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Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies | PAKAR
Front Pembela Islam and Indonesia’s Struggle for Democracy Rebecca Lunnon
16 August 2013
In recent years, Indonesia has often been cited as evidence of not simply the compatibility but also the positive relationship that can exist between Islam and democracy in a nation-state. This being the case, how then do we account for the emergence and rise to prominence of groups that clearly hold to a certain form of Islamic identity but whose actions challenge or undermine democracy?
In recent years, prompted particularly by the increase in Jihadi Islamist terrorism and the respective American-led ‘global war on terrorism’, religious and/or academic scholars have questioned whether or not Islam and democracy are compatible, 1 many from the West arguing along the lines of Samuel Huntington’s overly generalised and thus somewhat flawed clash of civilisations theory. 2 On the other hand, however, work that analyses the reality in countries such as Indonesia and Turkey where democracy and Islam are clearly coexisting in a positive, progressive and dynamic relationship has complemented the more theological and ideological analyses of progressive Islamic scholars that see the principles of justice (al-`adâlah), equality (al-musâwah), brotherhood (al-ukhuwwah), pluralism (ta’addudiyyah), deliberation (syura), responsibility (al-masuliyyah), enforcement of human rights (iqâmat al-huqûq al-insâniyyah), democracy (dîmûqrathiyyah), and provision of wellbeing/prosperity (mashlahat), amongst others, as being key aspects in Islam.
It becomes clear that, while the transition to liberal democracy is a long, complex and often bumpy process, Indonesia, for instance, has made significant advancements. The rather sudden end to Soeharto’s New Order left many doubting that Indonesia had the civil society required for successful democratic transition. Yet in the subsequent years of Reformasi it became more than apparent that not only did Indonesia have a vibrant civil society, but that a large part of it was distinctly Islamic (the two largest civil society organisations being the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama and the modernist Muhammadiyah, with approximately 40 and 30 million members respectively). Indonesia has had a relatively peaceful transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, and has not shared the fate of many post-colonial nations in Asia whose attempts at democracy failed and power was quickly reconsolidated under military or authoritarian regimes. Instead, Indonesia has amended 31 of the 37 articles that constitute the 1945 constitution, and has amended or introduced new legislation to replace repressive legislation. 3 The country has also held three free and fair elections, with no vote rigging or violence, in which the nation has shown remarkable maturity 1
Although this essay uses this language – for want of a better way of expressing things – I do find that the implied juxtaposition between Islam and democracy somewhat problematic as it suggests from the outset that the two are quite distinct and separate entities, that they are two diametrically opposed systems. 2 Samuel P Huntington, 1993, ‘The clash of civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3, pp. 22-49. 3 Mitsuo Nakamura, 2005, ‘Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Observations on the 2004 General and Presidential Elections’, Occasional Publications 6, Islamic Legal Studies Program, Harvard Law School, p. 4.
and commonsense. 4 It would seem that Islam and democracy are at least in practice, theological or ideological debate aside, not necessarily the binary opposites that some would have us believe. Having said this, Indonesia’s transition to democracy has been marked by a rise of radical Islamist groups that identify themselves as true Muslims but that act in decidedly undemocratic ways. The most well known of these, for its targeting of foreigners in attacks such as the 2002 Bali bombings, is the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). 5 JI expresses clear intentions of fighting for an Islamic state in Indonesia that is based on syariah (Islamic law). Though they may receive less attention than JI, at least in international media, there is a diverse range of Islamic groups in Indonesia at the radical/fundamentalist end of the spectrum, not just terrorist, that are employing a number of different means in ways that may appear to be challenging the idea that Islam and democracy are compatible. This essay intends to examine one such group, namely Front Pembela Islam (FPI, the Islamic Defenders Front), 6 who some refer to as a vigilante or preman (people who use violence and coercive means) group, 7 while others prefer radical Muslims or fundamentalists. 8 As will be explored below, there are reasons to believe that while FPI may initially have been best described as an organisation of thugs or
Greg Barton, 2009, ‘Democracy works in Indonesia’, The Monthly, July, www.themonthly.com.au. Foreigners and westerners are by no means the only targets nor victims of JI attacks. In fact, most of their initial attacks were aimed at local targets, including the 2000 Christmas bombings of various churches and the sectarian violence in Ambon and Poso. A much smaller number, for example, following in the path of Hambali, Mukhlas, Zulkarnaen, Imam Samudra, Dul Matin, and Azhari who were more Al Qaeda-influenced, have been interested in attacking Western targets, such as the JW Marriott Hotel (2003), the Australian Embassy (2004), Bali (2005), and more recently the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels (2009). Often those responsible for terrorist attacks are splinter cells, such as the current ones led by Noordin M Top, with the JI mainstream preferring dakwah (Islamic propagation/outreach activities) and the more local struggles in Eastern Indonesia. 6 Also translated by some as the Defenders of Islam Front. 7 The reputable International Crisis Group (ICG), describes FPI as ‘basically an urban thug organisation’. ICG, 2008, Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree, Asia Briefing No. 78, Jakarta, p. 13, accessed 9 July 2008 at www.crisisgroup.org. See also Ian Douglas Wilson’s detailed accounts, ‘‘As Long as it’s Halal’: Islamic Preman in Jakarta’, in Greg Fealy & Sally White, 2008, Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia, Singapore: ISEAS, pp. 192-210; and Ian Douglas Wilson, 2005, ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence in Post New Order Indonesia’, Murdoch University, Asia Research Centre Working Paper, No. 118. Increasingly fewer academics tend to see FPI in this light, perhaps because the majority of academic studies have been written postSeptember 11 and it thus serves certain interests to depict FPI as a radical fundamentalist group. Even Wilson, who does tend to focus on FPI’s premanisme, notes that its primary motivation has become more ideological. 8 As noted above, most of the more recent academic work on radical/fundamental Islam/Islamism in Indonesia only mentions FPI in brief, and tends to see FPI members in this light. One of the longer and more in-depth studies that takes this perspective is Jajang Jahroni, 2004, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam: Indonesia's Front Pembela Islam (FPI) 1998-2003, Studia Islamika, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 197-256. 5
preman acting in pursuit of material self-interests, and its members still are to some extent, today FPI is increasingly motivated by the religious ideology to which it adheres. This essay explores both these identities, in an attempt to enrich understandings of what factors were involved in FPI’s concurrent emergence with democracy as a vigilante group; how FPI members then developed, perceived and negotiated an Islamic identity over the subsequent years; how they have viewed democracy and why; and to what extent, if any, their existence and actions challenge the existence of the democratic state of Indonesia, and thus challenge claims that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible. Background: What is FPI? 9 The Islamic Defenders Front was established on August 17, 1998 by Al-Habib Muhammad Rizieq bin Husein Shihab (of mixed Arab-Betawi descent, traceable back to the Prophet Muhammad) and the NU educated KH Misbahul Anam, apparently with the aid of highly ranked officers from the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI). 10 While suggestions have been made that FPI was initially established to help the state eradicate Islamic movements promoting the establishment of an Islamic state or at least the introduction of syariah, 11 it seems more plausible that it was established as a part of General Wiranto and General Kivlan Zein’s Pamswakarsa civilian guard to garner support for President Habibie in the lead up to the 1999 elections. 12 Over the years however, FPI’s primary aim has been to enjoin good and prevent evil (amar ma’ruf nahi mungkar), in a society which it sees as being poisoned particularly by social ills caused by Western secularism, pluralism and liberalism (otherwise known by the Indonesian abbreviation sepilis) such as drinking, drugs, prostitution, 9
Due to insufficient space the following is a very brief overview of the aspects of FPI relevant to this essay. For a more in-depth account see Ibid., especially pp. 237-243 for organisational structure and social base. 10 It was quite common for the military to be involved in the establishment and control of such groups. John Gershman, 2002, ‘Is Southeast Asia the Second Front?’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 81, no. 4, p. 67. See also Wilson ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’, p. 282, who names some of those said to have been involved, including General Wiranto, Lieutenant General Djaja Suparman, Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, Police Chief Noegroho Djajoesman, and Habibie’s brother-in-law Mochsin Mochdar. ICG and Andri Rosadi also mention the first two of these men as having ties with FPI. See ICG, 2001, Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims, Indonesia Briefing Paper, 10 October, p. 13, accessed 8 January 2009, available at www.crisisgroup.org; and Andri Rosadi, 2008, Hitam Putih FPI [Front Pembela Islam]: Mengungkap Rahasia-rahasia Mencengangkan Ormas Keagamaan Paling Kontroversial, Nun Publisher: Jakarta, p. 150. 11 Alip Purnomo, 2003, FPI Disalahpahami, Jakarta: Mediatama Indonesia, p. 146. 12 Jahroni, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam’, p. 215; Wilson ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’, p. 268.
