's toys on the street.
People like them have become targets of hard-line fringe groups that hope their call for jihad will attract sympathy from the centrist majority of Indonesian Muslims, said Mr. Azra. He heads Indonesia's largest Islamic college and has a doctorate from Columbia University in New York.
"These hard-line groups have tried to get a following from moderate Muslims, but so far they've failed," he said.
GPI seems to adhere to a strict interpretation of jihad, Mr. Azra said. "The real meaning [of jihad] is striving, to the utmost, for any good purpose," he said. In that sense, a soldier isn't the only one who can achieve martyrdom. A husband killed by a car on his way to work also would attain martyrdom because he died struggling to feed his family, Mr. Azra said.
Mr. Siregar, the father of two young girls, said he has waged a daily jihad by doing what is right and by caring about his religion. Now, he said, he is ready to take his struggle to the battlefield and lose his life if he must.
"That won't be a problem. That's the way into heaven," he said with a smile.

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