Indonesian protests highlight fears of ‘creeping Islamization’


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The sight of tens of thousands of Islamists marching through the Indonesian capital this month, demanding that its Christian governor be jailed for blasphemy brought back recurrent fears of “creeping Islamization” in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, where a more tolerant brand of Islam has been the norm, The New York Times reports:

But analysts here saw something different: a protest that was really about cutthroat, secular-dominated domestic politics, and an attempt to strike a blow at President Joko Widodo.

indonesia democrasi“The protest really was a picture of how radicalism is way more dangerous to Indonesia than other Muslim-majority nations,” said Yahya Cholil Staquf, the secretary general to the supreme council of Indonesia’s widely respected Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization.

“The masses have this negative feeling toward Ahok, and all this political maneuvering has been increasing their negative emotions toward him,” he said, referring to Mr. Basuki by his nickname. “This makes Muslim leaders, who are in fact moderate, afraid to speak out against it, because they are afraid of the masses.”

“If you look at their posters during the demonstration, there is no mention about banning alcohol, banning gay and lesbian groups, nothing like what they normally protest about,” Azyumardi Azra, a prominent Muslim scholar and former rector of the State Islamic University in Jakarta, said of the Nov. 4 protest.

“It’s purely political, and they are using the blasphemy issue as an entry point to challenge Jokowi and pressure him,” Mr. Azra said, referring to President Joko by his popular nickname.

The biggest street protest in years shook Indonesia’s sprawling capital in a stark display of the more conservative, militant strain of Islam taking hold in the world’s largest Muslim country, The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Religiosity is rising, especially among the middle class,” said Yon Machmudi, an Islamic politics expert at the University of Indonesia. “A sense of identification is increasing.’’

“What we’ve seen in the last 18 months to two years is increasing crossover from organizations that started out ‘nonviolent but hard-line’ to organizations which are now committed to using violence,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

indonesia Edel Rodriguez NYTStill, Islamic parties have done poorly in elections since the downfall of longtime dictator Suharto in 1998. Indonesia has been one of the most stable democracies in the region after overcoming a wave of terrorism and sectarianism in the early 2000s, the Journal adds.

demanding that the city’s first Christian governor in decades be jailed for blasphemy. The rally was a show of strength by conservative Islamic groups, who were offended by his earlier remarks about the Quran and want to weaken him as he runs for re-election.

The governor is an ethnic Chinese Indonesian and the first Christian in nearly 50 years to govern Jakarta, capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, The New York Times adds.

“Precisely because religion and ethnicity are as such not electoral factors, Ahok’s opponents have to up the game,” said Marcus Mietzner, an associate professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, who closely follows Indonesian politics. “Instead of claiming that Ahok shouldn’t be governor because he’s a Christian — which hasn’t worked — they try to portray him as a blasphemist who violated the law.”

The reason, said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice chairman of the Setara Institute, a Jakarta organization that promotes religious tolerance, is simple but desperate: an effort to force the governor out of the race, which will go to a second round if none of the three candidates gets 50 percent of the vote.

“They know that Ahok is still strong and can easily get into the second round, while the others are far less certain,” he said. “So they think they will be safer if Ahok is defeated, or they hope he will be put in jail and not be able to run.”

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