Der Spiegel reports that Indonesia’s ostensibly secular government faces increasing pressure from the Islamists in their midst. The Muslim nation may start down the road towards a Taliban-Lite government as radical Islamists gain more seats in their assembly and demand a greater imposition of shari’a law:
With 221 million inhabitants, of which 194 million are Muslims, the island nation is not only Southeast Asia’s most populous country, but is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population. And that population looks to be growing increasingly devout. Significantly more women wear the headscarf today than a decade ago, and the number of Indonesians making the pilgrimage to Mecca grows year after year. Alcoholic beverages are disappearing from the shelves of supermarkets, and in some places those who violate the Islamic ban on alcohol already face public whipping — a brutal spectacle that is even broadcast on local television stations.
Since two bombs killed 202 people, most of them Western tourists, at the Kuta beach resort on the island of Bali in the fall of 2002, Islamist terrorists have repeatedly attacked Western targets at the same time of the year, prompting Indonesians to refer to autumn as “bomb season.” Al-Qaida, which is clearly allied with local extremists, has identified the country as a battlefield of the future.
While the country’s secular president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, may be tough on terrorists, there is little he can do to stop the Islamists from gaining political ground. The winner of the struggle between proponents of a secular state and radical imams calling for a theocracy stands to capture a valuable prize — one of the world’s most strategically important countries. All major shipping routes connecting Europe and East Asia pass through the waters off this island nation. It is precisely here, in this archipelago between the Straits of Malacca and the Celebes Sea, that a new front in the battle of cultures is emerging.
The reference to shipping lanes seems rather significant. Not long ago, the History Channel produced a show on modern pirates — men who do a lot more than just shout “Aaaargh!” The new pirates have attacked shipping all over the world, but have especially concentrated their efforts in the waters of Indonesia. They have even, at least once, hijacked a ship just to learn its operation, maneuver it for a while, and then escape from it without docking it. On that occasion, they also stole all of the technical manuals but left the cargo with the terrorized crew, which survived the incident.
It looked like a dry run for an attack similar to 9/11, but using shipping rather than commercial airliners. With 95% of the world’s oil transported by sea — and even worse, a large percentage of its highly explosive liquid natural gas transported by tankers — the shipping lanes of Indonesia seem very susceptible to that tactic by a group with al-Qaeda’s organization.
That is one reason why the radicalization of Indonesia has such dire consequences for the entire world. If AQ and its religious allies can create a Taliban-like state there, the security implications could be catastrophic. Certainly, Australia would face the most direct threat, but with control of the shipping lanes falling into the hands of a terrorist-supporting government, that threat will go global in an instant. It would require a much larger naval presence by the Western powers in that region and probably some sort of convoy arrangement that doesn’t exist at the moment for the marine trade.
The shipping trade might find other routes through the Indian Ocean and bypass Indonesia. If that were possible, it could reduce the threat — but it will hasten the collapse of Indonesia. With the radical Islamists targeting Western assets every fall (referred to by the locals as “bomb season”), foreign investment has dropped by over a third last year alone. Instead, capital has shifted to Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, causing a collapse of the Indonesian economy. The poor have been easy recruitment targets for the radicals, especially living on $2 per day, and a further shift of foreign investment will hasten that process.
The West will face a crisis soon in the world’s largest Muslim nation. We had better pay attention to what happens in Indonesia, because al-Qaeda has already highlighted it as a future battleground for its war on the West. We cannot afford to let it slip away.