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Indonesia president issues rallying cry against extremism

Extremism, terrorism among the greatest threats facing nation, Widodo tells parliament

Indonesia president issues rallying cry against extremism

Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers a speech to Indonesia's parliament on Aug 16. (Photo supplied)


Indonesian President Joko Widodo has singled out extremism and terrorism as among the greatest threats facing the Muslim-majority nation and called for a united front to safeguard the country's secular society.

"We are still confronted with poverty and injustice, we are still facing global economic uncertainty, and we are also facing movements of extremism, radicalism and terrorism," Widodo said in a speech to parliament on Aug. 16, the day before Indonesia's Independence Day. 

"We want to work together not only in creating an equitable economy, but also in ideological, political, social and cultural development," he said.

"In the field of ideology, we have to strengthen our national consensus in safeguarding Pancasila, the constitution, the unity of the Republic of Indonesia and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [unity in diversity]," he added.

Pancasila, the nation's secular ideology enshrined in the charter's preamble, stipulates belief in one God, a just and civilized society, a united Indonesia, democracy guided by consensus, and social justice for all citizens.

However, over recent years concerns have grown about increasing intolerance undermining a tradition of moderate Islam in a country where Muslims form about 85 percent of the population, alongside Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and other minorities.

Religious tension has soared since late last year after hard-line Muslim rallies targeted Jakarta's former Christian governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, over claims he insulted the Koran.

Many observers said the protests were the main reason he lost in Jakarta city election to a Muslim rival.

The former governor is currently in jail for blasphemy, a punishment that prompted scathing criticism from rights groups.

Indonesia is also on heightened alert over potential terror threats, following the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS). Around 600 Indonesians signed up to fight for IS in Syria, according to Indonesian authorities.

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Meanwhile, terror attacks within the country by various groups still pose a serious threat.

On Aug. 15, police arrested five suspected militants near Jakarta and seized chemicals, they said were being used to make bombs for attacks on the presidential palace at the end of this month.

Father Benny Susetyo, an outspoken priest and national secretary of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said extremists see Indonesia as a prime ground to exploit, "because the seeds have already been sown in our society."

He was referring to a study by the rights organization the Wahid Foundation survey, which found that around 0.4 percent of the population or 600,000 people had committed radical acts and that 7.7 percent or about 11 million people were open to radicalization.

The priest praised Joko Widodo for his commitment to preserving Pancasila, that included setting up a presidential task force last month to oversee the teaching of the state ideology 

"It is one concrete step to fighting against extremism," he said.

Savic Alieha from Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, said all of society must be vigilant and take a stand against intolerant or hard-line groups, which continue to grow.

"Their influence can be through various places such as mosques and schools," he said.

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