Jakarta riots reveal Indonesia’s deep divisions on religion and politics


Tim Lindsey, University of Melbourne

The violent riots that shook Jakarta last week led to at least six deaths, over 700 injured and more than 200 arrests. Demonstrations and rallies are common in Indonesia, but street violence like this had not been seen since the fall of Soeharto in 1998.

Protests began peacefully in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) on May 20, after the General Elections Commission (KPU) made the surprise decision to release its official count at 3am that morning.

By 9pm on Tuesday, rioters supporting the defeated presidential candidate, former general Prabowo Subianto, (including some apparently linked to Islamic State) were burning cars and buildings, and using rocks, petrol bombs and fireworks to attack police.

Security forces responded with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. They claim not to have used real bullets, although families of at least two victims claim they died of bullet wounds and the National Police Hospital says autopsies show four died this way.




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Joko Widodo looks set to win the Indonesia election. Now, the real power struggle begins


The violence was repeated the next night and spread beyond Jakarta, with incidents in East Java and Potianak (Kalimantan) as well. The government called in the army to help control the situation. Obviously deeply concerned, it took the extraordinary step of slowing down the internet to obstruct the sharing of provocative material across social media sites. Two nights later, the government seemed to have the situation under control.

On Friday, Prabowo’s campaign lodged protests against the election results with the Constitutional Court. They argue that the convincing 10%-plus margin of victory of his rival, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, was fraudulently obtained. To date, they have not been able to produce convincing evidence to back this up.

If, as likely, the court rejects the petition to annul Jokowi’s win, that may well spark another round of rioting. This is particularly so because Prabowo’s camp has been saying for weeks that the court is biased in favour of the government.

But even if the rioting starts up again, it is very unlikely to topple Jokowi, given the government, police and army seem to have closed ranks behind him.

Many members of the elite do not particularly like Jokowi, a provincial politician who made a spectacular leap to the presidency five years ago and remains somewhat of an outsider. But he has the huge advantage of incumbency. Leaders of the bureaucracy and security forces owe their positions, wealth and power to his administration. They fear being replaced in the purge of senior positions that would follow if Prabowo somehow took over.

Many members of Indonesia’s elite do not particularly like President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, but he has the huge advantage of incumbency.
Mast Irham/EPA/AAP

Even though Prabowo’s fourth bid to become president seems doomed and Jokowi is doubtless confident of being sworn in on October 20, that does not mean Jokowi’s second and final five-year term will be smooth sailing. The riots seem to have fizzled out, but they are the product of tensions over the place of Islam in Indonesian life and what is now a deep cleavage in Indonesian politics.

How the fall of Ahok started it all

To explain how this has happened, we need to go back to 2017 and the major crisis of Jokowi’s first term: the prosecution and conviction for blasphemy of then Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok, or BTP, as he now prefers).

Ahok had been the deputy governor under Jokowi and stepped up when Jokowi resigned to run for the presidency. An ethnic Chinese Christian governor was seen as unacceptable to hardline Islamists. They used comments about the Qur’an made by Ahok while campaigning for re-election to launch a massive and bitter populist campaign against him. Hundreds of thousands took part in rallies that targeted Ahok and, eventually, his former friend and close colleague, Jokowi, at one stage even marching on the palace.

After Ahok’s fall, some of the Muslim organisations that had formed the so-called “212 movement” to tear him down began aggressively targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. He also backed criminal charges against figures he saw as leading public criticism of his government.

As a result, the disgruntled Islamist conservatives who loathe Jokowi lined up behind Prabowo, the only alternative candidate.

This split meant that many members of the world’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is generally more tolerant of religious difference, sided with Jokowi, particularly after he chose NU leader Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.




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The world’s second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, traditionally NU’s rival, was officially neutral. But many of its members clearly sided with Prabowo. So did other, more conservative, Muslim organisations, such as the Islamist PKS party, and more extreme groups like the thuggish Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – and, of course, the 212 alumni.

The result was a vicious social media campaign, full of trolling, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, fake news and online vilification. Rumours that Jokowi is a closet Christian from a communist family were circulated once again.

The election thus polarised Indonesia, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Jokowi prevailed in Javanese communities linked to NU and in areas where non-Muslims are a majority or a large minority, like Papua, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and North Sulawesi.

On the other hand, majority Muslim outer islands often associated with Muhammadiyah largely fell to Prabowo, such as West Sumatra. Likewise, Prabowo took back South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Bengkulu and Jambi from Jokowi, who won them in 2014.

