THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #2: A volatile brew of politics and hardline Islam in Indonesia

The year is 2030, fourteen years after the united uprising of the White Cloaks in Indonesia. Trade with the outside world has stifled. The air is polluted with the continuous raucous calls to prayer. Children and adults travel the streets in constant fear. Women have it the hardest; they have to cover themselves from head to toe in black garb. Any women found not wearing the obligatory black garb, be they of other religious affinity, shall be punished by stoning. Any form of expression that contradicts the values of the White Cloaks is punished by death. Apostasy and atheism are both met with the cold, hard end of a steel cudgel.

Does that sound dystopian enough for you? It might not be fiction for long.

The recent series of protests conducted by Islamic hardliners in Indonesia (who else but the FPI [Islamic Defenders Front]) against Jakarta’s outspoken gubernatorial candidate, Basuki Purnama (colloquially known as “Ahok”), over his alleged religious slander is only the most recent of many events highlighting the divisiveness of SARA [related to race, ethnicity, religion] issues in Indonesian politics.

The protesters’ were even more emboldened in their rhetoric due to MUI’s [Indonesian Ulema Council] standing on the issue. The MUI openly accused Ahok for religious slander, a declaration that was used by hardline Muslim groups as legal justification for their actions against Ahok.

To digress a bit, a MUI fatwa is not considered as positive law. However, hardliners have taken the liberty of interpreting the specific fatwa as positive law, even attributing it to the Constitution, and has used such rhetoric in rallying masses against Ahok in posters resembling war propaganda.

Putting matters into perspective, the rise of hardline Islam in Indonesia has often been associated with the rise of Wahabbism in the Middle East. However, it has only become a prevalent discussion only recently. As for the issue of religion for leaders was magnified in the previous 2014 elections, with parties accusing Jokowi of being a Christian. It was particularly effective in dividing voters. When Jokowi was inaugurated, Ahok has since been the target for Muslim hardliners, mainly due to his double-minority status (being a Chinese AND a Christian) in a Javanese-Muslim majority. As the Jakarta gubernatorial elections loom, Ahok’s double-minority status continues to take center stage, as hardliners who are supposedly in the pockets of third parties continue to bring up the idea that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims. After the alleged slander of the Quran, hardliners have made it their sacred duty to put Ahok behind bars and pay the price for his “unconstitutional conduct”.


Although hardliners don’t represent the moderate majority of Muslims in Indonesia, and I do not intend to make generalisations as such, the fact remains that hardline Muslims continue to enjoy a degree of leniency and freedom in Indonesia’s political landscape. To me, this condition is worrisome. The incumbent government and law enforcement have proven, time and time again, unable to curb the violent acts of these hardliners. During Ramadhan, they are “allowed” to raid and sweep vendors selling food in bright daylight. Even worse, the government and law enforcement collude with these thugs to enforce law and order. It is a vicious cycle of corruption and collusion.

Though they may be a loud minority, if given enough leniency and time, they may assemble into a larger and competent force capable of carrying out violence on a larger scale and at some point, consolidate into a potent political force.

The very existence of these hardliner loudmouths is a danger to Indonesia’s fledgling democracy. It would be against the wishes of our founding fathers, who advocated for a secular state, to let these hardliners continue their violent political activities. It is high time we address this cancer in Indonesian society, lest they become more malignant and impose a quasi-theocratical state in plural Indonesia.

THOUGHTS AND COFFEE is a collection of short commentaries on issues I find interesting.

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