14 January 2006

Islamic School Confronts Terrorist Image

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Tomorrow's Jakarta Post reports:
A thick cloud of suspicion hangs over the country's pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), with many convinced they are a breeding ground for terrorists.

The second Bali bombings last October, in which several boarding school alumni were implicated, were followed by discussion of the mass fingerprinting of students, as well as revisions to the curriculum to avoid the sowing of hatred.

It's notoriety that administrators at Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Sukoharjo, Central Java, say they would rather do without.

"Whenever a terrorist incident occurs, the world always points at us," director of the school, Wahyuddin, told The Jakarta Post recently. "We are constantly accused of training terrorists, while achievements of the school and students never get the attention of the media, including the national media."

It will be a hard image to dispel for the school, often called Pondok Ngruki.

One of the school's cofounders 30 years ago was the late Abdullah Sungkar, who lived in exile during the New Order regime, fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and established Jamaah Islamiyah, the militant group linked to al-Qaeda.

The other cofounder was controversial cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, and several of the school's alumni were linked to the wave of bombings in the country in recent years.

A 2001 thesis written by a Ngruki alumnus, Muhammad Nursalim, estimated that at least 5,000 of Abdullah Sungkar's combat-trained followers were to be found in several countries.

"The organization's principle of struggle adapted by Ustad (cleric) Abdullah Sungkar is underground in nature. It is forbidden to reveal one's identity," a source told the Post on the condition of anonymity.

The school's alumni say the assumptions are all wrong, and they will hold a seminar on jihad and terrorism on Jan. 21-Jan. 22. Thousands of former students, many now living abroad, are expected to attend.

Among the invited guests are 20 foreign embassies.

"We will hold the seminar in the school complex so that the Western envoys, who have been suspicious of Ngruki thus far, can see first hand the real conditions at the school," said an organizer, Ali Usman.

As of Thursday, the organizing committee had yet to receive confirmation on the number of foreign envoys who would attend.

"Only Malaysia has stated its readiness to attend, and the Netherlands asked us to forward the complete schedule," said organizing committee head, Isfihani.

At a previous seminar in 2004, only ambassadors from Germany and Japan attended.

Minister of Home Affairs Muhammad Ma'ruf is slated to open and deliver the keynote speech in the event. Other speakers will include Ma'ruf Amin, head of the Fatwa committee of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), who is also the initiator of the committee to rectify the curricula at Islamic boarding schools.

Ali Usman hopes the presence of the home affairs minister will persuade the foreign envoys to find out more about the school.

"Come and prove for yourself whether our pesantren grooms terrorist members," said Usman jokingly.
Open Post Thanks to The Conservative Cat, Stuck on Stupid, Stop The ACLU and The Uncooperative Blogger.

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