THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #4: Towards a ‘greener’ Indonesia?

In October 2016, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) launched their first demonstration against Jakarta’s Chinese-Christian governor, Basuki Purnama, or better known as “Ahok”. Their chant was to not let Jakarta — a city that is by character pluralistic although Muslims and Javanese make up the majority — be governed by a leader who is not Muslim and Javanese. They quoted scripture, specifically a verse from the Quran (Qs. Al-Maidah: 51), which they interpret does not allow Muslims to elect or be led by a leader who is not a Muslim.

On 4 November 2016, what would later be known as the infamous “4/11 Demonstration”, took place. Around 10,000 people from the FPI flooded the streets of the capital, demanding Ahok to be imprisoned due to alleged blasphemy. The accusation referred to a speech Ahok gave in the Thousand Islands district, in which Ahok urged his voters not to be beguiled by parties quoting scriptures. Although Ahok has publicly apologised for the remark, the FPI remained unsatisfied, leading to the events of the 4/11 Demonstration. The demonstration proceeded peacefully; however, near the end, the police had to resort to kinetic measures to evict protestors. The demonstration was scheduled to end at 6PM according to bylaws, but several demonstrators from the Islamic Students Organisation (HMI) started to become violent. The demonstration itself is still shrouded in rumours, such as it being funded (up to IDR 100 million) and organised by competitors and other parties in the gubernatorial election. Those rumours remain rumours.

Ahok is now a suspect in an ongoing blasphemy investigation.

Surely by now, the FPI’s demands have been fulfilled. Ahok is already under police custody and his chances of becoming governor have become slimmer, although his public approval ratings remain high. If the court rules Ahok guilty of blasphemy, his hopes of being Jakarta’s first double minority governor are already gone.

However, there have been rumours of a new demonstration in planning. Known as the Third Defend Islam Act, the protest is expected to be executed on the 25th of November. The chant remains the same: put Ahok in jail. This time, there is also an additional issue. Protestors have been encouraged to withdraw their money from banks on a massive scale. Going by the term “rush money“, the aim is to supposedly exhaust the country’s reserve funds and cause an economic meltdown similar to that in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Prominent figures, such as Finance Minister Sri Mulyani, have already condemned the potential act, saying that it would be detrimental to public interests. Whether or not “rush money” will be executed, we’ll have to see and put our confidence in the Central Bank to either prevent or mitigate the issue if does happen.

These string of events show an increasingly worrying trend in Indonesian socio-political life, a trend towards a ‘greener’ interpretation of Islam. This poses a danger to the multicultural credo that Indonesia lives by, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity.

By ‘green’, I refer to the colour that is often associated with Islam. On a colour spectrum, light green would be a model of secular Islam that is practised in some countries where religion matters little in politics. Whereas a darker colour represents a large involvement of religion in politics, such as in the Maldives where Islam is the only recognised religion in the country. Currently, in Indonesia, Islam is indeed the religion of the majority. As such, its customs and values often permeate in the conduct of government and policy, which stem from a variation of moderate Islam that blends with Javanese customs.

The rise of groups that want to change this “normal green” situation pose a danger to the pluralistic character of Indonesia. At one point, they would impose a tyranny of the majority on society, where other groups don’t matter. There have been several incidents where the likes of “dark green” Islam have contributed to acts that can only be said as acts of intolerance. In Tanjung Balai, a prominent Buddha statue was taken down as it was deemed “inappropriate” by the Muslim majority in the region. In the same region, earlier in the year (June 2016), six Buddhist temples were burned after a local woman of Chinese descent complained to a local mosque about the volume of their loudspeakers. And just recently, a church in Oikumene was firebombed, killing a two-year old child and injuring other children.

This condition is not just visible in the likes of thuggish organisations or small bands of Islamic vigilantes. Divisive and intolerant rhetoric is also evident in the ranks of Indonesia’s prominent ulema (clerics). The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) is an example. Supposedly, the function of the Council is to advise the supposedly secular government on matters relating to Islam. The Council can issue fatwas, but those fatwas are not necessarily legally binding. In the recent gubernatorial election, the MUI has declared Ahok as having “insulted the Quran and the ulema“. The MUI has also been increasingly involved in pratical politics through the issuance of fatwas that seem to have little to no relevance to religious affairs. For example, in one instance, the MUI issued a fatwa declaring that it is alright for people to not be obedient to leaders that propose legislation or encourage acts that may deviate from Islamic teachings. The fatwa received criticism from more moderate Islamic scholars.

At this point, I think we should start to ponder on the tougher questions: how did we get here and how do we proceed from here?

The fall of Suharto allowed religious groups to emerge from obscurity to potent political forces. To perserve freedom of religion, Indonesia also does not attempt to enforce its secular stance too much, as it might come across as being against the first principle in the Pancasila. But, the dissemination of increasingly divisive teachings — often inspired by Wahabbism and Salafism from the Middle East — have come at odds with the moderate stream of Islam that is practiced in Indonesia.

The prospects of Indonesia becoming a ‘greener’ country is horrible for me, especially since I’m one of the minorities in terms of race and religion (or lack thereof). It is also horrible for Indonesia’s fledgling democracy. The voice of one majority should not overpower the rest of the people. Unfortunately, the more moderate Islamic scholars and ulema have had their voices drown out by the loud preachings of “greener” so-called “clerics”.

So, I think we all have some hard thinking to do. Should we strictly enforce a secular state, but in the process of doing so, may face turbulent times to come? Should we let things proceed, business as usual, but at the risk of jeopardizing tolerance and unity? Or should we just accept that a greener Indonesia is inevitable and start learning Arabic to blend in?


Comments are closed.

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: