Mon, 08 Dec 2003

Bridging Islam, the West vital in fighting terrorism

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Efforts to bridge the gap between the Islamic world and the West are needed to ease the anxiety within the Muslim community following the global war on terrorism, a minister said.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said while the fight against terrorism over the past two years had unified countries across the world, it had sparked restlessness in the Islamic world.

In his keynote speech at the opening of the general conference of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), Susilo warned that the ongoing war on terrorism could create new tensions if it was poorly handled.

"That is why we must recognize the long-term strategic importance of promoting interfaith dialog and efforts to bridge the Islamic world and the West," he said.

The ongoing global campaign against terrorism has put the Muslim community to the test as there are perceptions that the West connects Islam to terrorism.

Despite repeated claims that the war against terrorism is not targeting Islam, in reality it is the Muslim community that is being scrutinized in many parts of the world. The practice has sparked anger among moderate Indonesian Muslim leaders, who formerly had stood behind the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

"Throughout the Islamic world, there is a battle for the soul of Islam between nations and within nations... How these battles find political and social expression will determine the political landscape of the region," he said.

The growing restlessness within the Islamic communities will continue to be fueled by what is happening in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"It's sad that the "road map" sponsored by the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN has not made significant mileage and indeed at the present moment it seems to be running out of steam," Susilo said.

Indonesia, Susilo said, has been trying to bring the Islamic world and the West closer, the latest effort being a meeting between visiting U.S. President George W. Bush and Indonesia's Muslim leaders in Bali on Oct. 22.

Speaking in a separate forum in Denpasar, Bali earlier in the day, Susilo said Indonesia was joining forces with other countries around the world in hunting down terrorist suspects.

Susilo said the world had identified 90 terrorist suspects who remained at large in the country, including 10 members of the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

The al-Qaeda-linked JI is said to have masterminded the Bali blasts in October last year and the JW Marriott Hotel Jakarta bombing in August this year, claiming 214 lives in total.

"People should stay on alert as we do not know exactly how many of them there are. Some of them are still on the run, like Dr. Azahari and Noordin Mohd. Top," Susilo was quoted by Antara while addressing the forum United in Diversity at the Bali International Convention Center (BICC) in Nusa Dua.

He also warned that the threat of terrorism was looming large ahead of the 2004 elections, with the aim of destabilizing the country.

"The threats of separatism, terrorism and extremism are undermining the government's efforts to lead the country out of the crisis," he said.

No less than 180,000 police and a back-up force of 26,000 military troops will safeguard the elections next year, which will start from the campaign period in March and will almost certainly close in September with the second-round of the presidential election.