gambling, lack of religious observance (of ‘true’ Islamic teachings) and, interestingly enough, premanisme. 13 The FPI response often takes the form of dakwa or religious outreach to the Muslim community, but the group is better known for its organised and quite violent ‘sweeping operations’ where such places of ‘vice’ are raided, vandalised and owners/patrons threatened and terrorised. 14 FPI has most notably targeted the magazine Playboy, the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL) and more recently has been active in speaking out against and violently attacking so-considered deviant sects such as the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia. Members are always more active during the holy month of Ramadan, not only punishing Muslims who do not fast or warung (small food stall/cafe) owners who continue to trade during fasting hours, but also cracking down on night clubs where prostitution and drinking are known to occur. FPI has taken on a more global position in its demonstrations against the American invasion of Afghanistan and in its preparedness to send ‘mujahideen’ fighters to Gaza and the West Bank during Israel’s intense and prolonged bombardment of the area earlier this year. Nevertheless FPI seems to remain primarily focused on the local (which mostly involves ‘bad’ Muslims rather than the West/United States), and only takes up more global issues when they are prominent in society. FPI has branches in most of Indonesia’s provinces. 15 While FPI also strongly advocates living by syariah as its other main objective, 16 and has called for the reinstatement of the Jakarta Charter into the Indonesian constitution, there seems to be general consensus that FPI is not calling for an overthrow of the democratic Indonesian state and its replacement with an Islamic state. 17 What FPI is more concerned about is allowing Muslims the opportunity to live in accordance with Islamic teachings, something of which FPI feels Muslims have been long deprived. 18
Rosadi, Hitam Putih FPI, p. 159. Here premanisme refers to that undertaken largely by non-Muslim (Christian) groups. 14 This is despite the fact that Habib Rizieq has argued, based on the Qur’an and hadith, that violence is only to be used as a last resort in fulfilling their aim of amar ma’ruf nahi mungkar. See Habib Rizieq, 2008, ‘Kekerasan dan Kelembutan Dalam Amar Ma'ruf Nahi Munkar’, 26 June, www.fpi.or.id. 15 ICG, Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree, p. 13. 16 What kind and the extent and way in which syariah should be implemented seems quite flexible. USINDO & TAF, 2002, ‘Islam in Modern Indonesia’, A Joint Conference Sponsored by The United States-Indonesia Society and The Asia Foundation, February 7, Washington, D.C, p. 29. 17 Wilson ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’, p. 284; See also Ulil Abshar Abdalla’s comments in USINDO & TAF, ‘Islam in Modern Indonesia’, p. 29. 18 Jahroni, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam’, p. 232.
FPI as Preman Despite FPI’s religiously influenced name and stated aims, and its religiously educated leaders, FPI actions have been seen by many, including think tanks like the ICG, 19 scholars such as Martin van Bruinessen, 20 and even government officials, 21 as thuggery or vigilantism primarily motivated by financial gain, which has enticed mostly poorly educated and unemployed young males into its ranks (and that of its paramilitary wing, Laskar Pembela Islam). In line with this, FPI does not, as with almost all other radical Islamic groups in Indonesia, have historical ties with Darul Islam, the Tarbiyah movement, or Masyumi, and FPI’s Middle Eastern connection is perhaps the weakest of all Islamic groups in Indonesia. Instead of being a response to some inherent internal dynamic, FPI, like many Islamic political movements, was born of a distinct political environment. 22 Indonesia has a long history of paramilitary or vigilante groups. 23 Present in the colonial period, during Soeharto’s New Order they became one of the tools that the authoritarian regime used in ‘defence’ of the nation (read: to maintain political control through the use of violence and criminality). After Soeharto’s overthrow in 1998, state power fragmented and so too did control over this state-sponsored violence. New, informal and contractual power arrangements emerged between politicians, political parties, local officials and businessmen and these new civil and state backed vigilante groups representing a plethora of social, cultural, political and economic interests. Distrust of the corrupt police and army saw many players opting for local preman to provide security, and the economic crisis ensured that there were more than enough socially and religiously deprived urban poor who had little choice but to turn to the burgeoning business of premanisme. It was within these particular
