Facing Down the Fanatics

A more tolerant Islam is confronting extremism in the world's most populous Muslim country.

Michael Finkel in National Geographic:

ScreenHunter_05 Oct. 02 08.55 For several decades, Indonesian society had been growing more overtly Islamic: Attendance at mosques swelled, and Muslim dress became popular. In the late 1990s, a growing number of district governments began enacting regulations inspired by sharia, or Islamic law, and support for Islamic political parties was on the rise. Increasingly, militant Islamic groups that advocated a violent struggle to recast Indonesia as an Islamic republic seemed to be drowning out the voices of the majority of Indonesian Muslims, who believe that their faith can smoothly coexist with modernity and democratic values.

But in the past few years, although Indonesians continue to embrace Islam in their private lives with greater fervor, it's become clear that most don't want religion to be enforced in the political sphere. “So many people equate Muslim piety with radicalism,” says Sidney Jones, an Indonesia specialist with the nonprofit International Crisis Group who has lived in the country for more than 30 years. “Indonesia is full of examples of why that notion is wrong.” As Islamist politicians have moved to regulate women's dress codes and ban activities like yoga, moderates have begun to make their voices heard. In the Indonesian parliamentary elections this past April, candidates backed by Muslim organizations received less than 23 percent of the vote, down from 38 percent in 2004.

Though the recent bombings are a setback, Indonesia has lately been seen as a success story in how to curb violent extremism.

More here.