Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Resisting radicalism in the Jokowi era

By Lauren Gumbs

For terrorist network ISIL, Indonesia is a natural extension, with a not too stingy share of willing hearts and minds, hungry to put their fervour to a cause. 

The Indonesian government didn’t waste time banning ISIL yet it remains to be seen how serious the new president will take the threat that the militant sect presents to national security in the world’s largest democracy and most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia, like Australia, has flagged the return of hardened terrorists from what began as civil wars brought on by the Arab Spring but have evolved into religious jihadist wars in Syria and Iraq, spilling violence across the Middle East and hailing international actors via the spread of extremist ideology.

Tony Abbott has taken the potential terrorist threats seriously, abandoning unpopular plans to tinker with the racial discrimination legislation in order to keep the Australian Muslim community onside.
Australians have felt the proximity to extremism and were sickened by the Twitter image of a seven year old Australian boy holding a severed head while in Syria with his terrorist father.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at least 150 Australian passport holders are or have been involved in fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Yet with just 1.5% of the population identifying as Muslims, Australia is quite a small pool from which to recruit potential terrorists. 

The danger to national security is definitely there but it is low compared with that of Indonesia which, despite strengthening civil society and plural political and economic institutions, has for years been dealing with rising intolerance. 

Terror group Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI) were radicalised in Afghanistan and the wars in Iraq and Syria pose a risk that returned fighters will bring the training and mentality back home. 

Eighty seven percent of Indonesia’s 245 million strong population are Muslim and despite its reputation as a moderate nation, several hard line Islamist groups operate with varying degrees of legitimacy.

Some of these groups have rejected ISIL, such as the majority of Abu Bakar Basyir’s JI while others have pledged allegiance. Unlike Australia, where it is mainly individuals who are taking up the call to arms, in Indonesia support for ISIL seems to coalesce in groups who already have established connections with other hard liners and as it is not illegal to raise funds for jihad or jihadist organisations, it is much easier to generate financial support for such activities.

The next terrorist attack could happen anywhere as rising intolerance bleeds into commiseration with radical Islamic aspirations. But it is not always the established hard line groups who are the ones behind religious based incidences of intolerance and in Indonesia, when even people in authority act intolerantly. 

There are those among the general ‘moderate population’ and un-enlightened political strata who routinely snub the diversity outlined in the Pancasila and perpetuate prejudice against minorities.
The Mayor of Bogor has refused to abide by a Supreme Court order to unblock a church and allow its members to worship and the jailing of atheist Alexander Aan under blasphemy laws made headlines around the world.

Intolerance perpetrated by legitimate authority figures shares religion as the common denominator with vicious sectarian conflicts between majority Sunnis and minorities which saw a group of murderers jailed for just six months, while one of their Ahmadiyah victims who survived, received an arbitrary three month sentence.

These are the sort of challenges Jokowi will have to deal with, plus a petulant Prabowo who still owes debts for Islamic votes and could be willing to keep stoking resentment for the new leader by prolonging opposition, at least in the legislature where Jokowi only controls 20% of the seats.

The change of presidential guard poses a critical juncture for the infiltration and expansion of radicalism, or its suppression and eradication. 

A former Mayor of Solo (known as a hot spot for terror groups), Jokowi is no stranger to dealing with radicalism, but his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was widely seen as impotent when it came to dealing firmly with extremism and it is hoped that Jokowi will take an unambiguous stand against radicalism and intolerance.

Such threats are fast becoming a disturbing reality for Indonesia which is a magnet for a broad spectrum of radical Islamic discourses from around the world.

The recent elections were not just make or break for democracy, they demonstrated the victory of the rational and moderate majority to preserve sustainable beliefs in the most populous Muslim nation.
Indonesia’s proximity to infectious religious conflict and ever present religious intolerance are challenges that Jokowi will need to address as a matter of national security, as militant groups and individuals test the strength and political will of the new government.

Jokowi becomes president in October, and he will have his hands full getting on with the task of delivering election promises and taking on corruption, but he will also have to put up with attacks from a still smarting opposition who managed to achieve a massive 62.5 million votes.

Joko Widodo won by a good seven million votes, but almost half of the country was gunning for team Prabowo-Hatta and were bitterly disappointed with their loss.  

Prabowo didn’t just bring with him the threat of democratic stagnation; he had the support of four out of five Islamic parties, the votes of mass Islamic organisations and even dubious Islamic groups who were no doubt betting on a more sympathetic environment were Prabowo to win office.

The hard line Front Pembela Indonesia (FPI) and Forum Ukhuwah Islamiya (FUI) pledged their support for Prabowo, believing he would protect the Islamic community’s interests but as Greg Fealy  notes, these and other political party alliances were a matter of mutual benefit more so than ideological alignment.

Prabowo for example is not known as a deeply religious man even though he regularly accused Jokowi of being a fake Muslim in what Joko supporters called a black campaign.

Unfortunately Islamic groups bet on the wrong horse and with Prabowo’s loss went the opportunity for clients to benefit by raising their profiles and gaining legitimacy, in the case of groups like the FPI, being able to tap into the hegemony of the mainstream administration.

A retreat of democracy, excessive nationalism and return to authoritarianism were narrowly escaped by an enthusiastic and slightly mightier civil libertarian, secular, pluralist society but Islamic support on the Prabowo side does not infer that a return to a more orthodox Islamic society was also evaded.
It just means in the push and pull for influence such relationships are diverse and complex and that political rewards tend to trump ideological affiliation. Golkar for one has already distanced itself from Prabowo.

The reassuring election outcome demonstrates a vast community of people who are nowhere near the extreme end of the religious spectrum and while some ministers should be put to pasture once Jokowi makes his debut, most Indonesians are not having a bar of ISIS, rejecting the group on social media and making sure that they are not just banned but denounced as dangerous lunatics.

Prabowo might have confronted terrorism with a similar strongman attitude to Suharto, but he had spun himself a web of Islamic coalitions and would have had patronage duties such as political appointments and dispensations to adhere to, not to mention his own shady past when it comes to human rights.

The reality of IT borne threats like ISIL comes at a time when Indonesia farewells an apathetic government that was often ineffectual in addressing religious intolerance and welcomes the resolve of grassroots, local politician who has in the past defended pluralism in his roles as Governor of Jakarta and Mayor of Solo.

Indonesia is a big, diverse country of passionate believers, but it has a dark side of religious intolerance that will soon become Jokowi’s turn to contain. It would be a good start to initiate counter propaganda campaigns, address international movements of Indonesian citizens to conflict countries and prohibit funding of jihadist organisations, if he can get some new laws past any obstructions Prabowo might throw at him of course.

Lauren is a postgraduate Human Rights student and the Indonesia Institute's Blog Editor.

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