By: Dewi Kurniawati

On Dec. 12, hundreds of Islamists protested outside Facebook’s headquarters in Jakarta, accusing the social media giant of discrimination for blocking pages operated by hardline groups that allegedly inflame religious tensions.

The protesters, many dressed in white and including members of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), marched to Facebook’s offices demanding that they remove the blockage, accusing Facebook of Islamophobia in posters they carried and waved.

In December last year, a photo showing a piece of an agreement paper signed by several heads of local neighborhood Muslim units in Tangerang district purportedly listing several “Do’s and Don’ts for Non-Muslims” went viral through Facebook this week, steering yet another brouhaha through Indonesia’s netizens.

Among other things, according to the signed agreement paper, non-Muslim religious groups should be barred from having congregations at home, not allowed to invite preachers, and must bury their deceased within 24 hours, a teaching that is close to Islamic traditions.

Within hours however, the outrage over social media was “answered” by higher authorities who amended the agreement, saying it had not been “discussed, or approved” by them in its original form.

These scenes of various provocations and propaganda based on religion seem to be pouring straight through Indonesia’s political atmosphere after a tough presidential election in 2014 that delivered Joko Widodo, a Muslim moderate, to the presidency. Throughout the campaign, religious and ideological sentiments were used against him by supporters of his opponent, millionaire businessman Prabowo Subianto, a former Special Forces general and onetime son-in-law of the late strongman Suharto.

These same religious and ideological sentiments intensified against Basuki Tahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian universally known as “Ahok” during the gubernatorial election in February, which political experts describe as “the rise of Islamization in Indonesia.”

Ahok’s election campaign galvanized the country’s conservative base, with some religious groups preaching that Muslims shouldn’t vote for “non-believers.”  He was mischaracterized during a speech as having blasphemed the Quran, a charge that was widely disseminated prior to the election and played a major role in his defeat by Anais Baswedan, an ethnic Indonesian and Muslim even though he was considered arguably Jakarta’s most effective governor by far. 

Months after the election, police arrested three leaders of an organized fake news syndicate known as Saracen that poured hundreds of thousands of bogus hacks onto the Internet, inflaming public opinion against Ahok, who was jailed after the election on the blasphemy charges. Worldwide human rights organizations have objected to Ahok’s imprisonment, calling it a political travesty.

According to research by the Wahid Institute, a moderate research center on Islam, in mid- 2017, as many as 11 million people are willing to take radical action. The data is based on survey results on radicalism and intolerance by the agency. The survey was conducted with 1,520 respondents using multi stage random sampling. As many as 0.4 percent of Indonesia’s population had committed what they called “radical” acts, while 7.7 percent said they would act radically if possible.

“That means 600,000 people have acted radically and 11 million people want to, including residents of Jakarta and Bali,” said Jenny Zannuba Wahid, director of the Wahid Institute, who explained that economic disparities and hate-filled lectures are responsible for the development of radicalism in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, many political observers believe that the use of religion-based identities will continue during simultaneous regional elections this year as well as the 2019 presidential election, where Jokowi, as the president is known, will seek re-election.

This perception is fueled by the fact that Jokowi’s administration seems to be “waging war” against radicals, religious critics say. That perception has grown after he decided to disband the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) last year. HTI has been open about wanting to establish a “Khilafah” – a caliphate or Islamic state under former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. That has gained ground with the state originally turning a blind eye to their open movement.

However, in mid-2017, the government decided to disband them for conducting activities that contradict the state ideology Pancasila, which counsels five principles of moderation, as well as the principle of a unitary state of the republic of Indonesia.

The Law and Human Rights Ministry officially revoked HTI’s status as a legal entity on following the issuance of a regulation in lieu of law (Preppy) on mass organizations. It was the first group to be disbanded under the controversial regulation, which grants the government the power to disband any groups it deems to be anti-Pancasila.

The Perppu has sparked concerns over potential violations of the right to assemble as it grants the government the power to disband mass groups without due process.

The head of the State Intelligence Agency, General Budi Gunawan, described Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia as a transnational organization that aims to replace the state of Indonesia in a written statement, an apparent reference to its similarity to the Islamic State, which sought to establish a caliphate in the Levant and was defeated by Russian, American, Syrian and Iraqi forces. It has since been disbanded and its brutal adherents have fled back toward their home countries.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a radiogram after the dissolution of HTI by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, warning Indonesians to be aware of the possibility of violent activities carried out by former HTI members and their supporters. Local officials are also required to ban all activities that HTI may undertake.