Though over one billion people in the world subscribe to the faith of Islam, every time a Muslim individual commits a violent and highly-publicized attack in the West, Americans demand unequivocal apologies and condemnations from all adherents to the religion. They cannot be bothered, of course, with the exact, same terroristic slaughter of non-whites in far-off lands.
Over and over, Islamic groups around the world condemn terrorist attacks and reiterate that violent radicals do not truly adhere to the religion. Even so, this never seems to be enough for the Fox News-inclined, who often falsely claim Muslims remain silent because they are uncivilized, violent savages. They insist ‘good’ Muslims must do more to combat extremism.
Such rhetoric, however, is increasingly, conspicuously false. One of the biggest blows to this mentality comes from Indonesia, where the largest independent Islamic organization in the world not only condemns acts of radical Islam, but has launched a massive, worldwide initiative to counter the ideology that breeds it.
Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, was founded in 1926, and boasts 50 million members. As Huffington Postexplained, it is “part Sunni religious body, part political party and part charity.” NU says its goal is “to spread messages about a tolerant Islam in their respective countries to curb radicalism, extremism and terrorism,” which the organization argues “often spring from a misinterpretation of Islamic teachings.” To do so, the group launched a global anti-extremism campaign last year.
In December of 2014, NU began building a center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to serve as its headquarters for the international project. NU is also planning “an international conference and cultural event in Washington, D.C.,” scheduled for Spring 2016, according to NU General Secretary, Yahya Cholil Staquf.
Further, NU has collaborated with the University of Vienna to create the Vienna Observatory for Applied Research on Radicalism and Extremism (VORTEX). Staquf says the aim of this project is to “produce counter-narratives against radical ideas and propagate them globally.” NU is also working on initiatives with the Swedish and British governments.
NU condemned last month’s attacks in Paris, and only weeks afterward,participated in the International Conference of Islamic Scholars’ annual forum on the “importance of promoting a peaceful Islam to combat radicalism worldwide.”
The group also believes its efforts should apply “equally to local radicals” in Indonesia.
Indonesia is home to one of the most liberal Muslim populations in the world, and its constitution provides for freedom of religion. Though the government recognizes only six religions — Islam, Protestantism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Catholicism, and Buddhism — religious minorities live in general harmony.
Terrorist attacks in Indonesia have increased in recent years, and multiple groups have moved to tackle the problem. The country’s leading clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council, which includes groups like NU, recently launched an initiative to “mobilize 50,000 preachers to spread moderate, or ‘Wasathiyah,’ Islam within Indonesia.” It has also launched a training center in the country to teach Arabic-speaking students how to counter extremist rhetoric and ideology.
Domestically and globally, NU is taking a proactive approach to curbing the proliferation of Islamic extremism. What is most relevant about its goals, however, is its condemnation of Wahhabism, a sect of Islam with roots in Saudi Arabia. Like NU, Wahhabism is derived from the Sunni sect of Islam, but their approaches could not be more different. As Huffington Post summarized:
“Wahhabism is the ultra-conservative reform movement based in Saudi Arabia that advocates for puritanical laws from the time of Islam’s origins. It rejects the modern notion of ‘religion as a purely private activity’ and the separation of church and state. The Islamic State is highly committed to Wahhabi principles,using its religious textbooks and embracing its hardline tradition of killing unbelievers.”
Because of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia has been directly linked to the Islamic State, though the United States has failed to highlight this relationship, much less acknowledge the many human rights abuses its monarchical ally commits. In fact, NU was aware of the dangers of Wahhabism when the organization launched, inspired by a direct intention to counter the Saudi-linked ideology.
In light of these facts, the Western response to radical Islam seems woefully insufficient. While NU evidently seeks to strike at the root of the world’s most radical Islamic beliefs, the United States and its Western allies align themselves with the very purveyor of, and inspiration for, ISIS. High-level officials have argued that the U.S. military directly contributed to the rise of the terror group — but all the while, Western populations condemn Muslims for ‘not doing enough’ to counter this ideology.
NU’s actions run in direct conflict with this repeatedly disproved notion. The organization’s spiritual leader, A. Mustofa Bisri, has said,
“The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical, as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at large — extremist groups — justify their harsh and often savage behavior by claiming to act in accord with God’s commands, although they are grievously mistaken.”
“According to the Sunni view of Islam,” he added, “every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.”