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Indonesia - Militant Islam

The country’s secular facade is dropping. Although Indonesia is an officially secular country that recognizes and protects six religions, Sharia-inspired bylaws have been on the rise. Since around 2010, hard-line groups like the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) have staged unofficial sweeps of restaurants, bars and clubs they claim disrespect Ramadan, during which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, alcohol and sex from dawn to dusk. In 2016, a 53-year-old food stall proprietor in West Java was attacked by local officials for preparing food in daytime during Ramadan and forced to go into hiding. Jakarta’s Chinese-Christian governor Ahok tried to stem these groups, which operate outside official legal channels. But Ahok was unseated in April 2017 after an election during which his opponent actively allied with Islamist groups like FPI and heavily promoted his Muslim identity.

On 21 May 2017 a popular gay sauna in Jakarta war raided, with 141 men arrested at a “sex party.” Earlier in May, 14 gay men in Surabaya were arrested at a similar party and forced to have HIV tests. Although it had been on the books for two months, Indonesia’s first caning of a gay couple for homosexuality, in the conservative, Sharia-ruled province of Aceh, happened 23 May 2017, adding grim context to the other raids. The fact that all of these occurred in close succession is typical of the “virtue” based crackdowns before Ramadan.

The collapse of Suharto’s regime and Indonesia’s transition towards democracy gave impetus to the emergence of various Islamist groups competing for the liberated public sphere. The most radical among these groups—such as the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), the Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the Laskar Jihad (LJ), and the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI)—rejected participation in the existing system, calling instead for violent jihad. The radical and militant groups’ success waging jihad in Indonesia’s conflict areas paralleled the phenomenal development of the Islamist media in the country, which played a crucial role in disseminating propaganda and directing public opinion.

The pressures of the Indonesian government and pro-democracy Muslim groups against violent Islamist discourse and jihadist activism, however, have gradually forced the transnational Islamist groups to leave behind their high profile politics and shift towards a strategy of implementing the shari‘a from below at the grassroots level. No longer seeing violent jihad as a relevant means for realizing their goals, many groups now argue that da‘wa is more appropriate to foster Indonesian Muslims’ awareness of their duty to uphold the supremacy of the shari‘a. These groups also believe that nonviolent endeavors are more suitable to Indonesia’s current situation and crucial to defend Muslim solidarity and the longterm struggle for a comprehensive Islamic order.

What exactly constitutes an Islamic party in Indonesia is subject to debate. Of the 38 parties contesting the 2009 national elections, ten can be regarded as “Islamic” because they have either a formal ideological basis in Islam or rely on an overtly Islamic identity for most of their support. These 10 Islamic parties fall into two broad categories: Islamist and pluralist. Islamist parties formally proclaim an Islamic identity and seek, to varying degrees, to apply Islamic law more extensively in politics and society. All Islamist parties list Islam as their ideological foundation and many have policies for greater shari’a implementation. By contrast, pluralist Islamic parties have as their basis the religiously neutral state ideology of Pancasila and eschew pro-shari’a agendas. While not ideologically Islamic, religious identity is nonetheless a primary factor in their electoral support and most are embedded in particular sections of the Muslim community.

Politically-motivated non-state groups in Indonesia - especially Islamist extremist or separatist groups - are rarely monolithic or exclusive. Formal structures are not always meaningful and the leadership is often deliberately opaque. Rank-and-file membership is generally fluid and overlapping, with groups rising or falling in prominence over time while other groups may emerge rapidly.

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is an underground extremist organisation whose stated goal is to create an Islamic state encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern Philippines. Although its current leaders are lying low for now, JI has not renounced violence to achieve its aim. II had ties in the past with Al-Qa'ida and other regional terrorist groups. Since the 2002 Bali Bombings, JI has fractured with splinter groups - notably led by Noordin Top - going on to attack the Marriott Hotel (2003), the Australian Embassy (2004), Balinese restaurants (2005) and twin hotel bombings in Jakarta (2009). II has been designated as a terrorist entity associated with Al-Qa'ida by the United Nations Sec).lrity Council Al Qa'ida Sanctions Committee (the' 1267 Committee'), which means offences under Australia's Charter oj the United Nations Act apply, and as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code.

