Bin Laden Showed Concerns about al-Qaeda Downfall

Bin Laden

Newspaper headlines and clippings are posted on a wall inside a staff office at the White House in Washington May 2, 2011, the morning after US President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden

Washington – One day after CIA released millions of classified pages online, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) rushed to release the fourth and final batch or al-Qaeda correspondence, which were found by U.S. soldiers in 2011.

The 49 documents released on Friday include letters to and from bin Laden and other leaders in al-Qaeda. According to what has been previously announced, Bin Laden used to sign his letter with the name Zamray.

In a letter from Bin Laden to a person called Othman, Bin Laden called for launching a campaign against the Iranian expansion, considering Iranian leaders as the biggest threat in the region. He concluded his letter with “I wish the campaign launches the soonest beside exerting tireless efforts on all levels and directions, especially through contacting scholars, preachers and media means and notifying us of all updates, your brother Zamray.”

In another letter, Bin Laden expressed his concerns that al-Qaeda might be collapsing and aging like other organizations. He added that the emphasis should be on ways to develop the activities of the organization in the upcoming period.

Latest documents revealed that Bin Laden insisted on considering the U.S. as the main enemy. “The Ummah’s enemies today are like a wicked tree, the trunk of this tree is the United States,” he wrote.

In one of his letters, Bin Laden tackled the Arab Spring revolutions, which he was killed months after them in the mid of 2011. He considered, in one of his letters to Sheikh Mahmoud, that any interference of al-Qaeda will not do it good.

He preferred to refrain from appearing in these revolutions and to give the rebels their chance to revolt over the tyrant rulers. “The change by itself brings lot of good and mercy,” he wrote.

(Source / 21.01.2017)

Gaza youths use cellphones to make films about unemployment, disabilities

A Palestinian man sits with his cellphone in Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, April 13, 2014

KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip — The Gaza-based Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) is organizing the Mobile Short Film Festival, a first for the Gaza Strip. Participants must be Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 35 residing in Gaza, and their video footage must focus on issues related to youth unemployment and the rights of people with a disability. The competition guidelines state that participants can submit their videos, which should be two to three minutes long, between Dec. 19 of last year and Jan. 19. The videos with the most public votes will be screened during the festival’s award ceremony, whose date has yet to be announced.

Karim Tartouri, 22, is getting ready to produce his short film about the rights of people with disabilities in Gaza. He will shoot and carry out the video editing using his cellphone.

Tartouri, who graduated from Palestine Technical College with a certificate in Television Arts, told Al-Monitor that producing a short film using a cellphone is a genius idea, since anyone with a modern mobile device can do this and join the festival’s competition. He said that this competition gives him the opportunity to show his passion for video production and apply what he learned in college about filmmaking. In his short film, Tartouri will focus on the loss of job opportunities by people with special needs because of their disability.

Ibrahim al-Batta, 26, recorded a short film about the complex social issues of nepotism, unemployment and brain drain. He aspires to win Gaza’s Mobile Short Film Festival in the category of youth affairs, to make up for his lost chance to participate in the “Qomrah” TV show due to internet problems that prevented him from uploading his film and sending it to the jury on time, although he had passed stages one and two of the competition.

On Dec. 13, Batta’s short film on nepotism won the Integrity Award at the annual Transparency Festival held on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity. He told Al-Monitor that his passion for filmmaking encourages him to participate in short film competitions, and that “the idea of ​​producing a short film on unemployment using only a cellphone camera is a new experience worth trying.”

Soha Abu Diab, the media coordinator of the festival in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The short films must focus on a clear idea and the filmmaker must show extensive skills and innovation; the ability to shoot a film of high quality and high resolution is not a prerequisite. The most important conditions of the competition are to film with a cellphone camera and to carry out the video editing with a phone application or a laptop.”

She said, “Participants must produce a short film not exceeding three minutes about one of these two topics: unemployment or the rights of people with a disability. After filling out the application form on Atabat website [which is affiliated with the CFTA] and uploading the short film, the footage will then be assessed by the festival’s jury. The public can then vote via the website, and the film with the highest number of votes will win. The date of the award ceremony will be announced later on.”

Abu Diab said that any video shot with a digital or ordinary camera will be disqualified, and that the short films can be edited on the participant’s cellphone or laptop using an application for video editing. She asserted that the jury will select the qualified films to be part of the competition as per the guidelines listed on the Atabat website.

The head of CFTA’s Youth Cultural Center, Hossam Shahada, told Al-Monitor that film directors, experts on the issues of youth unemployment and people with disabilities in addition to CFTA representatives will be part of the jury who will select the films that the public can vote on.

For her part, Abu Diab said that the names of the winners will be announced during a ceremony organized by the CFTA, and that the venue of the ceremony has yet to be determined.

“The prize will be six new cellphones; three for the winners of the unemployment category and three for the winners of the people with disabilities category. The value of the cellphones offered to the winners in first place is $530, in second place $395 and in third place $265,” she said.

Shahada said that cellphones allow their users to document their everyday lives through the cameras they carry around with them. He said, “Video footage captured with cellphone cameras have played an important role in many social and popular events around the globe and the Arab world, such as in Syria, Tunisia and Libya. Cellphone cameras allow everyone to participate in documenting what they encounter and they have become an important and inexpensive tool for social change.”

He noted that the festival did not cost much to organize and at the same time it allows everyone a chance at political, cultural and societal documenting. “The CFTA decided to organize this festival as it believes in the importance of cellphone cameras as a tool in documenting social issues, allowing regular citizens to participate efficiently and to positively change their communities,” he said.

Shahada explained that the competition aims at encouraging young people to participate in bringing about change through visual art, shedding light on unemployment issues and the rights of people with disabilities in the Gaza Strip, and to express their views openly.

The competition of the Mobile Short Film Festival allows young Palestinians to express themselves and chase their dreams with a simple and widely available tool that does not require spending a large amount of money to produce a short film for public viewing.

(Source / 21.01.2017)

Trump’s position does not serve regional stability, says Hamas

Donald Trump during the opening ceremony for the Trump International Hotel, Old Post Office, in Washington, USA on October 26, 2016 [Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency]

President Donald Trump during the opening ceremony for the Trump International Hotel, Old Post Office, in Washington, USA on October 26, 2016

The deputy leader of Hamas said on Friday that the position of US President Donald Trump regarding Palestine does not serve stability in the region, Quds Press has reported. Mousa Abu Marzook explained that Trump’s positions encourage extremist Israelis to carry on with their extremism. He cited, for example, Trump’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which has been hailed by extremist Jews in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“As president, Donald Trump should revaluate the consequences of his remarks and policies, including moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” suggested Abu Marzook. “This would have an impact not only on American interests, but also those of the whole region.”

The senior Hamas official, who lived in the United States for years, said that neither Trump’s remarks nor his nominations make Hamas bet on him regarding the future of the Palestinian cause and returning the rights of the Palestinians. However, he drew a distinction between campaign promises and the real policies of US presidents. “The promises do not always turn into realities on the ground,” he pointed out.

On the question of internal reconciliation, Abu Marzook said that discussions and agreements mean nothing if they are not changed into “political action”. The key for this is in the hands of Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he insisted. All of the recent meetings with Fatah discussed the same issues and reached the same conclusion. Furthermore, he said that there is no consensus over the programme of the prospective national agreement government, which was reported by the media last week.

Abu Marzook criticised Abbas’s speech about Gaza in which the PA head blamed the Israeli siege for the suffering of the territory and claimed that he would work to ease the siege if Hamas quits. “This proves that Abbas is punishing Gaza due to the 2007 incidents,” insisted the Hamas official.

(Source / 21.01.2017)

Steifo Expects Upcoming Astana Meeting Will Shape Role of FSA & Rebel Groups in Political Solution

The upcoming Astana meeting is expected to lead to the formation of a national army having at its core the FSA and mainstream rebel groups participating in the meeting, Vice-president of the Syrian Coalition Abdul Ahad Steifo said.

