Joel Bleifuss

Why are Muslims in Indonesia so darn fanatic? Geological determinism, according to George Will.In a recent column, Will traces the origins of Islamic fundamentalism to the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which killed more than 36,000 people. “Krakatoa, by terrifying and dispossessing people, may have catalyzed the much fiercer form of Islam that fused with anti-colonialism. It is alive and dealing death today,” spews Will.Yes, catastrophic events can catalyze national mood swings. Just look how 9/11 led to a nationwide hysteria. Millions of Americans have lost their better judgment and joined ranks with Will. But Krakatoa erupted 120 years ago. Perhaps the anti-Western fanaticism in Indonesia is better explained by more recent events. For example, the CIA-backed coup against Sukarno in 1965, which led to a bloodbath that the CIA itself termed “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.” The coup was followed by Suharto’s 30 years of misrule, during which Indonesians suffered under a corrupt dictatorship and the people of East Timor (except for the 100,000 who were slaughtered in 1975) were brutally repressed as the United States looked the other way.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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