Like JI, Negara Islam Indonesia (Indonesian Islamic State - NIl) is an underground extremist movement that seeks the creation of an Islamic state in Indonesia by undemocratic means. Drawn from the remnants of an Islamist insurgency in West Java, NIl members worked with the perpetrators of the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta. More recently, several NIl members joined forces with other extremist groups to establish a terrorist training camp in Aceh, which was closed down by police in 2010.

Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) is an above-ground extremist organisation that was established by former JI and Indonesian Mujahedeen Council leader, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, in 2008 to agitate for an Islamic state in Indonesia. Although it claims to further its cause through proselytising, JAT has been engaged in violence: Ba'asyir was among several JAT members arrested for his role in organising a terrorist training camp in Aceh.

The Indonesian Mujahedeen Council (MMI) is a registered radical Islamic organisation which advocates an Islamic state in Indonesia. It was formed by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir to complement the underground activities ofJI, though Ba'asyir left in 2008 to form a new above ground organisation, JAT.

The Defenders of Islam Front or Front Pembela Islam (FPI) is the best known example of a religious vigilante group which seeks to influence social discourse and promote its brand of religious conservatism through rowdy demonstrations aod intimidation. FPI's activity is often criminal: during the annual fasting month of Ramadan, FPI members threaten attacks against nightclubs and bars unless they close, nominally on religious grounds but also as a form of extortion. FPI-inspired violence against the Muslim minority sect Ahmadiyah in February 2011 caused the death of three Ahmadis.

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) is a radical Islamist organisation whose goal is to create an Islamic caliphate, loosely affiliated with the international Islamist movement, Hizbut Tahrir. To increase its appeal, HTI has stepped up its rowdy brand of activism in recent years on social and religious issues that animate conservative Muslims. In 2011, HTI joined other Islamist groups such as FPI to whip up opposition to the minority Muslim Ahmadiyah sect. The ensuing mob violence left three Ahmadis dead.

Assessing and forecasting the risk of violent extremism in Indonesia is challenging given Indonesia’s complexity and dynamism. Indonesia is, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, both a majority Muslim nation with the world’s largest Muslim population and a nation with an ethnically and religiously diverse population. As a result, there is an ongoing tension between increasing Islamized society and politics and the semi-secular pancasila state created in 1945. Prior to 1998 this tension was managed through a combination of repression, cooptation and accommodation; today, in democratic Indonesia, the options available are cooptation and accommodation.

Ahok's Blasphemy

Indonesians voted 14 February 2017 in more than 100 regional elections but Jakarta's gubernatorial race attracted most of the attention. It is a closely-watched contest between moderate and conservative forces in the world's most populous Muslim nation. Religion and race came to dominate the campaign in the city with some seven million voters after the current governor was accused of blasphemy.

The incumbent governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, is Indonesian Chinese and Christian, making him a double minority. Popular with middle-class residents for his efforts against corruption and to improve the quality of life, accusations against him of blasphemy —a criminal offense — surfaced in September 2016 and he went on trial. Protests against him culminated on the last day of campaigning, with tens of thousands of Indonesians from around the nation gathering in Jakarta to listen to clerics who urged them to vote for Muslim candidates.

