Seminars by Professor Greg Barton

The Evolution of Jihadi Salafism in Indonesia: A Regional Perspective


In the wake of the bombing in Bali on October 12, 2002, Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular began to be described as terrorisms second front. Within Indonesia, however, there was considerable scepticism. Many believed that jihadi salafism had very little support in Indonesia, a view shared by many long term observers of the country. Indonesian Islam, it was said, is different. Developments over the past decade have shown both positions to be mistaken. The level of threat posed by jihadi salafist terrorism in Indonesia and Southeast Asia is clearly nothing like that being experienced in South Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa. Nevertheless, Indonesia faces a remarkably resilient and persistent challenge from home-grown terrorism. With over 830 arrests, most of them leading to successful prosecutions, the Indonesian authorities have risen to the challenge of dealing with a problem far more extensive and enduring than most would have predicted. In hindsight it is clear that jihadi salafism has deep roots in Indonesian society being a product of social movements that pre-date Indonesian independence. Whilst it is true that such radical movements have always been the exception to the rule sometimes, as with the Darul Islam movement of the 1950s, the exception is very significant. At the same time, global developments have transformed the nature and expression of jihadi salafism in Indonesia. And whilst Indonesian authorities have become skilful in responding to the technical challenges this represents a more comprehensive response within the civil sphere is required to properly address this low level but pernicious problem.

Date: 11 December 2013

Time: 17.50 – 21.00

Place: Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

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Islam and Democracy in Indonesia


Indonesia’s democratic transition arguably represents the most significant democratic transition in the Muslim world. Certainly, Indonesia together with Turkey represent the standout cases for democracy amongst Muslim majority countries.  Sadly by December 2013 the early promises of the Arab Spring represent a fast receding dream unlikely to be realised anytime soon. Why should Indonesia’s democratic transition have proved so successful when democratic movements in the Middle East and North Africa, in the historical heart of the Muslim world, are being crushed by the chaos of revolution and the re-emergence of authoritarianism? Clearly there are many factors at work but one of the most important and least understood is the contribution made by religious civil society movements. At the time of the collapse of the Suharto regime in May 1998 many observers were pessimistic about the prospects for successful democratic transition in a nation with such a small middle-class and, it was presumed, a correspondingly small civil society.  As it turned out, the largely overlooked mass-based organisations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, drawing as they do the support of around 70 million people, made substantial and far reaching contributions. With their own well-established internal traditions of democracy and acceptance of social diversity and religious pluralism these two organisations made and continue to make significant contributions. At the same time remarkable individual Islamic leaders such as Nurcholish Madjid, Abdurrahman Wahid and, in his own way, BJ Habbibie, championed democratic reform as being nothing less than a religious duty. In the 2014 elections Islam will continue to play a significant role in Indonesian democratic politics but its contribution will be largely indirect and non-party-political in nature.

Date: 12 December 2013

Time: 17.00 – 19.00

Place: Russell Square, College Buildings, Room G51

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The Rise and Decline of Radical Islam in Indonesia


Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the continued growth of tolerance and religious maturity in Indonesia? As is so often the way with Indonesia it appears to be a classic case of glass half full/glass half empty. The same government, and very often the same government officials, who are quick to trumpet Indonesian success in building religious tolerance and understanding and to bask in the reflected glory of democratic transition, social stability and economic growth, all too often turn a blind eye to mob violence targeting religious minorities. Compounding the hurt and injustice, victims of religious extremism are often described as being errant and of provoking community backlash. At the same time the rollout of local sharia legislation and the entrenchment of discriminatory practices seem to suggest that radical Islamist influence is on the rise. And yet evidence to the contrary abounds. Radical Islamist parties, such as the Prosperous Justice Party, appear to have hit a natural ceiling in electoral appeal. Social polling reveals confusing data but arguably the most important polls of them all will take place next April when Indonesia holds its fourth parliamentary election since the collapse of the Suharto regime.

Date: 13 December 2013

Time: 15.00

Place: The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, George Street, Oxford

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