Steifo pointed out that the Astana meeting due to be held on Monday will help shape the role the FSA and rebel groups are expected to play in the political transition process. He also expected that the FSA and rebel groups participating in the meeting will form a joint committee to monitor the ceasefire. If successful, this committee would lead to a joint military council that would form the basis of a project to establish a national army.

Steifo stressed the important role of the FSA and rebel groups in the launch of a genuine political process, especially after representatives of almost all FSA and rebel groups, including the Southern Front, have announced they would participate in the Astana meeting.

Steifo appeared optimistic about the outcome of the Astana meeting despite the retreat of US from the region and the failure of the international community to find a solution in Syria so far. Agreement between Moscow and Ankara, two major players in Syria, is crucial to putting an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and ending tyranny and dictatorship in Syria.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 21.01.2017)

Israeli forces open fire on Palestinian lands in eastern Khan Yunis


GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli forces opened live fire on Palestinian land in eastern Khan Yunis of the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday.No injuries were reported.An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an she would look into reports on the incident.On Friday, a six-year-old girl in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip was injured in the stomach with a bullet fired by Israeli forces deployed at watchtowers on the border area. While her injuries were initially reported as medium, she was transferred to the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city after her condition became critical.

The same day, Israeli forces shot and injured a Palestinian fisherman with a rubber bullet off the coast of the northern Gaza Strip after Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats.
Palestinians who live and work near the unilaterally declared “buffer zone” between the Palestinian enclave and Israel often come under fire from military forces, as the Israeli military has not made clear the precise area of the designated zone. The practice has in effect destroyed much of the agricultural sector of the blockaded coastal enclave.The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned Israeli army violations against Palestinian fishermen, saying that they posed a real threat to the rights of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
Al-Mezan said that fishermen had a right to exercise their profession in Gaza, and that Israeli forces were breaching international humanitarian law by preventing fishermen from gaining their livelihood.
The group added that Palestinian fishermen were continuously at risk of being killed, injured or arbitrarily detained, and called upon the international community to intervene.
(Source / 21.01.2017)

Palestinian activists burn pictures of Trump as the controversial figure is sworn into office


BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Amid US President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, Palestinian activists burned pictures of the controversial US leader at the separation wall’s gate at the northern entrance of Bethlehem city in the southern occupied West Bank.Participants told Ma’an that the event was a message of their rejection of the president and the new administration’s support for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The activity included hanging up pictures of Trump with slogans rejecting his views, which many have called divisive and racist. As activists began burning images of Trump, Israeli forces quickly arrived and attempted to expel them from the area, while threatening to use force on the activists.Israeli forces then tore apart pictures and signs used during the demonstration.Journalist Muhammad al-Lahham, who participated in the activity, said that the protest was launched in order to raise warnings of the backlash that will likely erupt both in the occupied Palestinian territory and around the world if the new administration went through with moving the embassy.
He added that Jerusalem is not just a Palestinian issue, but a concern for all Arab and Islamic countries. “Trump supporting this Jewish state is exactly like supporting ISIS,” al-Lahham said, reiterating claim by critics who have drawn comparisons between the fight for an Islamic caliphate with an establishment of a Jewish state.
The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the “Judaization” of occupied East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.
Trump’s campaign promise of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been met with applause by right-wing Israeli officials and strongly condemned by Palestinians and the international community.
The now Republican-dominated US congress already introduced a bill that would move the US embassy to Jerusalem, as Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives for the first time since 2007. The US House of Representatives meanwhile approved a bipartisan resolutionrejecting UN resolution 2334 that passed last month strongly denouncing Israel’s illegal settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory, and instead stated their unwavering commitment and support for the state of Israel.
The resolution confirmed US commitment as a diplomatic ally to the Israeli government and demands that the US government dismiss any future UN resolutions they deemed “anti-Israel.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s choice for US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has been described as a “pro-settler lawyer” who has openly announced his disdain for the two-state solution and his support for recognizing an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
He has positioned himself as a divisive and controversial figure in Israeli-Palestinian politics, accusing former US President Barack Obama of being an “anti-Semite” and comparing American Jews who oppose the half-century occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to Nazi prisoners who served as guards in concentration camps.
Friedman also serves as president of the American Friends in Beit El Yeshiva — a group that supports the illegal settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