ICG, Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree, p. 13. Martin van Bruinessen, 2002, ‘Genealogies of Islamic radicalism in post-Soeharto Indonesia’, accessed 11 April 2007 at www.let.uu.nl/~martin.vanbruinessen/personal/publications; and Martin van Bruinessen, 2002, ‘The violent fringes of Indonesia's radical Islam’, longer version of the same article published in ISIM Newsletter 11, December, www.let.uu.nl/~martin.vanbruinessen/personal/publications/violent_fringe.htm. 21 For instance the government in exile of Aceh. The Government of the State of Acheh (PNA), 2005, ‘Regarding the Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesia Mujahidin Council’, 01 October, Acheh Times, www.achehtimes.com. 22 Bruinessen, ‘Genealogies of Islamic radicalism’. 23 Unless otherwise referenced, the following discussion of premanisme during and after the New Order is based on Wilson, ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’. 20
political circumstances that FPI emerged, motivated significantly by political opportunism and material self-interest. The development of vigilante groups, including FPI, was considered positively at first and was thus encouraged, as such groups were seen to be aiding the newly separated police and military forces in providing security. Even today, FPI continues to justify its actions by arguing that it is fulfilling the role of ‘helping’ the seemingly incapable state to ‘enforce the law’ against deviance, immorality and injustice. 24 FPI has claimed that it used to coordinate attacks with police, and some branches still do today. 25 However, ICG notes that the relationship is more nuanced, even symbiotic in some instances, than is perhaps first apparent. 26 Despite firm treatment by police during General Sofyan Yacob’s term and the arrest and imprisonment of Habib Rizieq and other key figures on several occasions, a degree of official toleration, if not support at times, and definitely a sense of reluctance to name, let alone act against FPI members involved in violence is still more than apparent. 27
FPI as Defenders of Islam While many have seen groups like FPI purely as urban thugs, Wilson notes that ideology has played an important role, and once again, this has largely been due
Rosadi, Hitam Putih FPI, p. 97; ICG, Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims, p. 12. See also Jahroni, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam’, p. 218-222 for FPI’s grievances with police handling of religious conflict and other incidences in which Muslims have been killed over political or ideological struggles. 25 One of the most recently reported cases would be the head of Depok FPI, Idrus Al Gadri, who spoke about his branch’s planned activities for this Ramadan: ‘Kita damai saja, tapi kalau Pemkot tidak serius, kita akan sweeping jalan sendiri, miras dan tempat-tempat pelacuran. Meski sudah ada perda miras, perdanya banci, perda itu tidak melarang tapi tetap melegalkan... Kita punya 1.700 [anggota], akan koordinasi sama Pemkot, Dandim, Polres, dan Satpol PP, karena kemaksiatan malah makin banyak’. The Wahid Institute, 2009, Monthly Report on Religious Issues, September, Issue 22, Jakarta: The Wahid Institute. 26 See ICG, Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree, p. 13. ICG, Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims, p. 12 for instance takes note of the belief that police allow FPI attacks to occur to increase the amount of protection money they are able to squeeze out of those running brothels or casinos, and that some of this money may well make it back to FPI. 27 While the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, stated in a press conference the day after the FPI attack against the peaceful rally at the Jakarta national monument (Monas) on July 1, 2008 that the violence would not be tolerated, the way in which he did so was weak (he never mentioned FPI by name preferring the evasive ‘organisasi tertentu, orang-orang tertentu/certain organisations, certain people’ ), he has still to ban the organisation, and his previous actions of bowing to pressure from FPI and other similar groups (i.e. in releasing the joint decree against Ahmadiyah, in negotiating with Munarman, commander of KLI) raise doubts as to the extent to which he translates these words into actions. On a more positive note, however, public outcry against FPI was stronger than ever before after the July attack, and this may give the president the impetus and support to act more firmly against FPI without the risk of public backlash. See ‘Pres SBY Minta Polri Tindak Tegas Aksi Kekerasan FPI’, Sinar Indonesia Baru, 3 June 2008, http://hariansib.com.
