A Squeaky Cog

Nothing more precisely or presciently encapsulates the widening gulf between reality and Abu Bakar Bashir’s view of himself and his place in the world than his astonishing assertion in court this week – where he is being tried on terrorism-related charges – that a legal assault on him is tantamount to declaring war on Islam.

The Koran, along with other scriptures, rightly excoriates vanity as a cause of much ill and a sure road to debilitating self-delusion. Bashir is a religious teacher and he is old. In the society that he seeks to suborn, these are things that command (and are given) respect. People listen to him but – apart from the disingenuous hotheads whose blood he stirs with exhortation to jihad – they do so out of respect, not because they don’t know that he is talking dangerous nonsense. He may delude himself; that is his privilege and understandable at advanced age. But sensible, caring, socially responsible people will not be deluded by him.

The Islamic insurgency that Bashir and a tiny minority of others seek to nurture in Indonesia is unnecessary. Islam is not under threat here, from any quarter. It is unblemished as a faith and as a vital element of national life except along its febrile fringes where people like Bashir stir up trouble. Indonesia’s Muslims live in a secular state, constitutionally guaranteed their freedom to follow the Prophet and to live within the sight of God. They share this felicity with fellow citizens whose religious faith is directed towards other interpretations of the Deity.

If Bashir is a scholar as he believes, if he is a conduit for the word of God, as he also believes, then he should reflect on the fact that the agent himself – one among a countless multitude of cogs in God’s wheel – is immaterial and unimportant to the grand design. Humility and cogent thought, not self-delusion and vainglorious assertion, is the key to faith.

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