Indonesia's efforts against Islamic extremism

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LISA MULLINS: Right now, Hillary Clinton is touring Asia for her first official trip as Secretary of State. Today she arrived in Indonesia, the place President Obama spent much of his childhood. Indonesia is the largest majority Muslim country in the world. Mrs. Clinton praised the country for its multi-ethnic democracy and its efforts to fight against terrorism. Indonesia's had some problems with home-grown Islamic extremists, but the government has a program aimed at de-radicalizing militants. Correspondent Dorian Merina has the story.

DORIAN MERINA: When Indonesian police arrested Nasir Abas in April 2003, the 34-year-old was seen as one of the top leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah. That's the group responsible for the deadly bombings in Bali in 2002. At first, Nasir refused to speak with the police � but then they did something that surprised him.

NASIR ABAS: They ask my favor to assist them, to help them to stop the crime � to stop the violence.

MERINA: Slowly, the police gained his trust and Nasir decided to help them. He went into the country's prisons to try to persuade other radicals to renounce violence. Nasir's efforts are part of a government de-radicalization program that began shortly after the Bali bombings. Ansyaad Mbai is the head police coordinator for counter-terrorism. He says the program has two parts.

ANSYAAD MBAI: First is targeting the terrorists who are in police custody and in prison, and secondly, is to address the broader community which terrorists support.

MERINA: Many observers say the first part has had some success. As evidence, they point to the fact that Indonesia hasn't suffered a major terrorist attack in more than three years. But Ansyaad Mbai admits the government hasn't made much headway on Part 2.

MBAI: As long as the radical ideology cannot be neutralized the terrorists will exist.

MERINA: He says what's needed now is a focus on the rural communities, especially the country's 15,000 Islamic boarding schools, or pesantrens. For many Indonesians, these religious schools offer the only chance for an education. Many pesantrens are associated with mainstream Islamic groups that condemn violence, but some preach a fundamentalist strain of Islam. This is the Al Mukmin School in central Java. Boys in blue trousers and white button-down shirts dash to the water fountains, then they slip off their sandals to enter the mosque. One of the school's founders is Abu Bakar Bashir, the man believed to be the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. And all three of the men convicted in the Bali bombings have ties here. The school's current Director is Ustadz Wahyuddin. He says he supports the goals of Islamist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah, but not necessarily their methods. Asked if he feels responsible for the violent actions of past students, he says no. �I don't feel responsible,� he says. �Not if they've already graduated.� The school's leaders have recently pledged to work with a local university on a new program aimed at ending religious violence. Eko Prasetyo directs the program. He says one issue is how insular pesantrens can be, so he leads students and teachers on outings beyond the pesantren gates. �They live in a homogeneous society. Unfortunately, they meet the same people, same places, same religious doctrine. They never see what happens in society. We introduce that reality is complex � not only black and white, good and bad.� Kyai Maman has absorbed that lesson. He runs the Al-Mizan pesantren in Cirebon, West Java. �At first, I was just like any other young pesantren student. My ideas were hardline and I was narrow-minded and I always thought that I was right. � Kyai Maman says the violent riots after the fall of Suharto in 1998 made him begin to question his views. Now, his pesantren teaches tolerance. But Kyai Maman's efforts have met resistance. At a rally for religious pluralism in Jakarta last year, Kyai Maman was attacked by hardline groups. He bows his head to show where they hit him with wooden sticks. He says he believes moderate Islam is the future of Indonesia, but radical Islam still has the power to destroy the community. For The World, I'm Dorian Merina, Jakarta, Indonesia.