Source: UCA News
By Benedict Rogers, who is East Asia team leader at human rights organization CSW and author of ‘Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril — the rise of religious intolerance across the archipelago.’
Re-elected president can afford to be brave to tackle religious intolerance in his second term
Outside the Jakarta home of hard-line Muslim cleric Habib Rizieq, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), I sat with his security guard on election day and discussed Indonesia’s polls.
Rizieq himself is in exile in Saudi Arabia after fleeing two years ago following pornography charges, but his home still serves as the headquarters of the FPI, a vigilante movement well known for attacking Christians, Ahmadiyya and other minorities and forcing places of worship to close. I have documented their abuses many times over the past decade, and I have met former members, but this was the first time I had sat down to talk with a serving FPI member — indeed, one who belongs to the associated Islamic Defenders Army.
I asked him about FPI’s vision for Indonesia. “Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country. We want Islamic teachings to be implemented in full in every area of life,” he said. “Those who do not implement them, we give them a warning, and then we send in our Islamic Defenders Army.” I asked why FPI was supporting Prabowo Subianto for president. “Because he has promised us he will implement our vision,” he said.
Indonesia has just concluded what many believe was the most divisive election in recent years, in which religion and identity politics played a bigger role than ever. Prabowo built a coalition of hard-line Islamist groups in support of his bid for the presidency, leading incumbent President Joko Widodo — widely regarded as a moderate and a defender of pluralism and minority rights — to choose conservative Muslim cleric Mar’uf Amin as his running mate to neutralize the religion factor. That move may have neutralized his opponents’ ability to call his own Islamic credentials into question, but it did nothing to remove religion from the electoral discourse.
Walking around polling stations in Jakarta yesterday, it was clear from conversations with voters that religion mattered. When asked about her criteria for voting, one elderly woman in a black hijab said: “It is important that the candidate I support has the same religion as me.” And 79-year-old Mohammad Thohir expressed disappointment with Widodo for giving too many jobs to Chinese people. “He only got elected because of the Chinese and the Christians,” he said. “I want that to change now. That’s why I choose Prabowo.”