West Java tells the story. Although part of Java, it has never been a NU stronghold but is seen as historically a centre for Islamist conservatism. It went for Prabowo. Jakarta, urban and more urbane, but on the cusp of West Java, was split.

Divisions show no sign of healing

Prabowo’s defeat does not spell the end of his supporters’ aspirations for a less tolerant Indonesia that privileges their brand of Islam. The election’s geopolitical polarisation is likely to be a continuing source of problems for Jokowi in the years ahead.

With NU in the vice-presidential office and very likely to continue its stranglehold on the Ministry of Religious Affairs, resentment from Muhammadiyah, PKS and others will be maintained. It will play out in conflicts in the legislature and in and around government.

The tough measures Jokowi’s administration – obviously worried – deployed in recent weeks to try to head off the riots has only exacerbated the situation. Former general Wiranto, now coordinating minister for politics, law and security, ominously formed a team to investigate “unconstitutional behavior”.

Twenty or so people linked to Prabowo, including two former generals, have been arrested on charges including treason and weapons smuggling. At one stage a warrant was issued to bring Prabowo himself in for questioning (although this was quickly rescinded).

These measures reflect a wider trend towards so-called “soft authoritarianism” in Jokowi’s administration, which has concerned many Indonesian and foreign observers. It also feeds the narrative promoted by his Islamist opponents of a president willing to use the full force of the state to marginalise them, and that simply entrenches the battlelines.

Jokowi is a pragmatic politician who values stability and cohesion above most other things. Once the riots die down, Jokowi’s instinct will be to “buy in” the Muslim right and Prabowo’s core supporters. He may do this by offering them positions in the incoming administration or access to resources.

If that doesn’t work, we can expect more trouble ahead.The Conversation

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Morrison announces $55 million for security at religious premises and warns against “tribalism”


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has warned against “tribalists” hijacking policy
arguments, declaring the migration issue “must not be appropriated as a proxy debate for racial, religious or ethnic sectarianism”.

In his address in the wake of the New Zealand attack, on the theme of managing differences, Morrison said it was not a matter of “disagreeing less, but disagreeing better”.

“When we disagree better, we engage with respect, rather than
questioning each other’s integrity and morality,” he told the
Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne.

“Tribalists constantly seek to appropriate legitimate policy issues and public concerns as a tool to promote their separatist and exclusive agendas. To contort and misrepresent disagreement in the worst possible terms,” the Prime Minister said.

He announced A$55 million for religious organisations to increase
security at their premises, including schools, and places of worship and assembly.

Grants will range from $50,000 to $1.5 million for enhancements
including CCTV cameras, lighting, fencing, bollards, alarms, security systems and public address systems.

On two charged and divisive political debates, Morrison stressed that dealing with population growth was a “practical policy challenge”, and claimed “I have never sought to question the compassionate motives of those who hold different views about the best way to manage Australia’s borders”.

He said that in Australia as in many other countries the “ties
that bind us are under new pressures and are at risk of breaking.

“If we allow a culture of ‘us and them’, of tribalism, to take hold; if we surrender an individual to be defined not by their own unique worth and contribution but by the tribe they are assigned to, if we yield to the compulsion to pick sides rather than happy coexistence, we will lose what makes diversity work in Australia,” he said.

“As debate becomes more fierce, the retreat to tribalism is
increasingly taking over, and for some, extremism takes hold.

“Reading only news that we agree with, interacting with people only we agree with, and having less understanding and grace towards others that we do not even know, making the worst possible assumptions about them and their motives, simply because we disagree with them.

“This is true of the left and the right. And even more so from those shouting from the fringes to a mainstream of quiet Australians that just want to get on with their lives.

“Hate, blame and contempt are the staples of tribalism, it is
consuming modern debate, egged on by an appetite for conflict as
entertainment, not so different from the primitive appetites of the colosseum days, with a similar corrosive impact on the fabric of our society”.

Morrison said tribalists sought to take over legitimate policy issues and public concerns, using them to promote their separatist agendas, contorting and misrepresenting disagreement.

A discussion of the annual migrant intake was “not a debate about the value or otherwise of multiculturalism or the economic contribution of migration,” he said.

“It must not be appropriated as a proxy debate for racial, religious or ethnic sectarianism.

“Just because Australians are frustrated about traffic jams and
population pressures encroaching on their quality of life, especially in this city, does not mean they are anti-migrant or racist,” he said.

“For the overwhelming majority of Australians concerned about this
issue, this is not and never would be their motivation”.

