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The Jakarta Post
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The FPI and the effectiveness of social sanctions

  • M. Syafi’i Anwar

Cambridge, Massachusetts | Thu, April 5 2012 | 11:24 am

Despite facing protests and rejection, the FPI (Islam Defenders Front) seems to continue its violent actions. However, Aboeprijadi Santoso’s article titled “Muslim ‘jago’ FPI will never die, but fade away” (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 27) is not only interesting, but also challenging.

In his profound analysis, Santoso suggests that the FPI is a typically urban jago that uses religious mantras, physical skills to send tough messages by pretending to protect society. Surprisingly, he also has an optimistic prediction: This group will decline and finally fade away or, alternatively, find another “projects” to survive.

I share his analysis, particularly for its relation to current religious and political developments. Yet, there is an effort that could be taken into consideration: mobilized social sanction.

Let’s begin with a simple question: is it possible to see “Indonesia without FPI” as proposed by pro-pluralism activists in Jakarta?

The answer is doubtful. So far, there has been no substantial effort from the government to disband
the FPI.

Meanwhile, most ordinary people do not want to take the risk if they get involved in fighting against the FPI — let alone ordinary people. Even the police seem to be unable to control this group.

Consequently, it has been growing significantly across the country over the last several years.

Last year, the FPI threatened the government, declaring that it would conduct a jihad (holy war) to topple the Yudhoyono administration if he did not disband Ahmadiyah. Nonetheless, the government did not give any response to this threat.

In fact, the pro-pluralism demonstrations against the FPI have been more spontaneous instead of well-organized and mobilized action.

It was simply a follow-up on messages that were disseminated through social media such as SMS, Facebook and Twitter, and inspired by the news about the rejection of the Dayak community in Central Kalimantan of the establishment of an FPI local branch.

Although their initiative is appreciated, it was unfortunate that the number of participants was quite limited to only around 50 people.

Fortunately, their action was covered by both print and electronic media, so their mission has been widely spread to the public.

It basically reminded the government and the Indonesian people to take action against any organization comittted to violent and antipluralism.

However, even such a small demonstration was not free from violence. There were two “mysterious” people who attacked them although they were surrounded by hundreds of police.

Why were the police unable to protect the demonstration? It is hard to know. Yet, the so-called “National Monument Tragedy” on June 1, 2008, was such a lesson learned. At that time, the FPI attacked rally participants of the National Alliance for Religious Freedom and Belief (AKKBP).

It was merely a peaceful rally to commemorate the birth of our state ideology, Pancasila. Around 3,000 members of interfaith communities participated in the rally.

It was shocking that a well-organized and mobilized FPI paramilitary group brutally attacked them. More than 70 people were wounded and some were hospitalized due to serious injuries, including myself.

Yet, the police only came after the FPI struck.

Based on the evidence, it seems that there is something wrong with government’s policies in controlling religious-based organizations committed to acts of violence.

Pro-pluralism activists have argued that the government maintains such laissez-faire politics, which fosters indecisiveness and uncertainty in response to growing religious radicalism.

Still, there has been no significant action until now.

In response to this phenomenon, the Nahdlatul Ulama-affiliated Anshor Youth Movement in East Java strongly urged the government to dissolve the FPI.

Yet, the idea of disbanding the FPI is not a guarantee that religious violence will cease to exist. Meanwhile, the government is planning to implement the Law on Social Organizations to control any groups committed to acts of violence.

Indeed, the disbandment of FPI may seem to be the best solution to resolve the problem. However, if the government tries to dissolve the FPI, their leaders would quickly reestablish the group under a new name, but with the same mission and activities. Moreover, the law was issued by the New Order to ensure its political hegemony and surpress civil society movements.

There would be strong opposition from pro-democracy and human rights activists if the government wanted to implement it.

Frankly, although I was one of FPI’s victims in 2008, I disagree with the dissolution of the FPI. From the perspective of democracy and human rights, the FPI has the right to exist. Nonetheless, it has to follow the rule of law and avoid violent and uncivilized acts.

Furthermore, it is crucial to improve people’s awareness and massive public campaigns against any acts of violence. People must be united within the spirit of “zero tolerance” of religious-based violence perpetrated by all groups, not just the FPI.

Such a movement should be based on a peace-loving mission and take action to isolate groups committed to acts of violence.

The role of both the print and electronic media is quite significant, particularly in promoting this movement publicly. Learning from the June 1, 2008 tragedy, the media effectively spread news about the brutal attack of FPI.

At that time, many people condemned the FPI and strongly urged the government to act against the group. Hundreds of police finally raided FPI’s headquarters and sent its leaders to jail. For a certain period, the FPI underwent great social sanction and was alienated from the public.

It is clear that social sanction is sometimes much more effective to counter organizations that easily resort to violence, particularly if the government is reluctant to control them.

However, it will need spirit, solidarity, and sustainable public campaign of “zero tolerance” against the culture of violence in the society, not just a temporary and sporadic action. Pro-pluralism proponents, human rights activists, interfaith leaders, moderate Muslim organizations and the media, should be able to raise people’s awaraness and public support in countering religious radicalism.

Finally, Indonesia needs “friendly Islam”, not “angry Islam”, as Islam is a religion of peace, not violence. The FPI needs to change its dakwah (proselytization) in the future; or else it will be alienated by society forever.

The writer is former executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism and a senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.


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