FILE - In this May 3, 2013, file photo, members of the militant Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) shout slogan during a demonstration in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Islamic Defenders Front, better known for vigilante actions against gays, Christmas decorations and prostitution, has over the past decade and a half repurposed its militia into a force that's as adept at searching for victims buried under earthquake rubble and distributing aid as it is at inspiring fear. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File)

When disaster hits, Indonesia's Islamists are first to help

June 10, 2019 - 11:34 pm

PALU, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's Islamic Defenders Front is perhaps best known for its vigilante actions against gays, Christmas decorations and prostitution.

But over the past 15 years it has repurposed its militia into a force that's as adept at searching for victims buried under earthquake rubble and distributing aid as it is at inspiring fear.

In the process it has become an influential player in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation and an accelerant in the country's decades-old cultural war.

Last year saw an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, earthquakes ravage Lombok and a tsunami wreak havoc on the Sunda Strait coastline. The front was there at each disaster, searching for victims, distributing aid and building temporary housing.

Such activities amplify the hard-line message that religion, not government is the answer.