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COMMENTARY: Why AILA is a bigger threat to freedom than the FPI

  • Ary Hermawan

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, August 30, 2016 | 06:51 am
COMMENTARY: Why AILA is a bigger threat to freedom than the FPI God's soldiers — Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members express their anger during a recent protest. (Tempo/-)

The Islam Defenders Front (FPI) — imagine its members roaming the streets of Jakarta, hunting down Playboy magazines and vandalizing cheap liquor stores — may no longer epitomize religious conservatism in Indonesia.

Its position has now been taken over by a group of preachers and academics with the exact same agenda but with a much less threatening moniker and, alas, a much bigger chance to achieve what the FPI militants can only dream of.

The Family Love Alliance (AILA), which aspires to make the country more “civilized” by “strengthening family values”, is now at the forefront of the conservative movement in the country.

Unlike the FPI, which often acts outside or above the law, AILA is exploiting the existing legal system to turn law enforcers into a morality police, so that later they will practically do what the FPI has been doing for years.

The group has requested that the Constitutional Court change the definitions of adultery, rape and sodomy in the Criminal Code. The purpose of this judicial review petition is clear: to outlaw any consensual sexual relationship outside of marriage, including same-sex relationships.

AILA, which also means “big family” in Arabic, has gained support from academics from prestigious universities, such as the University of Indonesia, the Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB) and Padjajaran University.

Hamid Chalid, a constitutional law professor from UI, for example, testified in the latest hearing at the court, where he argued that the Criminal Code in its current form was “too liberal”, as it was made by the Dutch. “Our country has silently legalized sex outside of marriage, rape of men and sex between same-sex couples,” he told the bench. “Our law has been so liberal because we have allowed it to be like that for too long. Is that what we want?”

Rizieq Shihab, the firebrand FPI leader, could have said the same thing, but he is not a law professor. Rizieq obviously lacks the authority to sway the opinions of Constitutional Court justices. Hamid, on the other hand, is a card-carrying constitutional law expert. It is no surprise that some of the Constitutional Court justices seem to agree with what he said.

For years, the FPI has been a thorn in the side of democratic Indonesia, but it has always been on the fringe. Many Muslims, even conservative ones, have been alienated by its despicable antics. I have no doubt that if a foreigner asks affluent, educated and conservative Muslims whether the FPI could be the face of Indonesian Islam today, they will quickly say no.

But a different answer may come up if they are asked about AILA. The group is mainstream in so many ways. Not only does it have a much more benign moniker and a much more sophisticated social media strategy than a vigilante group like the FPI, it is also supported by the educated, including professors, and is working within the legal corridor.

Its stated goal — strengthening families — is so mainstream that its legal move at the Constitutional Court has received the backing of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), which has argued that casual sex should be banned to protect Indonesian children.

But this does not mean AILA does not have the same goal as the FPI, which is to create a moralistic, religious state. AILA’s chairman, Bachtiar Nasir, is the secretary-general of the Council of Young Indonesian Intellectuals and Ulemas (MIUMI) and a graduate from the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Bachtiar has long been rallying against homosexuality on religious grounds.

“Learn from history. Religion says the Sodomites were cursed by God and were destroyed. We have to believe that there will be an epic disaster if we condone the LGBTs,” he said in reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as quoted by republika.co.id.

That said, despite its secular name, the so-called Family Love Alliance is evidently motivated by the same religious zeal as the FPI. The only difference is that they have greater public support, the patience and the know-how to achieve their goals through painstaking, but more effective, legal means.

The Constitutional Court, which has leaned toward conservatism in the past few years, has shown indications it will accept at least part of their petition. In any case, they will not stop at the court. The House of Representatives is concurrently deliberating a revision to the Criminal Code, and AILA members have started lobbying legislators to push their agenda.

With greater legitimacy, something the FPI is clearly lacking, AILA has become an effective driving force of conservatism and, therefore, a much bigger threat to civil liberties than some random raids by FPI militants every Ramadhan.

So maybe you need to save your daily complaints about Rizieq and his minions on Facebook. The culture war between Indonesian progressives and their retrograde rivals has been taken to a whole new level, with the latter now taking the battle from the blogoshpere to the legal sphere.

And, be warned, this battle will be decisive.

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