Indonesian president woos Islamists, upsets minorities

April 27, 2009

jakarta-protestDriving home very late one night in Jakarta, I passed four men on motorbikes. The white tunics, trousers and skullcaps of the drivers and their pillion-riders, who carried furled green flags, stood out in the badly-lit street and marked them as vigilantes of the Islamic Defenders Front. The Front, or FPI, is a hardline Muslim group best known for smashing up bars and nightclubs.

(Photo: Islamic Defenders Front motorcycle protest in Jakarta, 22 Aug 2004/Supri Supri)

The group is something of an oddity in an officially secular and predominantly Muslim country that is largely tolerant of other religions and ways of life. But a change in the political landscape could alter that.

Following a general election this month, Indonesia looks headed for a possible coalition between a centrist, secular party – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party – and a conservative Islamist party called the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Sunanda Creagh and I have written an analysis on how this prospect has worried Indonesia’s religious and ethnic minorities — click here to read it.

Conservative Muslim politicians pushed Yudhoyono’s previous government into promoting a controversial anti-porn law last year that could make some forms of art, whether painting or dancing, illegal if they are considered too erotic. The largely Hindu Balinese were furious; would this mean they could now go to prison for their erotic art ? what about the skimpily clad tourists who make a big contribution to the local economy ? Bali’s governor defied Jakarta and decided the island would refuse to implement the law.

tifatul-sembiringThe PKS has supported the introduction of sharia by-laws in some parts of the country and recently caused a stir when a PKS official tried to ban a traditional form of dance in West Java because he considered it too sexy.

PKS chairman Tifatul Sembiring told Reuters in an interview earlier this month:

“I don’t mean cutting off hands, I mean following your religious teachings. We don’t want people to become atheists. We want people to have a religion. If you are a Muslim, you must obey your religion. If you are a Christian or Jewish or other, please obey your religious teaching too… But you must have a belief, because people with a belief have a moral code. People who are atheists, I don’t know how they have moral control.”

That was presumably meant to be reassuring. Should Indonesia’s religious and ethnic minorities be reassured?

(Photo: Tifatul Sembiring, 10 July 2008/Crack Palingg)
One comment

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The indicators strongly favor secular administration. Any engagement of pro sharia crowd by the electorate should see as to whats going on in Afghanistan, Pakistan ans Iran. A poor country with large popularion like indonesia should not instil fear rather inject an element of freedom into the minds of its ppeople. They are doing kind of OK with economy.They will have to keep foreign investment and trade like India anad china does.
Even Bangladesh is becoming less islamic and more secular. World has enough problems with existing islamic nations doesnt need any more. Good luck.

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