In­done­sia protests awaken fears for mi­nor­ity Chi­nese A coun­try with a his­tory of lash­ing out

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The cap­i­tal of Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity In­done­sia is on edge ahead of what is ex­pected to be a se­cond mas­sive protest by con­ser­va­tive Mus­lims against its Chris­tian gov­er­nor and no group more so than its Chi­nese mi­nor­ity. They have rea­son to be con­cerned. The move­ment against the gov­er­nor, who is be­ing pros­e­cuted for al­legedly in­sult­ing the Qu­ran, has over­flowed with racial slurs against his Chi­nese an­ces­try, an un­nerv­ing sign in a coun­try with a his­tory of lash­ing out vi­o­lently against the eth­nic mi­nor­ity that makes up 1 per­cent of its 250 mil­lion peo­ple.

The first ma­jor protest against Gov. Ba­suki “Ahok” Tja­haja Pur­nama on Nov 4 drew more than 100,000 peo­ple to Jakarta’s streets. Some held up ban­ners call­ing for Ahok to be killed or de­cry­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence. It ended in vi­o­lence, with one death and dozens in­jured after hard-lin­ers at­tacked po­lice. A sep­a­rate mob tried to in­vade the apart­ment com­plex where Ahok lives in the north of the city and van­dal­ized prop­erty in the area, which is home to many Chi­nese.

Hard-line or­ga­niz­ers of the protest, who were un­sat­is­fied by a po­lice de­ci­sion ear­lier this month to for­mally name Ahok as a sus­pect in the blas­phemy case in­stead of ar­rest­ing him, are promis­ing an­other gi­ant rally on Fri­day. After po­lice pres­sure, they have agreed to con­cen­trate the rally around a na­tional mon­u­ment in cen­tral Jakarta and in­sist it will be peace­ful. The furor over Ahok, sparked by his crit­i­cism of de­trac­tors who ar­gued the Qu­ran pro­hibits Mus­lims from hav­ing a non-Mus­lim leader, has high­lighted re­li­gious and racial fault lines in In­done­sia, the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim na­tion, and the grow­ing chal­lenge from pro­po­nents of Shariah law to its sec­u­lar sys­tem of gov­ern­ment.

For Chi­nese In­done­sians, the con­tro­versy has awak­ened painful memories of the mass protests that ousted late dic­ta­tor Suharto dur­ing the 1998 Asian fi­nan­cial crisis. Boil­ing re­sent­ment against im­mi­grant Chi­nese ty­coons who prof­ited from ties to Suharto and his fa­mously cor­rupt fam­ily spilled over into mob at­tacks on Chi­nese prop­erty and peo­ple, killing many. Nearly two decades later, Jakarta’s Chi­na­town is still scarred by the burned out shells of build­ings torched in the chaos.

“Cer­tainly as Chi­nese de­scen­dants, we are still trau­ma­tized by the ri­ots in 1998,” said Cle­ment Alexan­der, a gro­cery store owner in a nar­row lane of the bustling Pe­tak Sem­bi­lan mar­ket in Chi­na­town. “We heard that hor­ri­ble event may hap­pen again if the gov­ern­ment fails to con­trol the protests. It’s scared us, but we can­not do any­thing ex­cept pray,” he said.

“For rich eth­nic Chi­nese, they could flee to Sin­ga­pore or to other coun­tries, but for low­er­class peo­ple like me it is rather dif­fi­cult, we just sur­vive and de­pend on the gov­ern­ment for pro­tec­tion.” When Ahok in 2012 be­came the first Chi­nese to be elected deputy gov­er­nor of Jakarta, and the first Chris­tian in half a cen­tury, it was seen as a sign of the plu­ral­is­tic tol­er­ance fostered by the mod­er­ate form of Is­lam prac­ticed in In­done­sia.

But his rise to gov­er­nor in 2014 to re­place po­lit­i­cal ally Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo after his elec­tion as pres­i­dent was un­palat­able to hard-lin­ers. With the sup­port of mod­er­ates that hope to gain from Ahok’s fall, they have el­e­vated their agenda to the na­tional stage, and re­vealed that in­tol­er­ant in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Is­lam adapted from the Mid­dle East have made greater in­roads than be­lieved.

Ahok is run­ning for a se­cond term as gov­er­nor in elec­tions due in Fe­bru­ary but since the blas­phemy ac­cu­sa­tions erupted in Septem­ber, his sky-high pop­u­lar­ity in opin­ion polls has melted away. A pro-tol­er­ance rally in Jakarta on Nov. 19 at­tracted less than 10,000 peo­ple. A mil­i­tary-or­ga­nized event in the city on Wed­nes­day meant to show­case re­spect for all of In­done­sia’s six of­fi­cially rec­og­nized re­li­gions was mainly pop­u­lated by soldiers, school­child­ren and po­lice, who had no choice about at­tend­ing.

For the Nov 4 protest, the nor­mally clogged streets of Jakarta were nearly emp­tied of cars, em­bassies closed, coun­tries such as Aus­tralia is­sued ad­vi­sories against travel to the city and many busi­nesses shut­tered for the day, par­tic­u­larly in Chi­na­town. “We are afraid the ri­ots in 1998 would be re­peated. But I don’t want to talk about that hor­ri­ble event,” said Jhony Tan, owner of a store sell­ing Bud­dhist wor­ship para­pher­na­lia.

“I hope the gov­ern­ment can han­dle this is­sue, so there’s no neg­a­tive im­pact to any other com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially to eth­nic Chi­nese here. If they fail, In­done­sia will be ru­ined,” he said. “I’m sure the ma­jor­ity of In­done­sian peo­ple are will­ing to see that this prob­lem has noth­ing to do with us.” Chris­tianto Wibisono, an eth­nic Chi­nese busi­ness­man and for­mer gov­ern­ment ad­viser whose home was burned in the 1998 ri­ots, said that de­spite com­mu­nal ten­sions, he is hope­ful the gov­ern­ment will main­tain calm dur­ing Fri­day’s protest and be­yond. — AP

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