Jakarta faces strug­gle to ban Is­lamist hard­lin­ers

Jakarta seeks to ban hard­line group af­ter for­mer gover­nor is jailed for blas­phemy

Financial Times USA - - FRONT PAGE - J ON EMONT — JAKARTA

Many In­done­sians fear their mod­er­ate tra­di­tions are un­der siege af­ter a hard­line Is­lamist group suc­cess­fully pushed for the jail­ing of Jakarta’s for­mer gover­nor, known as Ahok, on blas­phemy charges. But now the govern­ment could strug­gle in its bid to ban Hizbut Tahrir. The con­ser­va­tive courts could block the move. It could also back­fire, ob­servers say, if group mem­bers em­brace the vi­o­lent tac­tics the or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fi­cially re­jects.

The jail­ing for blas­phemy this month of Jakarta’s for­mer gover­nor raised fears that the mod­er­ate tra­di­tions of the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion were un­der siege.

Now the In­done­sian govern­ment is fight­ing back with a drive to out­law a hard­line Mus­lim group linked to the mass protests against him.

“Hizbut Tahrir’s ac­tiv­i­ties threaten the sovereignty of our na­tion,” se­cu­rity min­is­ter Wi­ranto said last week, ar­gu­ing that the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s goals of es­tab­lish­ing an in­ter­na­tional caliphate were in con­flict with the demo­cratic ideals of Pan­casila, In­done­sia’s state ide­ol­ogy.

Many In­done­sians have be­come spooked by the grow­ing sway of hard­line Is­lamist groups af­ter they cam­paigned for the elec­toral de­feat and im­pris­on­ment of Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama, bet­ter known as Ahok.

Both the first eth­nic Chi­nese and the first Chris­tian to run the coun­try’s cap­i­tal, he was ac­cused of in­sult­ing Is­lam by re­fer­ring to a verse in the Ko­ran dur­ing a cam­paign speech. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of demon­stra­tors joined ral­lies against him.

The anti-Ahok cam­paign was widely seen as a pre­lude to the next na­tional elec­tion in 2019, when con­ser­va­tive and Is­lamist forces will seek to de­feat Joko Wi­dodo, In­done­sia’s plu­ral­ist pres­i­dent who is pop­u­larly known as Jokowi and an Ahok ally.

The ef­fort to ban the group is “part of a much big­ger plan the palace has to limit the im­pact of this kind of Is­lamist mo­bil­i­sa­tion against Jokowi”, said Gre­gory Fealy of Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity.

Hizbut Tahrir, which has op­er­a­tions world­wide, seeks the non-vi­o­lent es­tab­lish­ment of a caliphate for all the world’s Mus­lims, which would be ruled ac­cord­ing to Is­lamic law. It boasts tens of thou­sands of mem­bers in In­done­sia, where it has op­er­ated for decades.

Many ob­servers say the govern­ment may strug­gle to ban the group. In­done- sia’s con­ser­va­tive courts could block the de­ci­sion, and even if they do not, ap­proval would only come af­ter a lengthy le­gal process. The move could also back­fire, ob­servers say, if mem­bers go un­der­ground and start em­brac­ing the vi­o­lent tac­tics the or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fi­cially re­jects.

“It looks like it was a hastily made de­ci­sion,” Pro­fes­sor Fealy said. “There should have been a care­ful process to dis­solve an or­gan­i­sa­tion in a democ­racy.”

Some mod­er­ate Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tions have sig­nalled their sup­port for the govern­ment’s move. The youth divi­sion of Nahd­latul Ulama, the coun­try’s largest, has re­cently worked with the po­lice to break up Hizbut Tahrir gath­er­ings in cities around the ar­chi­pel­ago.

“The govern­ment has to be firmer,” said Yaqut Cho­lil, the na­tional leader of NU’s youth divi­sion, a 2m-strong group. Mr Cho­lil said if the ban pro­ceeded, his or­gan­i­sa­tion would help the po­lice en­sure that for­mer mem­bers did not con­tinue their ac­tiv­i­ties in se­cret.

Mr Wi­ranto did not say whether the govern­ment in­tended to ban other hard­line groups. How­ever, an ob­vi­ous con­tender would be the Is­lamic De­fend­ers Front (FPI), which was at the fore­front of the cam­paign to jail Ahok.

Habib Rizieq, the group’s leader, has spent the past few weeks over­seas af­ter be­ing sum­moned by po­lice for ques­tion­ing about sala­cious mes­sages he is ac­cused of send­ing via a mes­sag­ing app to a woman who is not his wife. But there has been no for­mal in­di­ca­tion that po­lice want to dis­band the group.

Us­tadz Sla­mat, a spokesper­son for the FPI, said on Tues­day that Mr Rizieq was due to re­turn to In­done­sia and turn him­self in to the po­lice.

“The FPI is use­ful to po­lice and politi- cians,” said Yo­hanes Su­laiman, a se­cu­rity an­a­lyst. He noted that the FPI co-or­di­nated its ac­tiv­i­ties closely with state se­cu­rity ser­vices and politi­cians, whereas the more ide­o­log­i­cal Hizbut Tahrir, which gen­er­ally en­cour­ages its mem­bers not to vote to avoid le­git­imis­ing democ­racy, “is not very use­ful for main­stream pol­i­tics”.

The FPI dis­agrees with the move against Hizbut Tahrir. “Our sug­ges­tion is that there is a di­a­logue be­tween the govern­ment and Hizbut Tahrir In­done­sia,” said Mr Sla­mat, adding that dis­band­ing it was “a vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights”.

The group is not alone in op­pos­ing the de­ci­sion. “I don’t think it’s a par­tic­u­larly wise move,” said Prof Fealy. “In Bri­tain and Aus­tralia, one thing that ended up pre­vent­ing bans is in­tel­li­gence agen­cies say­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion will go un­der­ground and be­come harder to track.”

Ba­gus In­da­hono/EPA

Vigil: sup­port­ers of Jakarta’s jailed for­mer gover­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama, bet­ter known as Ahok, gather to de­mand his re­lease out­side Jakarta’s High Court of­fice on Tues­day

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