“Beyond Jakarta: Indonesian Regions Resisting Muslim Hardliners”, a Commentary by Deasy Simandjuntak

2017/5, 19 January 2017

Despite the rising trend of religious intolerance marked by the blasphemy case against Jakarta’s Chinese-Christian governor Ahok, recent developments show that hard-line ideologies and attitudes are facing protests and rejections in many regions of the archipelago. These come from various ethnic and religious groups, such as the Dayaks in Kalimantan, the Sundanese in West Java, as well as moderate Muslim groups such as regional chapters of Ansor Youth Movement of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

On 12 January at Sintang airport, West Kalimantan, a group of people dressed in Dayak traditional garbs prevented the Vice Secretary General of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) Tengku Zulkarnain, who had just landed from Jakarta, from exiting the airplane, effectively forcing him to return to the capital city. The group mentioned that Zulkarnain had earlier dubbed the Dayaks, a designation for Kalimantan’s largest ethnic group, as “kafir (infidels) and not fit for heaven”. Such remarks were taken as offensive by the Dayaks who practice Christianity, Islam, or Kaharingan, a traditional belief. MUI frequently calls non-Muslims kafir – a word that carries a negative connotation and inflames sectarian sentiments, especially in the blasphemy case in Jakarta.

In West Java, during police examination of Islamic Defender Front (FPI)’s leader Habib Rizieq, who had allegedly insulted Pancasila (Indonesia’s state ideology), groups of Sundanese (West Java’s largest ethnic group) led by the Indonesian Lower-class Movement (GMBI) clashed with FPI. This incident was also ignited by Rizieq insulting Sundanese culture by making a pun of their traditional salute. To note, the FPI is notorious for moral policing and frequently cause problems. It is often involved in sectarian incidents such the forced closure of churches in Sumatra and Java and violence against the Shia and Ahmadiyah minorities. Together with the National Movement of Fatwa Defender of MUI (GNPF-MUI), the FPI is also the main force behind anti-Ahok mass mobilisation protests.

Rejections do not come only from cultural or non-Muslim groups. On 11 January, in Balikpapan (East Kalimantan), youth organizations coordinated by the Ansor of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest moderate Muslim organization; urged the local government to ban the FPI and GNPF-MUI, as they threaten the region’s religious stability and unity. In fact, NU leaders in Jakarta are split in their views concerning Ahok’s blasphemy case.  Yet, on the ground, there are more and more branches rejecting FPI’s attitudes. Ansor and NU branches in various regions in Java, Bali, Sulawesi, Lampung, North Maluku, Papua and West Papua recently rejected the plan to make Rizieq a Great Imam – citing that his intolerant teaching of not being representative of Indonesian Islam which respects diversity.

In a recent speech, PDIP’s leader Megawati Sukarnoputri urged the “silent majority” to join forces to safeguard Pancasila and “Unity in Diversity” (the state slogan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika). In the context of Jakarta’s election, since PDIP is Ahok’s main supporter, going against FPI seems logical as a political move. However, putting Jakarta politics aside, such call by Megawati carries the same theme as the other incidents mentioned above, and show that people in various regions are increasingly wary of hard-line stances. Although one might argue that there are many facets to each incident and that cultural groups have their own communal interests, it would appear people are opposing intolerance in their localities.

This new development thus merit attention from both local governments and the central government in Jakarta who have seemingly been “accommodative” toward religious vigilantism or even become incapacitated in fighting it. Curbing intolerance is the task of the authorities, and should not only be left to regional social groups. It is crucial for the central government to be firm and consistent in dealing with hard-line groups so that local authorities can follow suit.

Deasy Simandjuntak is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.