Increased attention to Indonesian links with religious

institutions in the Middle East, particularly Saudi

Arabia, and to the salafi movement, the propagation

of a puritanical form of Islam often identified with

Saudi funding, is a by-product of the "war on terror".

In discussions on Indonesian Islam, there are often

suggestions that salafism is an alien phenomenon, is

growing by leaps and bounds; and is dangerous,

because it promotes violence. All three assumptions

are misleading.

The majority of Indonesian salafis are religious but

not political activists. Indeed, the strictest of them

eschew any form of political allegiance or organisation

altogether because it suggests -- or can lead to --

divisions within the ummat, the Muslim community.

To most Indonesian salafis, an organisation like

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group responsible for the

Bali bombings of October 2002, and almost certainly

the Australian embassy bombing of September 2004,

is anathema not just in terms of ideology and tactics

but also because its organisational structure and

clandestine nature run counter to the idea of a single

community. Salafis do not recognise any form of

leadership or hierarchy other than the commander of

the faithful (amir ul-mukminin). They reject the

notion of oath-taking to a leader that is central to

membership of organisations like JI or its progenitor,

Darul Islam.1

If there is any tendency toward violence on the part of

the religious activists, it is "rooted in [the] ambition to

1 See ICG Asia Briefing, Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, the

Case of the Ngruki Network, 8 August 2002, corrected on 10

January 2003.

dictate, control and correct individual behaviour, and

takes the form of occasional punitive actions against

individuals or groups regarded as 'bad Muslims'".2

Most Indonesian salafis would not even go that far.

That said, things become complicated when some --

but by no means all -- of those involved in bombings

in Indonesia also claim to be salafis, indeed to uphold

a purer form of the faith than their non-violent

brethren. (Aly Gufron alias Mukhlas, a JI ideologue

and Bali bomber, is in this category.) A key difference

between the two groups is over their understanding of

jihad and the circumstances in which it is justified. In

Indonesia, as internationally, the salafi jihadis, as they

are sometimes called, are the extreme fringe of the

salafi movement, determined to attack Western targets

in retaliation for perceived aggression by the West, or

what Indonesians more frequently term a "Christian-

Zionist conspiracy", against Muslims around the

world. This more radical wing of the international

salafi movement emerged as a product of the war

against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and it is

no coincidence that the top JI leaders are Afghan

veterans. The jihadis, however, are not representative

of the salafi movement more broadly.

Though funding from Saudi organisations and

individual Saudi donors has financed much of the

institutional framework of salafism since the early

1980s, the movement has strong historical precedents

in Indonesia. It is a widespread myth that Indonesian

Islam has always been moderate, pluralist, and tinged

with elements of indigenous culture. That myth ignores

the fact that a puritanical element has been consistently

present, as in all religious traditions.

2 ICG Middle East Briefing, Islamism in North Africa I: The

Legacies of History, 20 April 2004.

Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don't Mix

ICG Asia Report N°83, 13 September 2004 Page 2

Salafism, therefore, should not be seen as the

ideological basis of terrorism. Before examining

why the two are so often conflated, however, it is

important to understand what salafism is.

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