Survey shows prevalent conservatism

Jakarta, Indonesia - Islamic conservatism is a growing force to be reckoned with across the country, with research indicating about 40 percent of citizens would support the replacement of state laws with sharia and one in 10 consider suicide bombings justified in some circumstances.

A survey conducted in late January by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) found 40 percent of respondents approved of adulterers being stoned to death, 34 percent did not want to see another female president and 40 percent accepted polygamy.

On a thief's hands being chopped off, 38 percent of respondents said the punishment fitted the crime.

The survey involved 2,000 respondents from different backgrounds nationwide.

In presenting the survey results Thursday, a senior researcher at the LSI, Anis Baswedan, said it was clear that certain Muslim groups had already embraced sharia as a value system as evidenced by their support for conservative organizations, such as the Islam Defenders Front and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council.

On the whole, respondents were less acquainted with right- and left-wing extremist groups, such as the Eden sect, the Liberal Islam Network, Syiah, Hisbut Tahrir and Ahmadiyah.

Anis said, however, that despite the obvious support for conservative organizations, the majority of Muslims did not want to see the existing election system replaced, as was indicated by the results of the 2004 general election.

Muslim-based parties advocating the adoption of sharia did not fare well in the legislative election. Likewise, the presidential candidates nominated by them did not get the support they were counting on from mainstream Muslim groups.

Yet, the majority of respondents saw eye to eye with the country's largest Muslim organizations -- Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.

On the other hand, the survey also revealed that one in 10 people tolerate suicide bombing and other attacks on civilian targets in the name of Islam.

Anis said the strong support for conservatism and "radicalism" had much to do with what respondents called the negative influence of Western culture and the global injustice blamed on the United States as a superpower representing the West.

Sixty two percent of respondents were of the opinion that Western influences had brought no good to Indonesian Muslims and between 22 and 49 percent held the U.S. responsible for global injustice.

Amin Abdullah, rector of Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta, said he was not surprised by the survey results as conservatism had long flourished in the country but, despite strong conservatism, Muslims did not want to replace the existing state ideology with an Islamic one.

"The majority of Muslims have been moderate and accepted pluralism because Indonesia -- as the most populous Muslim nation -- lies far from the center of Islam, the Middle East, and this has made Islam in Indonesia rather different from that in Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said, adding that conservatism here had gotten stronger on the eve of the reform era in 1998.

Imam Prasodjo, a sociologist of the University of Indonesia, disagreed with the parameters the survey used to measure radicalism, saying they were relative.

"Women oppose polygamy, all communities dislike mixed marriages and all human beings are against terror acts," he said.

The two agreed that, despite the strong grip of conservatism, the "silent majority" supported the two largest Muslim organizations, which see themselves as tolerant of modern ways of thinking.