As a result of the Trump administration’s vocal support for Israel and its settlement policy, right-wing Israeli politicians have been delaying several bills until after Trump’s inauguration, as Israeli officials have publicly stated they will more easily advance plans to expand Israeli settlements and consolidate Israeli annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.

A bill to annex the illegal Maale Adumim settlement is expected to be introduced on Sunday two days after Trump’s inauguration. The bill’s creator, ultra-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett said following the election of Trump that his presidency would mark the end of a push for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
“This is the position of the President-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple. The era of a Palestinian state is over,” he said.
Maale Adumim is the third largest settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the occupied West Bank. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli suburban city of Jerusalem, despite it being located on occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.
Calls to annex the massive settlement — seen as paving the way for the annexation of the majority of the occupied West Bank — have gained momentum among Israel’s lawmakers and ministers following the passage of a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements and reaffirming their clear illegality.
Meanwhile, the controversial outpost “Legalization bill,” which passed its first reading in the Knesset at the end of 2016, is believed to have been postponed until after Trump is officially sworn in so it can more easily pass its second and third reading without US condemnation.
The controversial bill would see the legalization of Israeli outposts which are deemed illegal by both Israeli and international law, and would cause what the Israeli NGO Peace Now called “grand land robbery.”All Israeli settlements and outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory are deemed illegal under international law, despite the Israeli government’s official recognition of the some 196 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank.
Last month, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat warned that the PLO would revoke all previously signed agreements with Israel as well as the PLO’s 1993 recognition of Israel if Trump followed through on his pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
During a conference call in Washington D.C. organized by the Wilson Center, Erekat reportedly said such a move would indicate the US’s acceptance of “Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem,” and further warned that “any hope of peace in the future will just vanish,” Times of Israel reported.
(Source / 21.01.2017)

Assad reveals how he can quit as president

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad

Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad revealed on Friday that the only way that he can quit his position is via the ballot box, has reported. He told the Japanese TBS TV that the issue of his resignation is only to be decided by the Syrian people, not the government or opposition.

He specifically excluded the Syria opposition and all other parties from any discussions about his resignation, stressing that this issue could be sorted out via a public vote.

“The resignation of the president or retention in his position is a national issue related to every Syrian,” explained Assad, “because the president in Syria is elected by the people.”

(Source / 21.01.2017)

At Arab Spring commission, Tunisians speak of incomplete revolution

A Tunisian torture victim’s mother carries her son’s portrait as she arrives for a hearing before the The Truth and Dignity Commission in Tunis, Tunisia, Nov. 17, 2016

On the sixth anniversary of Tunisia’s revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Moslem Kasdallah — a heavyset young man with braces — gave his public testimony. As he described being shot by police officers while patrolling his neighborhood during the long nights of the revolution in January 2011, sweat dripped down his face. His leg — which was riddled with bullets, required 32 operations and was almost amputated — was hidden under the table.

“I am ready to sacrifice all my body — be it that I give my other leg and walk on no legs at all,” he said passionately.

Kasdallah was the first speaker at the third Truth and Dignity Commission event, which took place on Jan. 14 in a northern suburb of Tunis. The commission, which was set up in 2013 following the drafting of Tunisia’s new constitution, was tasked with documenting human rights abuses in the country’s post-colonial history. It has collected over 62,000 testimonies from across the country.

The Truth and Dignity Commission is investigating abuse claims stretching back to the 1950s, and earlier hearings were marked by gruesome testimonies detailing abuse by the state apparatuses of Ben Ali and President Habib Bourguiba. But the wounds were remarkably fresh at this weekend’s event, which focused on victims of the revolution. Khaled ben Nejma, who testified with his mother, was shot in the back and chest at a peaceful protest in Bizerte on Jan. 13, 2011. Now wheelchair bound, he had not left his house for three months prior to the hearing.

