Sunday, August 27, 2006

With Iran’s nuclear designs and the simmering war in Lebanon dominating international headlines, it’s easy to forget about Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where the big news right now is smog-fomenting fires in Sumatra and Borneo and the absence of last year’s promised bird-flu funding. But a new survey there is a reminder of the country’s long-term import in the war on terror.

More than two-thirds of Indonesians favor the country’s current secular system of law, according to a privately funded nationwide survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle, a pollster. If that seems like good news, read it this way: This means there are “only” about 82 million Indonesians who favor Shariah. Approximately 216 million out of Indonesia’s approximately 246 million inhabitants, or nearly nine-tenths of the population, are Muslims. And while Indonesia’s religious and cultural climate is justifiably regarded as moderate in comparison to much of the rest of the Muslim world — and its government is a very useful ally against terrorism — the numbers still leave plenty of room for concern.

Just over two-thirds of respondents disapprove of the death penalty for those who renounce Islam, according to the survey, which was first reported by Rupert Murdoch’s More than three-quarters of Indonesians disapprove of mandatory head scarves. Nearly two-thirds oppose stoning for adultery. More than 75 percent are against severing the hands of thieves.

When the aggregate numbers of people are factored in, the study looks considerably more disturbing. If one-quarter of Indonesians favor cutting off the hands of thieves, it suggests that upwards of 60 million Indonesians favor the practice. If roughly 164 million Indonesians oppose stoning adulterers, it means that more than 80 million favor doing so.

There is much more to the war on terror than the battle for hearts and minds, but these numbers show the many millions who are unmoved even in a “moderate” Muslim nation. Recall the spike in favorable opinion in Indonesia regarding tsunami relief efforts. That experience suggests that the United States and the West might possibly be making inroads. The Bush administration’s cooperation with Indonesia in the pursuit of terrorists has been commendable. But the numbers don’t lie as to the rest of its policy, which is insufficiently ambitious in light of such radicalized opinion in a country touted for its moderation.

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