Updated: March 23, 2010 18:00 IST

Speaking new truths

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Sadanand Dhume's book, My Friend, the Fanatic, traces the gradual shift towards Islam in Indonesia

In Early 2002, Sadanand Dhume, a journalist based in Washington decided to write a book travelling across the Indonesian Archipelago in an attempt to understand the growing power of the Islamist fringe.

The book, titled “My Friend, the Fanatic” talks about the prospects of one of the largest and only Islamic democratic country being overrun by a radical Islamist organisations.

“In this book, I have made an effort to understand the reasons for the radical fringe in Indonesia becoming more powerful, even though they continue to be a small number. The future of Indonesia is very important, for the Muslim world and the rest of the planet.”

Dhume contends: “Till a couple of decades ago, most Indonesians were secular. However, slowly there was an Islamisation of society. One of the prime examples being the fact that Arab names have begun to outnumber Sanskrit names in primary schools. An old culture comprising elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam is being replaced slowly.”

Two reasons

He lists two reasons for this shift: “One of the major issues was the advent of Gulf money, which was pouring into mosques and madarsas.

“On the other hand, the economic crash of the late 90s resulted in a great deal of political and economic instability, forcing many people to turn to religion.”

A majority of Indonesians are secular and moderate. However, if one were to look at trends over the past few decades, you could see a small extremist fringe gaining a certain degree of power,” he says.

The secular ethos of the country remains largely untouched.

Sadanand explains: “The Garuda continues to be the name of the national carrier, western music still tops the bestsellers charts and short skirts are also seen in most of the towns and cities.

“Indonesian society is caught in a tug of war between the Islamists and the moderate elements.”

Sadanand feels that many similarities exist between India and Indonesia.

“Both countries are functional democracies, have a large Muslim population, boast of a secular outlook and multiple cultures. They share a lot of cultural traits as well, the national epic of Indonesia is the Mahabharatha.”

He feels that interest in India to learn more about Indonesia is increasing. “My Friend The Fanatic” has been published by Tranquebar, Rs. 395, and is available at stores across the country.

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