Tunisia is often labeled a success story of the Arab Spring, as it largely avoided the violent political turmoil that has engulfed its near neighbors. And the country has seen many successes: a relatively peaceful transition of power, elections, a new constitution and sustained engagement from civil society resulting in a Nobel Peace Prize. But on the day of the hearings, protesters clashed with police around the country.

For many Tunisians, the original aim of the revolution — economic opportunity — has not been met. The southern towns of Ben Gardane and Gafsa, as well as Sidi Bouzid, where the revolution was originally sparked by a street vendor setting himself on fire, were rocked by protests on Saturday. Tensions between unemployed citizens and the police have been festering for the past several years, particularly in the underdeveloped southern and central parts of the country.

At the hearings, none of the young men who testified seemed to think Tunisia’s revolution was complete. Several of them spoke of seeing the officers who abused them still on active duty. “As long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice, the goals of the revolution will not be complete,” said Kasdallah.

The Truth and Dignity Commission would like to have hearings for the perpetrators as well, and there have been hints that certain officers would like to testify to publicize their sides of the story. However, the commission is not a criminal court, and for the victims, the value of speaking is largely cathartic. “Justice is the essence of humanity,” said the mother of Rached Arbi, who was shot in the chest at close range in January 2011, noting that she had been waiting “a very long time” to share her experience.

The Tunisian government itself, however, has shown little interest in the victims or the hearings — at Saturday’s event, the only high-profile politician in attendance was Tunisia’s former President Moncef Marzouki. No one from Nidaa Tunis was present.

With tears in her eyes, Ben Nejma’s mother pleaded with the Tunisian government. “Is there a chance that my son could live in decent conditions? Is this asking too much? Just one home for a disabled person who has given his blood?” she cried, her voice cracking.

But it’s unlikely the victims will see justice anytime soon. “I think it will be [a] laborious year to make the victims’ dignity prevail above any political discussion,” Salwa El Gantri, the head of the International Center for Transitional Justice Tunisia Office, told Al-Monitor via email.

Despite the victims’ physical and psychological scars, a ripple of optimism could be felt at the hearings. “We have been destroyed, but not entirely,” said Arbi near the end of his testimony. “The revolution will continue.”

(Source / 21.01.2017)

Palestinian human rights defender, BDS leader Salah Khawaja continues to be imprisoned on Israeli “secret file”

Palestinian human rights defender Salah Khawaja is currently being held in prison on the basis of a so-called “secret file” and threatened with administrative detention, reported the Stop the Wall Campaign. Khawaja, 46, is a member of the Secretariat of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee and a leader of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. He was seized from his Ramallah home on 26 October 2016 in a pre-dawn armed military raid by Israeli occupation forces and subject to heavy, torturous interrogation, ill-treatment, beatings and denial of access to a lawyer.

Several brief military court hearings were held in Khawaja’s case, in which he was accused of contact with an “agent of an enemy state.” This allegation is frequently leveled against Palestinians who travel to other Arab countries and meet Arab and Palestinian civil activists or media figures outside occupied Palestine. “Enemy states” include Lebanon, Syria and Algeria; thus, similar charges are frequently used against Palestinians who participate in public political events and conferences in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon based simply on their presence in public places or press interviews.

In Khawaja’s case, it appears that this charge was even weaker than usual; he was accused of meeting someone of unspecified identity in Jordan. After the charges against Khawaja appeared to be falling apart in a hearing on 28 December, the Israeli military prosecution submitted a “secret file” to supplement the charge sheet and pursue an order of administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence. This secret evidence is denied to both the detainee and their lawyers, making it nearly impossible to disprove or mount a defense.

At the 28 December hearing, the military court judge adjourned the case until a time to be set later. In the three-week period since 28 December, no new hearing has been set in Khawaja’s case and this prominent Palestinian human rights defender remains imprisoned on the basis of a so-called “secret file.”

Stop the Wall notes that dubious and frequently-used charges like those in Khawaja’s case have multiple effects on Palestinians imprisoned by the Israeli occupation. “Firstly, they allow Israel to frame and keep human rights defenders in prison. Secondly, they are part of Israeli propaganda efforts to depict its policies of occupation, apartheid and colonisation as a ‘self-defense’ against a Palestinian ‘threat’, ‘terrorism’ and violence. Finally, they aim to create suspicion and mistrust within Palestinian communities as members of the same community are forced to sign confessions.”

Take Action:

1. Participate in the Front Line Defenders action, urging the Israeli state to immediately release Khawaja and end its persecution of Palestinian human rights defenders. Join in here:

2. Demand your country’s officials speak up and end the silence and complicity in the detention of Salah Khawaja and other Palestinian human rights defenders, and over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners. Call your foreign affairs officials – and members of parliament – and urge action on this case.

Call during your country’s regular office hours:

  • Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop: + 61 2 6277 7500
  • Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion: +1-613-996-5789
  • European Union Commissioner Federica Mogherini: +32 (0) 2 29 53516
  • New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully: +64 4 439 8000
  • United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: +44 20 7008 1500
  • United States President Donald Trump: 1-202-456-1111

Tell your government:

  1. Salah Khawaja, a Palestinian human rights defender, has been arbitrarily detained since 26 October and his continued confinement is being justified through “secret evidence”. Salah is one of the primary Palestinian voices against the illegal settlements and wall destroying Palestinian land.
  2. Your government must demand Salah’s immediate release and an end to the persecution of Palestinian human rights defenders by the Israeli state. 
  3. The government must do more than express concern, but should also take serious measures to end these violations. Representatives of your government should attend Salah’s hearings and suspend agreements with Israeli institutions involved in the ongoing imprisonment and oppression of Palestinians.

(Source / 21.01.2017)

Saudi Arabia Quietly Spreads its Brand of Puritanical Islam in Indonesia

By Krithika Varagur


Riyadh: The capital of Saudi Arabia

When Ulil Abshar-Abdalla was a teenager in Pati, Central Java, he placed first in an Arabic class held at his local madrasa. The prize was six months of tuition at the Institute for the Study of Islam and Arabic (LIPIA), a Jakarta university founded and funded by the Saudi Arabian government. At the end of six months, LIPIA offered him another six. He stayed on.

After that, it offered him four more years of free tuition to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Islamic law, or Shariah. He accepted that too. In 1993, after five years at LIPIA, he was offered a scholarship to continue his studies in Riyadh. He finally said no.

“Once you accept that, you’re on their payroll for life,” Abshar-Abdalla told VOA. “But they made it awfully easy to stick around. I’m from a poor family, and it was quite tempting… I think they managed to pull a few good minds from my generation that way.”

Since 1980, Saudi Arabia has been using education to quietly spread Salafism, its brand of puritanical Islam, in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. The two main arms of this effort are LIPIA and scholarships for higher education in Saudi Arabia.

Salafism is an ultra-conservative reform movement that advocates a return to Quranic times. LIPIA teaches Wahhabi Mazhab, a strain of Salafi Islam expounded by the medieval Sunni theologian Ibn Taimiyah.

“Saudi alumni” are now visible in many arenas of Indonesian public life, holding positions in Muhammadiyah, the Prosperous Justice Party, and the Cabinet. Some have also become preachers and religious teachers, spreading Salafism across the archipelago.

The effects of Saudi Arabia’s massive soft power exercise on the Indonesian citizenry are just starting to become clear.

‘The Most Important Post in Jakarta’

The nexus of Saudi educational diplomacy is the religious attaché, a special office affiliated with its embassy in Jakarta. The office grants scholarships for students to study in Saudi Arabia, although the current attaché, Saad Namase, refused to confirm how many students were involved.