He said the worst example was “the despicable appropriation of
concerns about immigration as a justification for a terrorist
atrocity.

“Such views have rightly been denounced. But equally, so to must the imputation that the motivation for supporting moderated immigration levels is racial hatred.

“As Australians we need to stand against the militant and lazy group think that distorts our public debate, stand up for our individualism and seek to think better of each other”.

He said “extremism, or in a different form fundamentalism, is simply an inability to tolerate difference.

“It is to feel threatened by others who do not conform to your world view.

“And it takes many forms: religious extremism, secular extremism, and political extremism.

“Every terrorist attack has at its core a hatred of difference and a hatred about the choices and lives of others”.

Morrison said last week “mindless tribalism” ended the lives of 50
people in New Zealand.

“Tribalists always want to separate us, divide us, set one Australian against another.

As Prime Minister I want to continue to bring Australians together, not set them against one another”.

“I believe, not in a tribalism that divides, but in an us that unites.”

Morrison took up Jacinda Ardern’s phrase when she said of Muslims
“they are us”, and applied it to Australia.

He said:

  • Indigenous Australians are us

  • Immigrant Australians from all nationalities and backgrounds,
    including Chinese, Lebanese, Greek, Indian, Turkish, Vietnamese, just to name a few, are us

  • Muslim Australians are us

  • Christian Australians are us

  • Jewish Australians are us

  • Hindu Australians are us

  • atheist Australians are us

  • LGBTIQ Australians are us

  • whoever you vote for – us

  • older Australians are us

  • young Australians are us

  • female Australians are us

  • male Australians are us

  • regional Australians are us.

“From the bottom of Tasmania to the tip of Cape York, from Byron to Broome, all 25 million Australians are us.

“We belong to each other. We stand with each other. We must love and respect each other more. That’s what we must affirm today to fight the forces that will otherwise weaken our nation”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why is Islam so different in different countries?


Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester

The rise of Islamic State has led to much speculation about the group’s origins: how do we account for forces and events that paved the way for the emergence of the jihadist group?

In the fourth article of our series on the historical roots of Islamic State, Aaron Hughes explains the amazing regional variation in Islamic practice to illustrate why Islamic State appeared where it did.


No religion is unified. How Catholicism, for example, is practised in rural Italy differs from the way this is done, say, in New York city. Language, culture, tradition, the political and social contexts, and even food is different in these two places.

Such geographic differences are certainly important in Islam. But also important are the numerous legal schools and their interpretations. Since Islam is a religion predicated on law (sharia), variations in the interpretation of that law have contributed to regional differences.

Also significant in the modern world is the existence of other religions. Malaysia, for example, has a relatively large percentage of religious minorities (up to 40% of the population). Saudi Arabia has virtually none.

This means Malaysia has had to develop a constitution that protects the rights of religious minorities, whereas Saudi Arabia has not. And it’s why Islam is so different in these two countries.

Schools of thought

There are historical reasons for this variation. Despite popular opinion, Islam didn’t appear fully formed at the time of Muhammad (570-632). There were huge debates over the nature of religious and political authority, for instance, and who was or was not a Muslim.

It’s similarly misguided to assume that a unified teaching simply spread throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond.

How Muhammad’s message developed into the religion of Islam — complete with legal and doctrinal content — took centuries to develop and cannot concern us here.

What is important to note, however, is that his message spread into various (unbordered) regions. Modern nation states would only arise much later. And each of these areas was already in possession of its own set of religious, legal and cultural traditions.

The result was that Islam had to be articulated in the light of local customs and understandings. This was done, in part, through the creation of legal courts, a class of jurists (ulema; mullas in Shi`ism), a legal code (sharia) and a system of interpretation of that code based on rulings (fatwas).

Many local customs arose based on trying to understand Muhammad’s message. And these customs and understandings gave rise to distinct legal schools.

Although there were originally many such schools, they gradually reduced to four in Sunni Islam – Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali. While these four schools all regard one another as orthodox, they nevertheless have distinct interpretations of Islamic law. Some of their interpretations are more conservative than others.

There are also a number of such schools in Shi`i Islam, as you can see from the image above.

The four Sunni schools are associated with distinct regions (as are the Shi`i schools). The Maliki school, for example, is prominent today in Egypt and North Africa. The Hanafi is in western Asia, the Shafi`i in Southeast Asia and the Hanbali (the most conservative) is found primarily in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states.

