FaithWorld

Indonesian Islamists shift targets, religious intolerance rises

(A woman comforts her injured husband at Pelabuhan hospital in Cirebon April 15, 2011. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque inside a police compound in Indonesia on Friday, wounding people, police said, in the most serious incident in a recent spate of attacks by Islamist militants. REUTERS/Shan Shan)

(A victim of a suicide bomb attack at a mosque inside a police compound in Indonesia in the most serious incident in a recent spate of attacks by Islamist militants, April 15, 2011/Shan Shan)

A suicide bombing in Indonesia last week highlighted a trend of militants acting alone or in small groups to attack Indonesians rather than foreigners to push an Islamist agenda, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report. This has raised concern about more low-level attacks in the world’s most populous Muslim country, which has been seen as having successfully combated militancy but is now seeing a spike in religious intolerance.

“Ideological shifts originating in the Middle East have combined with local circumstances to produce a trend that favours targeted killings over indiscriminate bombings, local over foreign targets and individual or small group action over operations by more hierarchical organisations,” the ICG said on Tuesday.

Militant attacks and incidents of religious intolerance have risen in recent weeks, with mobs lynching three followers of the minority Muslim Ahmadi sect and torching two churches on Java island.

Read the full story here.

Once-armed Islamists talk tolerance by Egyptian temple

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(Mosque (R) in part of Luxor temple/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Egyptian Islamist group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya preached non-violence and tolerance of tourism this week outside a pharaonic temple close to the Luxor site where its members massacred 58 foreigners in 1997.

The group which took up arms against the state in the 1990s and played in a role in Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, gathered followers by the Luxor Temple on Friday to espouse the peaceful activism it is pursuing in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

The organisers had picked the location, by a mosque in the Luxor Temple complex, as a message to tourists “that there is no danger to their presence in Egypt”, Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged, one of the group’s leaders, said in a telephone interview. “Some tourists attended the meeting and took photos and there were some meetings with tourists,” he said on Saturday.

Egyptian army must stop shrine vandals-religious affairs ministry

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(A resident looks at damage to the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine at a mosque in Qalyoub, north of Cairo April 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egypt’s religious affairs ministry has called on security forces to strike with “a hand of steel” to stop the vandalism of Sufi shrines targeted in attacks blamed on ultra-orthodox Muslims. An increase in attacks on shrines in Egypt is fuelling concern about the role that Islamists will play after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, who suppressed Islamist groups that he saw as a threat to his rule.

Scores of shrines have disappeared or were burnt down on the outskirts of Cairo weeks after Mubarak was toppled from power. The attacks have awoken old tensions between Sufis, followers of a mystical Islamic tradition to whom shrines are an important part of religious practice, and ultra-conservative Salafists, who see them as idolatrous.

Hardline Islamist campaign against Egyptian Sufi shrines focus fears

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(Residents inspect damage to the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine at a mosque in Qalyoub, north of Cairo April 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Wielding crowbars and sledgehammers, two dozen Islamists arrived at the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine in the middle of the night aiming to smash it to pieces. Word spread quickly through the narrow, dirt roads of the poor Egyptian town of Qalyoub. Within minutes, the group were surrounded and attacked by residents who rallied to defend the site revered by their families for generations.

“They say the shrine is haram (something forbidden in Islam), but what they are doing is haram,” said Hussein Ahmed, 58, describing the shrine attackers as Sunni fanatics, at least two of whom witnesses said were then badly beaten.

More Indonesian Islamists resorting to violence, anti-terror agency says

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(Supporters of radical Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir chant "God is great", in support of their leader at his trial in a South Jakarta court March 10, 2011/Enny Nuraheni )

Indonesian militants are using parcel bombs and targeting minorities to try to push an Islamist agenda on the government and they could launch further small attacks, the country’s anti-terror agency chief told Reuters. Militant attacks and incidents of religious intolerance have risen in recent weeks, with mobs lynching three followers of a minority Islamic sect and torching two churches on Java island. Parcel bombs have been sent to people involved in promoting pluralism and counter-terrorism in Jakarta.