to changing political circumstances. The fall of the New Order saw the old state ideology of collective nationalism replaced with primordial sentiments – attachment to local identity, religion, and ethnicity. Thus instead of justifying their actions as being in defence of the nation, vigilante groups slowly began to adopt various religious ideologies to provide justification and motivation for their self-interests and use of violence. These religious ideologies acted to both establish and strengthen, as well as to defend ‘the interests of an imagined ethnic and religious community.’ 28 The removal of political control and oppression in 1998 gave many religiously motivated groups the opportunity they were seeking to express their views. Many were drawn together by shared grievances at their political, social and cultural marginalisation and repression under Soeharto’s regime and their increasingly disadvantaged position (in areas such as education, wealth, social standing, occupation etc.) vis a vis minority groups in Indonesia as a result of modernity. 29 FPI has also been influenced by these grievances, and thus FPI talks about the need to give Muslims, who are the majority in Indonesia, majority rights, including the right to implement some aspects of syariah that do not go against other religious values.30 As FPI has adhered to and promoted a more Islamic identity and ideology, global events have played an increasing, but not exclusive, role in shaping this identity, including the global discourse that has arisen since September 11, 2001 and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as developments in the IsraeliPalestinian issue. As noted above, however, the importance of global events seems to be more directly related to the importance attached to them within the larger Indonesian society. Interestingly, it seems that this religious ideology has not made FPI more violent or more anti-democratic, but has been central to FPI’s choice to ‘clean up its act’. There was a brief period in 2002/2003 in which Habib Rizieq was arrested, and LPI activities were suspended. This was followed by a subsequent reconsolidation of FPI leadership, centralisation of control, and a tightening of ranks, increasing of discipline, and general cleansing of FPI membership of undesirable elements. 31 The move to clean the organisation up was primarily motivated by accusations that FPI 28
Wilson ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’, p. 275. See Jahroni, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam’, p. 202-204, 207-208; Rosadi, Hitam Putih FPI, p. 148. 30 See USINDO & TAF, ‘Islam in Modern Indonesia’, p. 29; also the FPI internet blog ‘FPI - Islamic Defenders Front’, 7 November 2007, http://islamicdefendersfront.blogspot.com. 31 Wilson ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’, p. 287. 29
was ‘little more than a band of criminal extortionists in religious garb’, 32 accusations that Habib Rizieq clearly took quite seriously. FPI is now much more a paramilitary force motivated by religious ideology than a bunch of thugs acting out of material self-interest, though many still see them as criminals dressed in Islamic robes. One of the reasons they have prospered for as long as they have is precisely because their ideology, which sees them strive to ‘protect public morality’, has been seen as acceptable despite the means they choose to employ. 33 It has only been since their July 1, 2008 attack on a peaceful civilian rally 34 that there has been public outcry of any significance against FPI.
FPI, Islam and Democracy FPI, which clearly promotes and adheres to a strong religious identity, emerged and consolidated itself as the time Indonesia began its transition to democracy. In fact, while many conservative, fundamental and radical Islamic or Islamist groups emerged at this time, their presence has less to do with an incompatibility between Islam and democracy and more to do with the past relationship between Islam and the state, more precisely the repression it was subject to under Soeharto’s authoritarian regime. This is certainly true for FPI. In addition, perhaps more significantly, FPI’s initially quite strong identity as a vigilante force also says much more about the opportunities a democratic system opens up for groups trading in premanisme, no matter their ideological foundations, and again very little about the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Secondly, in terms of ideology FPI is not outright opposed to democracy or a democratic Indonesian state. Founder Misbahul Anam has stated that ‘Islam is not a democratic religion even though it does respect democracy’. 35 This seems to generally reflect the organisation’s stance and actions – while they might not be democratic, they do not directly oppose democracy, and in fact this might be why they have a passive community of support outside of their active membership. While the public may not support FPI means or even some of FPI’s tenets (which at times highly 32
Ibid., p. 288. ICG, Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree, p. 13. 34 The event was in commemoration of the anniversary of Pancasila, and was organised by the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Belief (AKKBB). FPI chose to attack AKKBB members because FPI felt AKKBB members were protecting the so-considered deviant Indonesian Ahmadiyah Group (JAI). Obviously the public did not accept this reasoning. 35 Wilson ‘The Changing Contours of Organised Violence’, p. 284. 33
