Antidemocratic messages on state TV
M. Iqbal Ahnaf
The Jakarta Post
I was struck by a report that state-owned television station TVRI recently allowed Muslim organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) to use its nationwide broadcast coverage to challenge Indonesia's democracy.
The HTI is the largest organization in Indonesia openly calling for the overthrow of democracy and its replacement with a caliphate.
TVRI aired HTI's national gathering called 'Muktamar Khilafah' that brought about 100,000 people to Bung Karno Stadium on June 6, although not live.
The word muktamar is misleading. It is the Arabic word for congress and is a term commonly used by major Muslim organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, to call its annual assembly to discuss organizational directions, programs and democratically select their functions.
HTI's muktamar was only filled with a series of speeches by its leaders. People gathered to hear the speeches, but unlike the muktamar of NU and Muhammadiyah that are open for public observation, the HTI's process to select organizational functionaries was not for public observation. Until today, the organization's leader is still unclear.
'Campakkan demokrasi, tegakkan khilafah [Abandon democracy, establish a caliphate],' shouted Rahmat L. Labib, one of the speakers at the event.
The HTI believes that democracy belongs to infidels, which contradicts the belief of the majority of Indonesian clerics who deem democracy to be Islamic. If HTI's message is taken consistently, Indonesian Muslims who participate in a democratic process such as election can be considered as practicing an infidel system.
Why should TVRI's decision to broadcast the HTI event beg a question? TVRI is funded by the state and therefore it is responsible for protecting the existing political system and national interests.
The HTI has the mission of not only replacing democracy with a caliphate, but also undermining the sense of national identity and turning it into Islamic identity.
For HTI, nationalism is a Western tool to destroy Islam, which runs counter to the belief of Muslim leaders that nationalism is an integral part of being a Muslim. A famous phrase of NU leaders suggests: 'loving the nation is part of Islamic beliefs'.
Democracy should respect freedom for all. Antidemocratic movements like the HTI are granted freedom by democracy as long as they do not engage in illegal activities.
This is something that HTI leaders should be more grateful for. It is unthinkable that the dissent practiced by the HTI would be tolerated under a non-democratic system like a caliphate.
In democracy, the state has no right to persecute legal political dissent from the likes of HTI. However, the question should be raised when state bodies like TVRI play a role in the mobilization of a movement that harms democracy and nationalism.
The need for the state and civil society to strengthen national identity is more prominent today. Indonesia is facing the challenge of increasing polarization in communities based on religious identity. The sense of national identity that crosscuts communal identities is critical in a diverse country like Indonesia. This is why our founding fathers, including Muslim leaders, accepted Pancasila as the state's philosophical foundation that binds this religiously diverse nation together.
Prominent political scientists like Arend Lijphart and Donald L. Horowitz have warned of the unique challenge facing democracy in pluralistic societies.
There has been much evidence that democracy cannot survive or develop in countries that suffer sectarian polarization. An example of failing democracy due to sectarian polarization is Pakistan.
The term 'harmful' is used here not in the sense of HTI's prospects of bringing down democracy. Despite democratic deficits here, a December 2010 survey of the Indonesian Survey Institute found that 74.3 percent of respondents chose democracy as a political system over other systems such as socialism or an Islamic state. Voter turnout in Indonesia is one of the highest in the world, which only shows that Indonesia's commitment to democracy is unquestionable.
This is actually the tricky part in responding to HTI. Skepticism toward the concrete political impact of HTI and sympathy of its non-violent strategy has led many to overlook its potential in polarizing society.
More important than this unlikely outcome, HTI's role in polarizing Indonesian society could create a challenging environment for the consolidation of democracy in Indonesia.
Such an environment is reflected by inter- and intra-religious tensions that seem to be increasing in many parts of Indonesia. Intolerance and feelings of religious insecurity have made the life of minority groups difficult under the current administration.
Religious sects like the Ahmadiyah and Shia, which lived in peace in the past, now must live with constant persecution. Identity politics that exploit religious sentiments are paramount at all levels of elections.
It is regrettable that a state agency like TVRI ' which should be protecting national integration ' is promoting a movement that is harmful to democratization and nationalism.
The openness of government agencies as shown by TVRI in the HTI event is not new.
Last year, when I visited Kalimantan, a local activist showed me a copy of a certificate for participating in training for high school teachers, jointly held by the local office of the Education and Culture Ministry and the local branch of HTI. Such training clearly helps HTI deliver its narratives to a wider audience.
Civil society forces in Indonesia, such as NU, have been battling against what they call 'transnational ideologies' that threaten national integrity. Government agencies could do more to help civil society promote democracy, rather than open the door to antidemocratic dissent and religious sectarianism.
The writer is faculty member at the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS), Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta.
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