In Indonesia, Moderate Islam Is under Attack

On May 13, coordinated suicide bombings struck three churches in the Indonesian city of Surabaya; a fourth bombing occurred at the local police station the next day. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks. To Ilan Berman and James Clad, the incident is indicative of a growing threat to the overwhelmingly Muslim country:

Indonesian Islam has long contained important cultural and ideological barriers to intolerance. . . . Despite variations within the 3,000-mile archipelago, Indonesia’s bedrock culture, especially in Java, reflects and reinforces coexistence among faiths, as well as tolerance for differing worldviews. Since the late 1990s, Indonesia’s democratic institutions have flourished in a diverse milieu in which self-described “Islamic” parties are free to contend. . . .

But is this delicate balance eroding? . . . The past couple of years have indeed offered worrying signs that Islamist groups and ideologies have gained influence. This includes, notably, the rise of Hizb-ut Tahrir Indonesia, a radical group complicit in the political ferment that surrounded last year’s hotly contested gubernatorial elections in Jakarta. The group is now formally banned by President Joko Widodo’s national government. . . .

[A]s of last fall some 700 Indonesians were estimated to have joined the ranks of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Those radicalized elements are now returning home, with devastating effect—all of the perpetrators of the Surabaya attacks were “alumni” of IS’s Middle Eastern caliphate. . . .

These trends make Indonesia an inviting target for Islamic State. With its decline in the Middle East, the terrorist group has made Southeast Asia a target of opportunity. Last fall, Islamic militants affiliated with IS waged a pitched but ultimately unsuccessful battle for the southern Philippine city of Marawi. As May’s bloody events in Surabaya make plain, similar radicals have now set their sights on Indonesia as well. Their goals are clear: to undermine the country’s religious moderation and exploit its shifting domestic scene in order to promote their own extreme worldview. And, like elsewhere, their successes will be measured by pluralism’s failure.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Indonesia, ISIS, Moderate Islam, Politics & Current Affairs

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy