THE ordeal of a 22-year-old female Pentecostal trainee-pastor began on the evening of June 9th in Situbondo, a town in east Java. Aprilia Dyah Kusumaningrum was set upon by three men after leaving a church service. The details of what she then suffered are disputed. But she was abducted in a car, ending up hundreds of kilometres away. She managed to make her way home only after local farmers cobbled together a bit of money for her bus-fare.
Theophilus Bela, of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, an NGO, says the abductors, who woreÂ serban, a type of turban favoured by Muslims, were Islamic radicals. He tells the story as an illustration of the sort of religious violence that has become all too common in Indonesia. This year has seen perhaps two dozen attacks on churches, mostly on Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. And Islamist attacks are not aimed solely at the Christian minority in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world. In February an Islamist mob lynched some members of the small Ahmadiyah sect, regarded by some orthodox Muslims as apostates, killing four. Members of the Shia minority have also been victims of violence.
It is hardly surprising, given this sad (and very fresh) litany of religious intolerance, that most analysts of religion and politics in Indonesia have taken a sanguine view of the jailing on June 16th of the jihadist leader Abu Bakar Basyir. Widely thought to have been the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a South-East Asian offshoot of al-Qaeda, Mr Basyir was sentenced to 15 years in jail. He had been arrested twice before, but got off lightly. This time prosecutors were able to link him to the running of a terrorist training-camp in Aceh province. He faces further charges over an attack on a mosque in a police compound in April. So the 72-year-old may well die behind bars.
His sentencing was a boost for Indonesia’s police and judiciary. But it was largely irrelevant to the worsening phenomenon of Islamic extremism that lies behind the assault on the young pastor in Situbondo. The authorities have a worrying record of tolerating thuggery by groups using Islamic orthodoxy as a pretext.
The police have been extremely busy of late rounding up terrorist suspects. Forty-nine have been arrested, and four shot, since March, 16 of them just a few days before Mr Basyir’s conviction (for plotting to poison police officers’ food with cyanide). Fifteen more were arrested for helping in the attack on the police mosque in April. This activity may testify to the zeal of Indonesia’s anti-terrorist police, but it is also, argues Sydney Jones, an expert on Indonesian jihadism with the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, a worrying sign of how widespread the threat remains.
Probably only a few of these new suspects owe any direct allegiance to Mr Basyir, JI or any other established terrorist organisation. Even before his incarceration, Mr Basyir’s influence had waned. Instead, Ms Jones argues, “violent action is increasingly the work of small groups formed out of religious study sessions.” For that reason they will be harder to track.
Furthermore, although the police have got better at the kick-ass bit of fighting terrorism, moderate Muslims and Christians agree that the government lags far behind in tackling the underlying causes, such as the spread of Islamic extremism in schools and in society generally. In the past, the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has seemed reticent about criticising religious extremism, perhaps for fear of alienating the Islamic parties in his coalition. But he has recently been talking up the state ideology ofÂ pancasila, which regards all the country’s recognised religions as equal. That is welcome, but very few local authorities or schools actually implement the policy. Until that changes, the government’s critics say, little else will.