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FPI attacks damage RI Muslims’ image: Muhammadiyah chairman

Violence by members of a radical Islamic group earlier this month has damaged the international image of Indonesian Muslims, chairman of the country’s second-largest Muslim group said.

The attack by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) on a pro-pluralism group had undone five years of hard work spent eradicating the violent image of Indonesian Muslims after religious-based bombings and horizontal conflicts, Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin said Thursday.

“We have to start again from square one to recapture the image of moderation after the attack,” Din told The Jakarta Post.

He said after horizontal conflicts in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and West Kalimantan as well as vertical conflicts in Aceh and several terrorist bombings in Bali and Jakarta, Indonesian Muslims had had a hard time convincing the world they were moderate and that there were only few radical groups.

The image was tarnished after FPI members, armed with bamboo sticks, beat and kicked activists of the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion during a rally at the National Monument park on June 1, leaving some 70 people injured.

The peaceful rally was to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of Pancasila state ideology and to show support for Islamic minority sect Ahmadiyah.

Before the attack, Din said, Indonesian Muslims had been gathering trust for their moderate stance.

“But with newspapers globally publishing the story of the attacks and TV stations vividly broadcasting the pictures, I can’t say what kind of image we have now,” he said.

He admitted criticisms of mainstream organizations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah for their failure to speak out against extremist and conservative elements were partly justified, but said the attacks should not be linked to religion.

“A violent attack is a purely criminal act and the state should take action against it. Violence has no root in Islam. It’s a misuse or abuse of religion,” Din said.

“The reason we seem to be doing nothing is because we don’t want to be provoked.”

Observers have criticized moderate Muslim organizations for failing to demonstrate their religious tolerance following a government decree against Ahmadiyah.

They said NU and Muhammadiyah had allowed hard-line groups too much leeway in taking the public stage and claiming to represent all Indonesian Muslims.

The anti-Ahmadiyah decree was issued by the government earlier this month amid intense pressure from several extremist groups, including the FPI and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

Din criticized the media for failing to report on the actions of moderate Muslims, compared with the coverage of radical groups.

He said moderate organizations such as NU and Muhammadiyah had been very active in fostering an image of Islam that spreads blessings for all.

“We reach the majority with teachings of moderation. We fight poverty, injustice and ignorance with our education and cultural activities,” he said.

Abdul Khalik ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Fri, 06/20/2008 10:33 AM  |  Headlines

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