Mon, 31 Mar 2003

NU guards preparing to join Iraq war

The Jakarta Post, Surabaya/Jakarta/Semarang

The civilian guard (Banser) of the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), plans to send 4,000 of its members to Iraq.

The East Java chief of Banser NU, Masduki Thoha, said on Sunday some 1,500 of his members were currently undergoing military-style training in preparation for the war in Iraq.

"More than 1,500 members are training for war. We are ready with our people should the Iraqi government need extra soldiers for the war," he said.

However, Banser chairman Saifullah Yusuf quickly brushed aside these claims, saying the organization would not be sending members to Iraq.

"Sending paramilitary members to Iraq is impossible for Banser. I will immediately ask Masduki to clarify his statement," Saifullah told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Masduki's claims came as a surprise considering the moderate nature of NU and its affiliated organizations.

If East Java Banser does send members to Iraq, it would be another blow to the campaign by the government and moderate religious leaders to assure the people that the war in Iraq has nothing to do with religion.

Earlier, the radical Islam Defenders Front (FPI) called on Muslims to sign up to go to Iraq and fight. FPI claims hundreds of people have answered this call.

Laskar Ababil, the youth wing of the country's largest Muslim- based political party, the United Development Party (PPP), said it would not send volunteers to Iraq. The group also urged the government to pursue diplomatic means to end the war.

The chairman of the East Java branch of Laskar Ababil, Abdul Rasyid, said his organization supported the government's effort to push the United Nations to address the Iraq crisis.

Meanwhile, Liberal Islamic Network (JIL) coordinator Ulil Abshar Abdalla criticized the FPI and East Java Banser, describing their efforts as "unrealistic".

"It would be ridiculous to join the fight there (in Iraq). It would be better to concentrate more on sending humanitarian assistance to the Iraqis," he said in Semarang.

"This is not a religious war, there is reason to call for a jihad in Iraq. We have seen the non-Muslim community around the globe also oppose this war," he said.

The Muslim scholar underlined that jihad does not necessarily mean violence. Sending aid and holding rallies to protest the aggression by the U.S. and its allies can be considered another form of jihad.