JAKARTA, Indonesia — They call themselves the Islamic Defenders Front and they say their mission is to stamp out sinful acts and to protect the poor and marginalized.
But the majority of Indonesians in this moderate Muslim nation call them thugs. They say the FPI, as they are known here, are tarnishing the image of both Islam and Indonesia.
In only the last few months the group has been accused of attacking churches, raiding suspected communist conferences and waging assaults against minority religions.
A showdown took place in the Jakarta suburb of Bekasi earlier this month when a stick-wielding mob of FPI members attacked and beat around 20 members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church.
And through it all, Indonesia’s secular government has largely stood idly by and, in some cases, offered support. In most cases the country’s leaders have remained silent, even as FPI attacks grow increasingly frequent and increasingly violent.