Eleven percent of the people in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, believe suicide attacks against civilian targets are sometimes justifiable, a survey said on Thursday.
Though the number is relatively small, analysts say the findings of the Indonesian Survey Institute are a wake-up call for Indonesian leaders and moderate clerics who fear a tiny radical Muslim fringe may be making inroads into the general public.
Suicide bombings blamed on Islamic militants have killed hundreds in recent years in Indonesia, a country whose population of 220 million population is around 85 percent Muslim -- most of them following a moderate form of the religion.
The government has been making an extra effort to counter militant Islamic ideas since the discovery of videos last November showing the last words of suicide bombers who killed 20 people in restaurants on Bali island last year. Authorities and moderate clerics were shocked that young Indonesians could talk so blithely about the horrific bombings.
“Religious radicalism, when it is translated into violent methods in the name of religion, has received enough support -- one in every 10 Muslims in Indonesia,” LSI senior researcher Anies Baswedan said. “It seems small, but this is already quite a big support for extreme acts.”
The survey, based on 1,200 respondents across Indonesia’s 33 provinces, showed 11.2 percent believed suicide bombings were justifiable on occasion while 0.5 percent said the method could always be justified to defend Islam from its enemies.
The survey also revealed that 8 percent support masterminds of past suicide bombings, including Noordin M. Top, the most wanted terror suspect in Indonesia, who authorities say is an expert in recruiting young suicide bombers among the country’s impoverished masses.
Police believe Top, a key operative of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiah militant network, is on the run in rural areas of Indonesia’s main Java island.
Anti-terror campaigns in Indonesia have faced hurdles, including perceptions the United States is out to attack Islam, as well as the ample space given to militant voices and their sympathizers in the Indonesian media.
Support for shariah
The survey also found that almost half the respondents back stoning as a punishment for adulterers while support for other extreme elements of Islamic shariah was also significant.
However, LSI said the findings could be misleading.
“Agreement to ideas based on shariah was quite high but this trend was not reflected in the support for political parties that fight for the imposition of shariah in Indonesia,” Baswedan said.
“Agreement ... does not equal to willingness to support (shariah) applications,” he said.
The current parliament, elected in 2004, is dominated by parties against imposing strict shariah laws nationwide.
In their personal lives many Indonesians follow liberal practices, or mix ancient traditional religions and magic with Islam in ways that do not square with what they profess to be their beliefs.
The survey also showed that while more than 70 percent support the moderate beliefs of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim group in Indonesia, minority respondents are more favorable to ultra-conservative groups than liberal ones.
Only 2.5 percent back the Liberal Islam Network while 11 percent agreed with causes advocated by the Indonesian Mujahidin Council of Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been convicted on terrorism charges and identified by intelligence officials as the leader of Jemaah Islamiah.
MMI wants to Indonesia to become an Islamic state, while Jemaah Islamiah has advocated a regional Islamic government.