Following the decision of some local police leaders to back a campaign by firebrand Muslim groups to crack down on Christmas celebrations, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has instructed National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian to uphold discipline among members of the force and make efforts to prevent their power from being abused by hardline groups.
During a meeting with Tito at the State Palace on Monday, Jokowi said that the police force must work only to implement official rules and regulations.
“Our existing rules are laws, government regulations, presidential regulations, ministerial regulations and so on, including a regulation from the police chief himself. That should be the ground rule,” Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said.
Jokowi summoned Tito on Monday following the decision by police chiefs in Bekasi in West Java and Kulon Progo regency in Yogyakarta to issue circulars ordering local officers to uphold an edict issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) banning Muslims from wearing Christmas attributes, such as Santa hats. The MUI issued the fatwa on Dec. 14.
Bekasi Police issued its circular on Dec. 15 while Kulonprogo Police released its circular on Dec. 17.
Over the weekend, police in Surabaya, East Java, also came under fire for their failure to prevent members of the hardline Islam Defenders Front (FPI) from cracking down on business establishments that allowed their employees to wear Christmas attributes.
Earlier on Monday, Tito ordered police officers to get tough on members and activists of hardline groups who carried out intolerant acts.
“I instruct all police officers to arrest and take action against those who want to promote disorder. We shouldn’t bow to those groups,” Tito said.
Tito also ordered members of the corps to keep an eye on groups that carried out intolerant acts under the guise of publicity programs for the MUI edicts.
“Also, if we find some groups that carry out raids while claiming to be conducting ‘familiarization’, but in fact bring fear to people, we must take the initiative to stop them,” Tito said.
The police chief said that he would discuss the issue with the MUI in the coming days.
“I will talk with the MUI so that they take tolerance and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [the country’s motto of “unity in diversity”] into consideration when they want to issue a fatwa,” he added.
Jan Sihar Aritonang, a professor at the Theology School Jakarta, said that the MUI had wrongly identified symbols of consumerism, such as the Santa hat, as part of Christianity.
“Production and distribution of such attributes are not directly related to Christianity. Until now, Christian churches have never reached any consensus about what could be considered as attributes or symbols for Christmas. They are just a tradition in some churches, particularly in Europe and America,” Jan said.
Responding to the actions of the FPI in Surabaya, the MUI said that any Muslim groups that took the initiative to disseminate information regarding the Christmas edict should not use force against business owners who were unaware of the call.
“The information about the fatwa can be relayed by sending one person to inform shop owners about it, or a letter should be enough,” said the MUI’s edict division head, Hasanuddin AF.
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin meanwhile said that no private organizations had the authority to conduct such raids.
Ina Parlina and Bambang Muryanto contributed to this story.
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