The head of the National Counter-Terrorism Agency, Ansyaad Mbai, said Islamic organisations that had not previously been involved in acts of terror were joining a militant network in Indonesia because of a convergence on certain issues.

Egyptian Islamists won’t cap ambitions forever, Brotherhood leader says

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(Egyptians walk under a banner by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calling for a "yes" vote in a referendum on constitutional changes in Cairo March 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood is not planning to seek power in Egypt’s elections this year but says it will not limit its political ambitions forever and wants secular parties to get organised to foster true competition.

“Everyone must act so we can reach the point where we become like the rest of the countries in the world, with three or four strong parties,” said Mohamed el-Beltagi, a Brotherhood leader.

In free Egypt, Islamic Jihad leader says the time for the gun is over

Abboud al-Zumar

(Abboud al-Zumar in an interview with Reuters in his home after his release from Liman Tora Prison at Helwan, south of Cairo, March 17, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Abboud al-Zumar went to jail 30 years ago for his role in killing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Now a free man, he believes democracy will prevent Islamists from ever again taking up the gun against the state.

Zumar was a prisoner for as long as Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, was president. His release with other leading Islamists jailed for militancy is a sign of dramatic change in Egypt in the five weeks since Mubarak was swept from power by mass protests. Zumar, 64, was a founding member of the Islamic Jihad group which gunned down Sadat during a military parade in 1981. He was released along with his cousin, Tarek al-Zumar, who had also spent three decades in jail on similar charges.

Bomb hits office of liberal Indonesian Islamic group defending Ahmadis

(A Muslim woman holds a placard during a protest against the Ahmadi sect in Jakarta February 18, 2011. Indonesia's highest Islamic authority and many mass Islamic organisations in the most populous Muslim country consider Ahmadi "heretical" for believing that Mohammad was not Islam's final prophet. The placard reads, "Disband Ahmadi". REUTERS/Beawiharta)

(A protest against the Ahmadi sect in Jakarta February 18, 2011. The sign reads "Disband Ahmadiyah"/Beawiharta)

A small explosion has hit the Jakarta office of the Liberal Islamic Network, an Indonesian group that has defended the rights of minority Islamic  Ahmadi sect, a witness said. The explosion on Tuesday, which injured three people, comes a month after a mob beat to death three followers of the Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by mainstream Muslims.

Indonesia has won praise for largely defeating Islamic terror, but a recent spike in religious intolerance could heighten risk concerns for foreign investors counting on improved stability in Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Factbox on Pakistan’s emerging anti-U.S. Islamist bloc

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(Supporters of religious parties burn a U.S flag during a protest in Lahore February 18, 2011/Mohsin Raza)

Pakistan’s religious parties are growing stronger, riding a tide of growing anti-Americanism and outrage over blasphemy cases that has led to the assassination of two government officials. Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer and Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed this year for their support for changing Pakistan’s harsh anti-blasphemy law, a move opposed by Pakistan’s religious parties.

These parties in Pakistan are beginning to set aside sectarian differences that have divided them for years to coalesce around an explicitly anti-American agenda, creating a political bloc that could challenge the ruling parties and ultimately weaken Pakistan’s alliance with the United States. See our analysis Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government here.

Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government

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(A supporter of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami backs Pakistan's blasphemy laws during a rally in Peshawar January 23, 2011/Fayaz Aziz )

Pakistan’s disparate Islamist political parties are uniting behind their hatred of the United States, emboldened by a weak government that looks increasingly reluctant to stand up to extremism and a society where radicalism is widely tolerated. The prospect of these parties gaining strength in this nuclear-armed nation is a nightmare for its ally the United States and neighbors including India and Afghanistan, which are already fighting Islamist insurgents based in Pakistan.

But while there is little chance Islamist parties will be able to take power outright, they are becoming more prominent as anti-Americanism grows among ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom also reject attempts to soften a blasphemy law that has claimed the lives of two senior officials this year alone.