Angry young men: The Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) protests outside the Malaysian Embassy in 2009. FBR members have been allegedly connected to several incidents of violence in recent years. JP/J. AdigunaThe leader of one of Jakarta’s most notorious organizations says that over the past several years the increasing size and influence of mass Betawi organizations has not only shifted the constellation of players in the city’s underworld outfits, but has also helped law enforcers more easily maintain security and stability in the Indonesian capital.
In a recent interview, Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) chairman Lutfi Hakim claimed that his organization, along with other Betawi organizations, including the Betawi Family Forum (Forkabi) and the Laskar Jayakarta (Jakarta Warriors) group, had played a major role in buffering the destructive impacts of the “competition” involving ethnic-based groups in the capital, which have long provided security and protection services for various businesses, including entertainment, nightlife and prostitution.
“Before the reemergence of mass Betawi organizations in the early 2000s, Jakarta’s underworld used to be disputed among many ethnic gangs mostly concerned with extorting business owners while at the same time frequently fighting against each other to secure additional concessions,” the 39-year-old father of three told The Jakarta Post in his modest office in Cakung, East Jakarta.
“However, with more and more local organizations, including the FBR, growing stronger, these gangs have no choice but to operate their businesses ‘more properly’ and avoid unnecessary brawls, as their activities have now become the subject of attention of strong, well-organized native Jakartans.”
According to Lutfi, there are at least six prominent ethnic-based gangs in the city, with the 10-year-old FBR, which oversees more than 350 branches throughout Greater Jakarta, being the biggest and most influential.
The other five gangs come from Ambon in Maluku, Madura Island in East Java, East Nusa Tenggara, Makassar in South Sulawesi and Papua.
The influence of the five groups, however, had been diminishing mainly due to internal disputes or late leadership regeneration, Lutfi added.
“Members of the Ambonese group, for example, are currently split under the leadership of Umar Kei and John Kei. One leader of the Madurese group, Haji Muhammad Rawi, has been reluctant to let his son take over the group’s leadership from him,” said Lutfi, who took over the FBR leadership from his uncle, the late charismatic cleric Fadloli El Muhir, in 2009.
Like Don Vito Corleone in the famous novel The Godfather, all FBR members who meet Lutfi must show their respect by kissing the latter’s right hand. What makes him different from Corleone are perhaps the black BlackBerry handset in his pocket and a leather-coated touchscreen tablet in his left hand.
The Betawi Consultative Body (Bamus), which supervises the activities of all Betawi organizations, recorded that 114 affiliate organizations had registered with the body, with most of them claiming to protect the local Betawi culture and territories from non-native gangs and influences.
Among the organizations, the FBR and Forkabi are perhaps the most well-known Betawi organizations, as they are renowned for operating protection rackets, particularly targeting businesses, and often make headlines for their involvement in street brawls, including inter-ethnic fighting.
In 2008, for example, the FBR, along with the hard-line Islam Defenders Front, ambushed activists from the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion while they were rallying at the National Monument to support religious pluralism.
A year later, hundreds of Forkabi members clashed with a group of Madurese in Duri Kosambi subdistrict, Cengkareng, West Jakarta. One Forkabi local leader was killed in the incident.
The police, however, insisted the riot had been triggered by an individual and was not an ethnic clash.
“As long as the government fails to improve the welfare of native [Jakarta] residents, it is difficult to see these groups staying out of money-driven disputes,” Bamus chairman Nachrowi Ramli said.