Philippines To Indonesia, Wahhabism Is Spreading In Asia

Mosque in Aceh Province, the only which has Islamic Sharia Law in Indonesia
Mosque in Aceh Province, the only which has Islamic Sharia Law in Indonesia
Renaud Girard


PARIS — The Islamic State (ISIS) is like the Hydra, the multi-headed monster of mythology that Hercules alone was able to slay. Whenever he managed to cut off one its heads, two new ones grew back instantly. Likewise, the jihadists — having recently lost Mosul, in Iraq — are already making headlines again, this time far away from the Arab world and Mesopotamia.

In late May, in the southern Philippine archipelago, on the island of Mindanao, militants of the jihadist organization Maute (which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015) overran the city of Marawi and its 200,000 inhabitants. And on jihadist websites, the word is out that: "If you can't reach Syria, go to the Philippines!"

For young Muslims swayed by Wahhabi ideology and dreaming of taking up arms to fight, video-game-style, there are a myriad of opportunities for jihadi tourism. They can visit the banks of the Euphrates, and then head to the shores of the Gulf of Sidra, in the Mediterranean Sea, before making their way to the turquoise waters of the Celebes Sea, in the western Pacific.

In the areas seized by ISIS, Christians are targeted for the sole fact that they're Christians. The BBC published a video from a Christian woman from Marawi who was forced to hide with her six children at a compassionate neighbor's for 11 days, panicked whenever they could hear the noisy outcries of the jihadists. Their story is reminiscent of Anne Frank's — the fear of being killed for who you are, not even for what you've done.

Battles to retake Marawi city from Islamists Rebels in Philippines Photo: Sherbien Dacalano/ZUMA

When Nazism was defeated in 1945 and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, we naively believed that totalitarianism would never appear again on the face of the earth. We had forgotten about Wahhabism, this Muslim puritanism preached in the 18th century by an Arabian peninsula sheik allied with the house of Saud. We didn't understand then what immense lever the addition of petrodollars and of America's obsession in solely fighting against Sovietism would provide to this deadly ideology. As soon as the head of Muscovite Communism was cut, the hideous figure of internationalist Islamism started growing.

Philippine special forces still haven't retaken full control of Marawi. At least 400 jihadists have already been killed, along with about a hundred of the government troops. There is the fear that many Islamist militants will try to leave by sea and head to Indonesia.

Laying down roots

There is, in the West, an intellectual tendency toward seeing Islamist jihadism as just another form of radicalism. A bit like we used to see West Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang or Italy's Red Brigades in 1970s Europe. The comparison is justified by the fact that, like leftist armed groups of the past in Europe, jihadist movements today have no chance of taking over a country. In Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim country, jihadists regularly carry out attacks, but no more so really than the former red brigades did. And openly Islamist parties are losing ground election after election.

Authorities demolished churches in 2015 for fear they might be torched by Islamist groups.

Still, the thought leaders of this Western intellectual tendency are dead wrong in that they fail to grasp the immense impact these radical movements have had on Muslim societies for the past 40 years. True, Muslim societies still reject the extreme violence of the jihadists, but not the content of their ideological message. Part of the Wahhabi preaching, in other words, still manages to take root.

In the 1970s, on Java, there were extremely few veiled women. Now, almost all of them are. In the Aceh province, on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island, the authorities demolished churches in 2015 for fear they might be torched by Islamist groups. Many Indonesian students have been offered free studies in universities in the petromonarchies of the Arabian Gulf. They often go back to their homelands to become teachers and, naturally, they preach a Wahhabi doctrine.

Inside a mosque in Aceh province, Indonesia Photo: Fauzan Ijazah/ZUMA

Drastic anti-blasphemy laws were passed during the mandates of Susilo Yudhoyono (between 2004 and 2014), the first Indonesian president elected by direct universal suffrage, pushing the legislation ever closer to Sharia law. Religious tolerance is gradually vanishing in Indonesia, as shown by the electoral defeat in April 2017 of the efficient and upright Jakarta governor, Basuki Purnama, victim of a campaign that targeted his Christian faith.

Sliding toward Sharia law

Officially, the Indonesian state's philosophy still is the Pancasila of 1945, whose five principles are: the belief in one God; a just and civilized humanity; the national unity of Indonesia; democracy dictated by wisdom through deliberation; and social justice. In other words, there is no constitutional privilege for Islam.

And yet, in the minds of both the governing and the governed, there's nothing abnormal in gradually sliding towards Sharia law. De facto, if not de jure, the state's religious neutrality wanted by Sukarno, the father of Indonesia independence, is gone. As a religion of conquest, it didn't take a lot of effort for Wahhabi Islam to devour its minor, and a lot more pacifist, rivals: Buddhism and Christianity.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is accusing small Qatar of sponsoring "terrorism," it wouldn't be unwarranted to demand of Riyadh a little soul-searching regarding its Wahhabi ideology, the very same it generously exported to all parts of the globe, thanks to oil money.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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