Recent moves in Indonesia, including plans by one province to stone adulterers to death, have raised concerns about the reputation of the world's most populous Muslin country as a beacon of moderate Islam.
The provincial assembly in the westernmost province of Aceh -- at the epicenter of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 170,000 people there nearly five years ago -- this week decreed the ancient Islamic penalty of stoning to death for adultery. (Photo: Indonesian Muslim women support sharia, 19 Sept 2006?Supri Supri)
The decision could still be overturned once Aceh's new parliament is sworn in next month. But many, including Aceh's governor, the central government in Jakarta, and local businessmen, are concerned about the impact a broadcast public execution by stoning could have on Indonesia's international reputation.
The Aceh case is one of several showing how hardline Muslim groups are influencing policy in Indonesia. Local governments, given wide latitude to enact laws under Indonesia's decentralization program, have begun to mandate sharia regulations, including dress codes for women.
One ethnic Chinese Indonesian businessman, a practicing Christian who asked not to be quoted by name, said he feared if the trend continued it could lead to capital flight by the wealthy Chinese, Christian minority. "A lot of regional laws are going in that direction. It's already alarming the way it's going. It's a minority who are doing this, but the problem is that the silent majority just keep silent."