Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Indonesian Hard-Liners Get Egypt All Wrong

Pardon me if this sounds like a silly question, but can someone please explain why violent, radical Islamic militants get away with threatening to overthrow Indonesia’s democratically elected government, while non-violent activists in Maluku and Papua who raise independence flags are arrested, allegedly tortured and given lengthy prison sentences?

Why can members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) be allowed to go home after openly calling President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono a transvestite during a protest last Friday while the president personally ordered Maluku activists to be heavily punished for performing a traditional war dance and unfurling an outlawed independence flag in front of him during a visit in 2007? (The police obliged, allegedly torturing the dancers before prosecuting them.)

And what about Golkar lawmaker Bambang Soesatyo and his tongue-and-cheek “Coins for the President” campaign? Palace officials threatened to file a criminal complaint against Bambang for defaming a state symbol. But isn’t calling Yudhoyono a “ banci ,” as FPI members did at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, defamation as well?

Putting aside the disturbing reality that the Yudhoyono government and the National Police are willfully refusing to crack down on the FPI, when will these double standards of social injustice end? Why is it OK for lawmakers to produce sex tapes and racy photos with their mistresses, but not rock star Nazril “Ariel” Ilham? While authorities in Central Java were correct in prosecuting Antonius Richmord Bawengan (who was sentenced to five years for blaspheming Islam) why wasn’t Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring arrested last June for his seemingly blasphemous comments about Jesus Christ, in which he questioned the validity of the Crucifixion?

It is these types of double standards that are fueling violent radical Islamic groups such as the FPI. Given that their antics go unchecked, they will keep pushing. I have little doubt an attack like the one on Ahmadiyah followers in Banten province on Feb. 6 will happen again. FPI chairman Habib Riziq promised as much.

But amid the fear, violence and confusion that is gripping Indonesia due to growing religious intolerance, a shining light is now appearing. It’s not coming from the archipelago, but several thousand kilometers away in the Middle East. The ongoing pro-democracy protests, which started in Egypt and have spread across the region, will ultimately be the undoing of the FPI and other radical hard-line religious groups back here.

While occurring in the Muslim world, the protests are not religious-based. They are based on the swelling demands of Arabs and non-Arabs of the Middle East for more freedoms, more political space, more respect for human rights, a fairer share of the economic pie and an end to corruption, collusion and nepotism. Sound familiar?

It should. The Muslim world is demanding democracy, very much like Indonesians did more than a dozen years ago. And while the protesters in Egypt, Libya, Oman, Bahrain and other countries are proud Muslims, the catalyst for their movement is not based on Islam. It’s based on dignity and being fed up with autocratic systems in which the people have had no say.

What’s happening right now in the Middle East is nothing short of remarkable, and could be a launching pad for fast-tracked political, social and economic change in the region. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in a cover story in the latest Time magazine, “there’s no turning back in the Middle East.”

Of course, not everyone understands what’s really happening there. Good — because it will make the downfall of Indonesia’s extremist religious groups that much more swift. Here in Indonesia, one FPI member was quoted as saying that his group will lead a “revolution similar” to that in Egypt unless Yudhoyono signs an order disbanding the Ahmadiyah. He even said all Indonesian Muslims will join them surrounding the Presidential Palace until Yudhoyono caves in.

Sorry, FPI, but you’re very, very wrong on two counts. First, the “revolution” in Egypt is a democratic revolution, not an Islamic revolution. Second, you and your group have no popular support and Indonesian Muslims are not going to join you in trying to overthrow the democratic government they’ve sweated, bled and died for to build.

The main goal of the FPI, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and other hard-line groups is to replace Indonesia’s democracy with an Islamic state under Shariah law, run by dictatorial clerics. There would be no free elections and all dissent would be crushed. It would not be a stretch to say they might even consider blocking the Internet, banning women from driving cars (or even leaving their homes) and preventing young girls from going to school.

The problem is that this model is an amalgamation of Middle East regimes, plus Afghanistan, that have either been toppled or are under threat by pro-democracy Muslims. What will Indonesia’s radicals say when they realize the very systems they look up to are being toppled by pro-democracy movements?

It’s an important question, and also a scary one. I will never forget interviewing radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is currently on trial in Jakarta for terrorism, back in 2002. He declared that any Afghan who didn’t support the Taliban, who at the time were hiding from US air strikes in the hills of eastern Afghanistan, was not a true Muslim.

This is the kind of thinking that’s marching down the streets of Indonesia today. It is violent, dangerous, and completely out of touch with the mainstream Muslim world. These groups are using their rights under Indonesian democracy — which they did nothing to help win — to try and bring it down and usurp power. It’s a delicious irony.

Let us hope the startling pro-democracy movements underway in the Middle East will suck the life out of the increasingly violent radical movement here. And may it also remind mainstream Indonesians about what they achieved in 1998, and whether they want to give it away to groups such as the FPI.

By Joe Cochrane contributing editor of the Jakarta Globe.

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