contradict democratic principles and human rights), they readily identify with FPI’s stated ‘respect’ for true democracy but even more so the desire for higher public morality, for human rights and for social justice (especially for the oppressed or mustadh’afin), all features of an ideal democracy. This is not too surprising when one considers the immoral, corrupt and dishonest political behaviour of politicians who are supposed to be working towards and exemplifying democracy. The question then becomes is FPI’s advocacy of syariah to achieve the above mentioned aims anti-democratic? Firstly, syariah in Indonesia is largely symbolic than substantial, though discourse coming from groups like FPI has helped paved the way for the introduction of syariah nuanced local regulations that tend to restrict religious freedom amongst other basic human rights. Syariah itself is not a problem so long as it is what the majority in Indonesia wants as they tend to be less supportive of syariah implementation, 36 opting instead for more moderate and democratic forms of legislation. The problem only arises when syariah is not representative, especially of the female opinion, when it is used as a political tool to serve certain interests, or when it contradicts higher legislation such as the 1945 constitution. 37 FPI is a direct response to the present political and social conditions in Indonesia. 38 Part of the reason FPI and other such groups have been able to stay active and ‘prosperous’ for so long under a democratic system is precisely because of imperfections in the present system that mean it is as yet unable to fulfil these reasonable and quite democratic demands of both FPI, and the Muslim community as a whole. Corruption, collusion and nepotism are still rife, law enforcement leaves much to be desired despite the progression made, poverty remains high and there are problems with the local economy. Democratic institutions in general are fragile and governance is poor, making the government simply too weak to implement democracy in the way it and its citizens might desire. 39 Thus groups like FPI are less a challenge against democracy perse but rather a demand for a better, more democratic democracy, even if they avoid this language themselves. To go so far as to challenge democracy in the way JI does, for instance, would be to lose public, not to mention political, support. 36
Jahroni, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam’, p. 230; and Ahmad Suaedy, 2008, “Religiously Nuanced Local Regulations and the Future of Indonesian Democracy: An Outline”, unpublished paper. 37 See Ibid. 38 Jahroni, ‘Defending the Majesty of Islam’, p. 244. 39 Gershman, ‘Is Southeast Asia the Second Front?’, p. 68; Jusuf Wanandi, 2002, ‘Islam in Indonesia: Its History, Development and Future Challenges’, Asia-Pacific Review, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 110.
Currently, as many Muslims see Islam as a way to realise social justice, prosperity and harmony, the government’s failure in resolving these issues, especially in upholding the law, has given FPI a certain moral power or legitimacy in fighting for these aspirations, despite the fact that in doing so FPI actually undermines the power and authority of law enforcement agencies, and thus undermines democracy itself. As democracy is further consolidated and the government successfully tackles the issues mentioned above, FPI will find it necessary to adjust its actions accordingly if it wants to continue to exist, let alone maintain any legitimacy it might currently have as an upholder of social justice. A stronger democracy in Indonesia means increased social justice and harmony, and thus less tolerance for groups willing to make demands through violent means. 40
Analysis and Conclusion Having briefly examined what FPI is, its identity as a vigilante force and now more strongly as a religiously motivated organisation, and its relationship with democracy, the question now arises as to whether or not it is fair to say that FPI’s existence challenges ideas that democracy and Islam are compatible? As is apparent from the discussion above, FPI’s religiously justified but still violent and illegal actions clearly cause social unrest and disharmony, show a lack of respect for human rights, and are thus undermining democracy. This sets a bad example for other civil society groups on how issues can be resolved, especially how the state can be intimidated into submission. The lack of any firm and tangible response from police and the government only acts to further undermine democracy. However, this is not to say that Islam and democracy are incompatible, even in groups like FPI. The broader, but by no means blind, support it has received from the general public can be interpreted as a desire for increased democracy and an increased role for Islam within a democratic Indonesian state in order to realise aspirations that are common to both Islamic and democratic traditions. Many Muslims of Indonesia seem to be calling for a greater role for Islam in the Indonesian state, FPI being just one of many groups. The issue is less about whether Islam and democracy are compatible, and more about what kind of Islam is most compatible with democracy. It is vital that all civil society groups be invited to contribute to this discourse. 40
USINDO & TAF, ‘Islam in Modern Indonesia’, p. 29; Greg Barton, 2008, Forthcoming ‘Indonesia’ in Barry Rubin (ed.) Global Survey of Islamism, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
As answers are sought, groups like FPI will soon find that it is no longer sufficient to just advocate a greater role for Islam, rather they are going to have to start defining what kind of Islam they refer to. This will do much to normalise their demands. Demands will also be moderated with the establishment and consolidation of democracy in Indonesia as the political environment is more influential to Islamic political movements than any internal dynamic. Many governments in Muslim countries, especially the more secularly inclined ones, have sought to counter radical Islamic forces by introducing syari’ah based policies. However, in a democratic nation-state like Indonesia, a stronger role for ‘true’ Islam which emphasises social justice and welfare is perhaps the best way to counter these groups. In fact many scholars see the development of political Islam as a positive thing, 41 especially as it coincides with a strong demand for democratisation.42 The future really needs to be about giving Muslims the space, freedom and time to struggle, each in their own ways, for the mind and soul of Islam.
Wanandi, ‘Islam in Indonesia’, p. 112. John Esposito and John Voll, 1996, Islam and Democracy, Oxford University Press, p. 3.
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