Iran’s trying to build the Bomb, AQ’s trying to get the Bomb, but in Indonesia, some of the locals want to take the “fun” out of fundamentalism. Or do they?

Southeast Asia’s biggest militant organization is apparently seeking to rein in its radical wing and invoke Islamic law against the indiscriminate anti-Western attacks demanded by Osama bin Laden…

The new trend, they say, follows a split within the [Jemaah Islamiya] movement into mainstream and pro-bombing factions that dates at least from the first Bali resort blast in 2002 and picked up speed through three subsequent suicide attacks.

But opinions are divided about how far-reaching any change may be…

“The ulama within JI wants to reimpose a classical understanding of Islamic law. The divergence of views on the (bin Laden) fatwa is greater than it was,” [Greg Fealy of Australian National University] said.

Zachary Abuza, a U.S. expert on Southeast Asia, is more cautious about any change in the secretive organization. “This is what they say in public. But what are they saying in private?” he said by telephone from Boston.

The problem with the “classical understanding” of Islamic law is that understandings have a habit of changing, particularly when there’s a lot of popular pressure on them to do so. Fortunately, as Kofi assures us, the Koran doesn’t encourage violence.

Assuming this report is true, might it signal a trend? The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hizb ut-Tahrir internationally also support Islamic conquest through peaceful means — at least in public. It could be that Bush’s democracy agenda is creating an incentive for some Islamist movements to inch away from terrorism and towards popular election; Hamas, for example, has repeatedly pointed to its parliamentary victory as proof of legitimacy since it came to power. If the fundies’ paramount goal is being ruled by shari’a, then in theory they should pursue whatever means, peaceful or not, that will help them reach that goal most quickly.

Is shari’a their paramount goal, though? Or is the ideology intellectual cover for something else? I never know how much stock to put in armchair psycholoanalysis of jihad, but this guy claims to have been an actual jihadist himself once upon a time, so for what it’s worth:

He leans back, takes a deep breath and moves to another area, one that he says is far too seldom discussed: “North Americans are too squeamish about discussing the obvious sexual dynamic behind suicide bombings. If they understood contemporary Islamic society, they would understand the sheer sexual tension of Sunni Muslim men. Look at the figures for suicide bombings and see how few are from the Shiite world. Terrorism and violence yes, but not suicide. The overwhelming majority are from Sunnis. Now within the Shiite world there are what is known as temporary marriages, lasting anywhere from an hour to 95 years. It enables men to release their sexual frustrations.

“Islam condemns extra-marital sex as well as masturbation, which is also taught in the Christian tradition. But Islam also tells of unlimited sexual ecstasy in paradise with beautiful virgins for the martyr who gives his life for the faith. Don’t for a moment underestimate this blinding passion or its influence on those who accept fundamentalism.”

A pause. “I know. I was one who accepted it.”…

He’s exasperated now, visibly angry at what he sees as a willful Western foolishness. “Stop asking what you have done wrong. Stop it! They’re slaughtering you like sheep and you still look within. You criticize your history, your institutions, your churches. Why can’t you realize that it has nothing to do with what you have done but with what they want.”

Ironically, it might be more dangerous in the long run if radicals did wise up and temporarily renounce terrorism. A nonviolent approach for the time being would incline most westerners away from conflict, which would in turn allow would-be jihadis to expand their power base without fear of military intervention until they were in position to seriously threaten the west. It would also mean decades of horrors to come for minorities in the Middle East. No one minded terribly much when the Taliban was killing women in stadiums, after all. It was only when they killed them in American skyscrapers that we had to act.

Let’s hope the enemy continues to be (slightly) stupider than we are.

Update: Or maybe the UN’s right. Maybe it really is all about Israel.