Fundamental differences

All this legal and local variation has produced different interpretations of the religion. But despite such regional and legal diversity, many Muslims and non-Muslims insist on referring to Islam and sharia as if they were stable entities.

An example might be illustrative of the extent of the differences within Islam. Many non-Muslims are often surprised to learn of the cult of saints, namely the role Sufi saints (Sufism is Islamic mysticism) have played and continue to play in the daily life of Muslims.

A Sufi saint is someone who is considered holy and who has achieved nearness to God. Praying to these saints and making pilgrimages to their shrines is a way to, among other things, ask for intercession.

Although these practices are not unlike the role and place of saints in Catholicism, in Islam they are much more localised. And this locally varied cult of saints played and continues to play an important role in Islamic religious life from Morocco in the West to Pakistan in the East.

Devotion to the saints is believed to cure the sick, make fertile the barren, bring rain, and so on. Needless to say, such devotion is often frowned upon by more fundamentalist interpretations.

While most legal schools are content – albeit somewhat bothered – by such practices, the conservative Hanbali school forbids cults like this. Its adherents have, among other things, destroyed tombs of saints in both the premodern and modern eras. They have also been responsible for the destruction of shrines associated with Muhammad’s family, such as the shrines and tombs of Muhammad’s wife.

The Hanbali school, backed by the wealth of the Saudi ruling family, has also tried to make inroads into other areas. Those associated with this legal school, for example, have built madrasas (religious seminaries) in regions traditionally influenced by other legal schools of thought.

Most fundamentalist movements in Islam, including Islamic State, have emanated from such ultra-conservative elements. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance, are influenced by the more conservative elements of Hanbali ideology, even though they exist in a predominantly Hanafi legal environment.

The goal of many of these groups, sometimes referred to as Wahhabis or Salafis, is to return to what they imagine to be the pure or pristine version of Islam as practised by Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often have strict interpretations of Islam, strict dress codes and separation of the sexes.

Today, there are more than one and a half billion Muslims worldwide, making Islam the second-largest religion on the planet after Christianity. But it is a rich and variegated religion. And this variation must be taken into account when dealing with it.

Most importantly, the variation cannot be papered over with simplistic slogans or stereotypes. That women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia but are in places like Malaysia tells you something about this variation.


This article is the fourth in our series on the historical roots of Islamic State. Look out for more stories on the theme in the coming days.

The Conversation

Aaron W. Hughes, Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Rochester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

If Islamic State is based on religion, why is it so violent?


Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester

Islamic State’s seemingly sudden prominence has led to much speculation about the group’s origins: how do we account for forces and events that paved the way for its emergence?

Today, religious studies scholar Aaron Hughes considers whether this jihadist group’s violence is inherent to Islam.


Despite what we’re told, religion isn’t inherently peaceful. The assumption is largely based on the Protestant idea that religion is something spiritual and internal to the individual and that it’s corrupted by politics and other mundane matters.

But people kill in the name of religion, just as they love in its name. To claim that one of these alternatives is more authentic than the other is not only problematic, it’s historically incorrect.

The Crusades, attacks at abortion clinics, some political assassinations, and price-tag attacks – to name only a few examples – were and are all motivated by religion.

This is because religion is based on the metaphysical notion that there are believers (in one’s own religion) and non-believers. This distinction is predicated on “good” versus “evil”, and can be neatly packaged into a narrative to be used and abused by various groups.

An imagined past

One such group is Islamic State (IS), which is inherently violent and claims it mirrors the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad. In this, it’s like other reformist movements in Islam that seek to recreate in the modern period what they imagine to have been the political framework and society that Muhammad (570-632 CE) and his immediate followers lived in and created in seventh-century Arabia.

The problem is that we know very little about this society, except what, often, much later sources – such as the Biography (Sira) of Muhammad and the work of historians such as al-Tabari (839-923 CE) – tell us it was like.

A central ideal for IS is that of restoring the caliphate. A geopolitical entity, the caliphate was the Islamic empire that stretched from Morocco and Spain in the West, to India in the East. It symbolises Islam at its most powerful.

When it was spreading across the Middle East and the Mediterranean region in the seventh century, Islam was highly apocalyptic. Many early sources, such as the second caliph Umar’s letter to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III, as well as contemporaneous non-Muslim sources, such as the mid-eighth-century Jewish apocalypse The Secrets of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai and the seventh-century polemic Doctrina Jacobi, speak about the coming destruction of the world as we know it.

The destruction is to begin with a battle between the forces of good (Muslim) versus those of evil. And IS has adopted this apocalyptic vision.