Purnama saw his voter support drop in polls from over 50 percent to 30 percent since the blasphemy allegations surfaced. The campaign was punctuated on social media by the frequent use of a word once heard only rarely in public discourse in Jakarta — “kafir,” or heathen, to describe Purnama. Banners commanding “Don't vote for a heathen” were seen throughout Jakarta. The formerly fringe group known as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) organized two enormous protests in Jakarta, where they called for Ahok to be jailed and even killed. While Anies Baswedan, who is Muslim, once described the Defenders of Islam Front (FPI) as a radical group, photos of him with the FPI chairman taken in January 2017 remain popular on social media. Anies Baswedan, a university rector and former minister of education and culture, handily beat Chinese-Christian Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

The nation wide demonstrations 04 November 2016 had a political target of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), who was seeking reelection to keep his job for another five years. Friday`s massive demonstration by a number of Islamic organizations was politically motivated. The demonstrations called for the prosecution of Ahok, who was accused of blasphemy. Ahok with his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat, was challenged by two other candidates including Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, a son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhojono with running mate Syviana Murni, and former education minister Anies Baswedan with running mate rich businessman Sandiaga Uno. With his double-minority status as a Christian of Chinese descent, Ahok is no stranger to SARA [ethnicity, religion and race] issues. When taking office as governor, Ahok also faced similar demonstrations. Widespread SARA sentiment leaves Indonesia’s young and fragile democracy vulnerable to identity politics.

The issue began when a short clip surfaced of Ahok making a speech during a visit to the Thousand Islands regency in September 2016. The video footage portrayed Ahok as joking to the laughter of the locals, telling them not to be lied to by political leaders using Surah al-Maidah, Verse 51 of the Quran, ahead of the February 2017 gubernatorial election. The verse includes statement that Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders. Islam Defenders Front (FPI) chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab called on all Muslims to take part in the rally. Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has said it will encourage its members to refrain from taking part in the demonstration and will prohibit the use of NU symbols at the rally.

Links emerged about a loose coalition of anti-Ahok and anti-Jokowi forces, including Prabowo; Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives; billionaire Hary Tanoe; and the Indonesian military. Allan Nairn reported April 18 2017 that "Associates of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in a campaign that ultimately aims to oust the country’s president. According to Indonesian military and intelligence officials and senior figures involved in what they call “the coup,” the move against President Joko Widodo (known more commonly as Jokowi), a popular elected civilian, is being impelled from behind the scenes by active and retired generals.... supporters of the coup movement include Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives and Donald Trump’s main political booster in the country; and Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta."

Huge, well-funded anti-Purnama protests in November and December 2016 sank his high approval ratings. They were organized by hitherto fringe Islamists drawn from violent vigilante groups and Salafists influenced by Saudi Arabia’s puritanical brand of Islam. Conservative clerics took the anti-Purnama message to the mosques throughout the campaign.

Anies Baswedan, a university rector and former Minister of Education and Culture, handily beat Ahok on 21 April 2017. After a racially and religiously-charged election that resulted in a runoff, Jakarta finally had a new governor and Indonesia faced the reality that political Islam has entered the public discourse in a way unprecedented in modern Indonesian politics.

Baswedan, formerly known as a centrist moderate, allied with the FPI and religious hardliners throughout his campaign. When Baswedan won on Wednesday, he explicitly praised Islamic clerics (ulama) and teachers (kyai), and his campaign leader, Mardani Ali Sera, praised formerly fringe group known as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) and its incendiary leader, Habib Rizieq, as important “pillars of this victory.” People were intimidated [throughout this campaign] with propaganda of 'Bela Islam,' 'Hell vs. Heaven', and 'Us vs Them'.

This was a bad omen for the 2019 presidential election, when Jokowi will run for re-election. Ahok’s loss is seen as a hit for Jokowi, as the pair led Jakarta together and remain close. Baswedan’s victory was also being celebrated by Jokowi’s 2014 presidential opponent, Prabowo Subianto.

Despite the seeming differences between the Ahok and Anies camps, reproduced over and over in commentary as one between 'pluralism' vs ‘sectarianism,’ the coalitions surrounding each of the two candidates consisted of the one percent. Some of the richest people in the country, all of whom benefited significantly from the same economic conditions that have left millions of Indonesians in or near poverty.

Jakarta’s Chinese-Christian Governor was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy, in a case seen as a test of Indonesia’s religious tolerance. The sentence, which was more than prosecutors sought, comes less than a month after he lost his election bid to stay in his position.




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