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Jakarta Post

EDITORIAL: Witchhunt: A deja vu

  • EDITORIAL

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, July 31, 2017   /   07:53 am
EDITORIAL: Witchhunt: A deja vu Standing for the rights: Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia members and sympathizers of Islamic organizations from Greater Jakarta stage a rally to protest the the 2017 Regulation in a Lieu of Law (Perppu) on Mass Organizations in Jakarta on July 17. (JP/Ibrahim Irsyad)

And the witch-hunt begins. The threat of the dismissal of university lecturers accused of having links to Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) harks back to the 1960s witch-hunt against anyone associated with communists, along with similar crackdowns on “reds” across the United States.

With this new weapon, the new rule banning mass organizations deemed incompatible with the Pancasila state ideology, the government has banned HTI, which campaigns for a caliphate.

Recently, Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir said state-employed lecturers who were HTI members would be sent three written warnings, each valid for 30 days, to leave the organization or be fired.

Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said regional heads must identify any official with HTI links. Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat suggested civil servants linked to HTI or similar groups should have their citizenship revoked.

Many of us cheer the government’s firmness on HTI and like-minded groups who preach that a caliphate would solve all worldly problems.

No thanks, we prefer the option where no one can hide behind a God. But commitment to democracy faces a test with the instincts to crush HTI and its supporters.

Clearly, we haven’t learned from history, when the state and the army, helped massively by the people egged on by religious figures, hunted down “reds” among students, educators, neighbors and even family members.

Hundreds of thousands were arbitrarily arrested and executed; others vanished. Their offspring remain stigmatized.

The role of campuses in the past witchhunt came to light after testimonies presented at the International People’s Tribunal on the 1965 events last year at The Hague in the Netherlands, where several elderly exiles, including former students, have died.

As we have yet to resolve this ugly chapter, can we guarantee the traumatic events will not recur? True, we will not likely go around butchering people in the name of Pancasila.

Still, jumping on the witchhunt bandwagon is tempting, given the mad savagery of the Islamic State (IS) movement, which also appeals to Indonesians outside HTI. But with the possibility of HTI members going underground, a more effective option might be to strengthen our democracy and the critical thinking of our citizens. Besides, crushing anyone today is futile. A Gadjah Mada University (UGM) lecturer who is on the list immediately expressed defiance, saying that his preaching would continue despite the ban.

The attraction will remain for simple solutions with little need to think, with blind trust in the authorities monopolizing interpretation of the law of God. Today’s distress in facing growing extremism exposes us to similar yearnings for quick solutions.

However, what is needed is strong leadership in protecting all citizens. Law enforcers should no longer stand by as vigilantes intimidate anyone seen as infidels, just because leaders fear upsetting Islamists.

Critical citizens will not be fooled into defending God or the religious fervors of nationalism.