Again, though, it’s worth noting two things. The first is that the majority of Muslims today don’t buy into this apocalyptic vision; it’s mainly something recycled by groups such as Islamic State.

Second, such an “end of days” vision is by no means unique to Islam; we also see it in Judaism and Christianity. In these other two traditions, as in Islam, such groups certainly do not represent orthodox belief.

Medieval tolerance

But apocalypse aside, was Islam particularly violent in the seventh century? One could certainly point to three of the first four of Muhammad’s successors (caliphs) having been assassinated.

One could also point to the tremendous theological debates over who was or was not a Muslim. And such debates included the status of the soul of grave sinners. Was such a sinner a Muslim or did his sin put him outside the community of believers?

What would become mainstream Muslim opinion is that it was up to God to decide and not humans. But groups such as Islamic State want to make this distinction for God. In this, they certainly stray from orthodox Muslim belief.

While this doesn’t make them “un-Islamic”, to say groups such as IS represent medieval interpretations of Islam is not fair to medieval Islam.

Manuscript with depiction by Yahya ibn Vaseti found in the Maqama of Hariri depicts the image of a library with pupils in it, Baghdad 1237.
Wikimedia Commons

The eighth century, for example, witnessed the establishment, in Baghdad, of the Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), which symbolised the so-called golden age of Islamic civilisation. This period witnessed, among other things, Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars studying the philosophical and scientific texts of Greek antiquity.

These scholars also made many advances in disciplines, such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry, to name only a few. Within a century of its founding, Islam represented a cosmopolitan empire that was nothing like the rigid and dogmatic interpretation of the religion seen in the likes of IS.

A powerful tool

Observers in the West who want to claim that Islam is to blame for IS and use it as further proof that the religion is inherently violent, ignore other root causes of the moment.

These include the history of European colonialism in the area; US and European support for a number of ruthless Middle Eastern dictators; and the instability created by the American invasion of Iraq after the events of September 11, 2001.

It’s juxtaposed against these recent events that groups such as IS dream of reconstituting what they romantically imagine as the powerful Islamic caliphate.

The fact is that religion’s ability to neatly differentiate between “believer” and unbeliever”, and between “right” and “wrong”, makes it a powerful ideology. In the hands of demagogues, religious discourses – used selectively and manipulated to achieve a set of desired ends – are very powerful.

While it would be incorrect to say that the discourses used by IS are un-Islamic, it’s important to note it represents one particular Islamic discourse and that it’s not the mainstream one.


This article is the third in our series on understanding Islamic State. Look out for more stories on the theme in the coming days.


Aaron will be online for an Author Q&A between 9 and 10am AEDT on Thursday, February 18, 2016. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The Conversation

Aaron W. Hughes, Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Rochester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Islam Became the Fastest Growing Religion in Europe


TIME

The religiously motivated terror attacks in France last week have exacerbated anti-Islamic sentiments across Europe, with a record 25,000 people joining anti-immigrant protests in Germany on Monday.

But even as polls show anti-Islamist sentiment rising, Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. Nearly 5 million Muslims live in France, the largest Muslim population in Europe, and some 4 million live in Germany.

In the video above, TIME foreign correspondent Simon Shuster discusses how French colonialism and immigration policies throughout Europe helped fuel migration from the Muslim world.

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The worst places in the world to be religious


CNN Belief Blog

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) — Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has tracked the world’s worst abusers of religious rights. 

As the most recent report notes, it has never lacked for material. Persecutions of people of faith are rising across the globe.

Among the most worrying trends, according to the State Department, are “authoritarian governments that restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion.”

In typically bland bureaucratic language, the State Department calls these “countries of particular concern.” But the designation can come with some teeth.

Sudan, for example, where a Christian woman was sentenced to death this week for leaving Islam, is ineligible for some types of foreign aid.

In addition to Sudan, here are the State Department’s “countries of particular concern.” You might call them “The Worst Places in the World to Be Religious.”

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False Religion: Jediism


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the ‘religion’ known as ‘Jediism.’ Yeah, it is from Star Wars.

For more visit:
http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201311/star-wars-religion-church-of-jedi

USA: ‘No Religion’ Growth According to Survey


The number of people in the USA with no religion is growing rapidly according to a recent survey.

For more visit:
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/09/survey-one-in-five-americans-is-religiously-unaffiliated/

Article: Restrictions on Religion on the Rise


The link below is to an article that really confirms what many of us probably already suspected.

For more visit:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/09/21/restrictions-on-religion-on-the-rise/