“We don’t really work with the Indonesian government,” said Namase. “We just try to strengthen cultural ties between our two countries by, for example, holding Quranic recitation competitions.” On the topic of scholarships, he said many countries, including the Netherlands and the U.S. offer scholarships to Indonesian students and the Saudi program was just one among many.

“The Saudi religious attaché is the most important post in Jakarta,” said Abshar-Abdalla, who now runs the Liberal Islam Network. “It is the portal for all Saudi efforts to influence Indonesian culture.”

The attaché’s office also pays the salary of prominent Salafi preachers and supplies Arabic teachers to boarding schools across Indonesia, according to Din Wahid, an expert on Indonesia Salafism, at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

Beyond the attaché’s office, several Saudi Arabian universities directly offer scholarships to Indonesian students.

One reason the Indonesian government is unlikely to present roadblocks to Saudi cultural expansion is its precarious annual Hajj quota, according to Dadi Darmadi, a UIN researcher who focuses on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

“We were just granted 10,000 extra Hajj permits this year, which is still a drop in the bucket considering Indonesia’s population of 203 million Muslims,” said Darmadi, “I think Indonesia would hesitate to antagonize Saudi Arabia and prompt cuts to that hard-won quota.”

Divergent Paths

Hidayat Nur Wahid, a member of Indonesia’s House of Representatives and a leader of the right-wing Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), is one of the most prominent national politicians who have passed through Saudi universities. He studied, through a series of scholarships, for an undergraduate, masters and doctorate degree in theology and history of Islamic thought at the Islamic University of Medina.

“The majority of Islamic texts are in Arabic, which is why I wanted to study in Saudi Arabia,” Nur Wahid told VOA. “Plus, the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad animates Medina. I enjoyed my years there.”

Nur Wahid said he was not exposed to radicalism or “anti-social” teachings in Medina. “We just learned how to be good Muslims. And it’s a misconception that everyone who studies in Saudi Arabia becomes a preacher or religious teacher. Many graduates become officials or politicians like me.”

“Since it is the place where Islam originated, many students think that Saudi Arabia represents authentic Islam,” researcher Din Wahid.

Saudi theology had the opposite effect on Abshar-Abdalla, who gradually grew disenchanted with the Salafi movement during his five years at LIPIA.

“Although I had some short-lived enthusiasm for that simplistic theology, I found it to be puritanical at its core,” said Abshar-Abdalla. Instead, he started to read various other Islamic texts on his own, including Sufi and Shia ones, and eventually founded the Liberal Islam Network (JIL) in 2001.

Ironically, he himself was once recruited for the student movement that would develop into PKS. “I was invited for a rafting trip in Bogor one weekend at university, and I realized they were trying to get me to join Tarbiyah, the embryo of the current PKS party,” said Abshar-Abdalla. “I sort of ran in the opposite direction.”

Extremist Connection

Although Saudi-educated preachers in Indonesia might be causing a subtle rightward shift in national ideology, a more immediate concern is whether Salafi teachings encourage terrorism or extremism.

“By and large, I think not, because official Salafism is quietist, or apolitical, in order to preserve the authority of Saudi royalty in its homeland,” said Wahid. “That being said, when this ideology migrates back to Southeast Asia, all bets are off.”

One prominent example of non-quietist, or jihadist, ideology is the Salafi-influenced Ngruki pesantren in Solo, Central Java, which has incubated a number of known Indonesian terrorists.

And Zaitun Rasmin, a graduate of Medina Islamic University, was one of the chief organizers of the hardline demonstrations against the governor of Jakarta in late 2016. “He’s an example of an Indonesian Salafist who is unconcerned with being ‘apolitical,’” said Wahid.

Wahid’s point is that, for all the resources Saudi Arabia is directing towards Indonesian students, it remains to be seen how exactly Salafi ideology evolves in its new Southeast Asian context. “There are three ‘flavours’ of Salafi ideology: quietist, political, and jihadist. We don’t know what exactly it looks like in Indonesia. All we know is that it’s here, and it’s growing.”

(Source / 21.01.2017)