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103 Introduction: Islamism and U.S. Policy in South and Southeast Asia Robert W. Hefner Robert W. Hefner is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Program on Islam and Civil Society at the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs, Boston University. Author of some fourteen books and numerous policy reports, he specializes in the analysis of Muslim politics, education, and political culture in Southeast Asia. He can be reached at . 104 Executive Summary This introduction provides an overview of Islamism in South and Southeast Asia and draws implications for U.S. policy. Main Findings: • Although post–September 11 both South and Southeast Asia have witnessed an upsurge in radical Islamist activity, in both regions terrorist violence targeting Muslims has galvanized the Muslim mainstream into taking a more forceful stand against Islamist terrorism. • The challenge of containing Islamist terrorism will remain more urgent in South Asia than in Southeast Asia. Pakistan in particular will likely see continuing violence between radical Islamists and moderate nationalists. • India may see some terrorist violence, but with less serious implications for political stability than continuing outbreaks of Hindu-on-Muslim violence. • Bangladesh stands at an uncertain crossroads, with recent government scandals and failures having played into the hands of a small but militant Islamist opposition. • Extremist variants of Islamism in Southeast Asia appear to be on the defensive or, as in Indonesia, in outright decline. With the notable exception of southern Thailand, the region’s Muslim population is now settling into a pattern of heightened religious piety, conservative but moderate Muslim politics, and antipathy for radical Islamist adventurism. Questions of religious freedom, however, will continue to present special challenges. Policy Implications: • U.S. policy in South and Southeast Asia should be grounded on the recognition that Islamists are not of a single stripe but instead vary across a continuum ranging from moderately conservative democrats to armed jihadis. • Instead of promoting full-blown secularism, fostering a straightforward separation of religious from state authority remains a worthy policy goal, because such a separation is vital for creating a sustainable democracy. • Growing Islamic conservatism in cultural and religious matters in both regions will make the promotion of “liberal” notions of secularism, gender equality, and individual religious freedom more difficult for U.S. policymakers than was the case in the 1990s. • Moderate religious conservatism, however, need not undermine popular support for some important features of democracy, including a free press and the rule of law. By strengthening these institutions, U.S. policy can contribute to the long-term stabilization of Muslim politics in southern Asia as a whole. 105 hefner M ore than half of the world’s Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. Since the September 11 attacks in the United States, both regions have experienced an upsurge in terrorist violence and religious conservatism. As a result, both regions have also become the focus of heightened U.S. policy attention. There are grounds for continuing concern. Drawing, however, on essays by Animesh Roul and Joesph Liow, as well as on outside research, this introduction concludes that South and Southeast Asia differ significantly in terms of the scale of the terrorist threat and the opportunities for engaging moderate Muslims in efforts to respond to this challenge.1 If the situation in Pakistan deteriorates, the entire subcontinent will face a growing terrorist threat. The situation in Southeast Asia is serious but far less volatile. With the notable exception of southern Thailand, Southeast Asia’s Muslim population is now settling into a pattern of heightened religious piety, conservative but non-extreme Muslim politics, and antipathy for radical Islamist adventurism. U.S. policy in South and Southeast Asia should be grounded on the recognition that Islamists are not of a single stripe but vary across a continuum, ranging from moderately conservative democrats to armed jihadis. South and Southeast Asia in Comparison As the essay by Animesh Roul makes clear, blowback from the continuing political conflict in neighboring Afghanistan and well-organized opposition to the global war on terrorism have served to catalyze anti-Americanism and armed Islamist activism in Pakistan. Although President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military have officially joined the campaign against al Qaeda, questions remain as to the depth of support in military circles for the offensive. Some of the armed Islamist groups active in Pakistan were trained by Pakistan’s intelligence services, and it is widely believed that some in the intelligence services still have ties to hard-line groups. Roul correctly notes that Bangladesh and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781939131256
MARC Record
OCLC
868221262
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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