Five guards and an inmate died in a Jakarta prison riot last week, allegedly launched by Islamic State. More than 150 terrorists are held at the overcrowded jail where turmoil erupted six months ago.
Then early on Sunday church bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, killed nine at the start of the Muslim fasting month.
In March police said they’d smashed an Internet jihad group known as the Muslim Cyber Army. It was accused of spreading fake news to stir the gullible and destabilize upcoming elections.
Where do the radicals recruit? At universities, according to Indonesia’s Intelligence Chief Budi Gunawan.
He claimed almost 40 percent of students have been exposed to zealots ‘trying to mobilise new terrorists.’
There are close to 3,000 tertiary education institutions in the Republic. Most are private and run by religions. Some are resisting the fundamentalists.
It was a most worthy event. Whether it can add value is another matter.
Days before the Jakarta riot and Surabaya bombings around 600 citizens of Malang gathered on a sweaty Saturday to support the Deklarasi Malang Berdoa (the Declaration of a prayer for Malang) hoping the initiative will spread from the East Java city throughout Indonesia.
The timing was important. Campaigning for regional elections is well underway; fears that some candidates will invoke hate against non-Muslims have already come to pass so the occasion was intended to head off further agents provocateurs.
Sponsors of the Malang bash organised by a local inter-faith committee included churches, the Jawa Pos newspaper and the Islamic University of Malang (Unisma) where the gathering was held.
The need for harmonis was hammered with force by rector Masykuri Bakri delivering the most stimulating speech of the two-hour show, evoking shared national values and a vision of togetherness that brought frequent outbursts of applause.
Curiously few of the happy clappers were from his private university associated with the mass Islamic movement Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). On this campus, with more than 7,000 students, women must wear jilbab (headscarves).
However, most in the auditorium covering their hair were white-clad Catholic nuns; they overwhelmingly outnumbered the Muslims. When one religion is the majority by nine to one, reconciliation usually gets initiated by the anxious minority, quietly fearful that racist violence will erupt again as it has so many times.
The last big bloody outrage was two decades ago when Soeharto’s Orde Baru (New Order) 32-year dictatorship crashed. The fury was worst in Jakarta where ethnic Chinese were raped and killed, and their businesses burned. (For more on the 1998 riots see: http://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/could-violence-against-the-ethnic-chinese-in-indonesia-happen-again/)
Well-prepared families bolted to Australia – mainly Perth – where they’d secured permanent residence, sent their kids to local schools and bought homes.
Since then the huge December 2016 rallies against former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) led to the ethnic-Chinese Christian’s two-year jailing for blasphemy. Estimates of more than half a million fist-thrusting protestors have reminded all that tolerance in Indonesia is fragile and easily shattered by demagogues.
To assure the nervous that this won’t happen during the regional election campaigns now underway, and next year’s national vote for the President, was an army lieutenant colonel, and the head of the local police.
Splendid with swagger sticks and shirts sagging with medals and ribbons, the duo attempted to cool concerns with tedious addresses about their impartiality. This century the late president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) separated the army and the police forces, which are slowly becoming more professional.
They need to be. A recent paper by Melbourne University Professor Tim Lindsey claims ‘the growing influence of Islamist hardliners, repressed by the Soeharto regime is ‘fracturing the national consensus on pluralism’.
‘Australia needs to ‘rethink dated Soeharto-era attitudes to Indonesia.’ he added. ‘Commitment to electoral democracy remains strong but support for liberal democracy is less certain and concern for international opinion much diminished.
‘In fact, expectations of Indonesia’s rise are already fueling experiments with populism, xenophobia and regional assertiveness (triggered to a great extent by virulent Sinophobia).’
Adult members of the audience didn’t need a foreign academic to tell them what’s embedded in their DNA. Indonesians find it difficult to be frank with outsiders, but when they do Muslims reveal deep resentment towards the ethnic Chinese (below two percent of the population of 260 million) for their wealth and business success, often alleging corruption.
The scapegoats respond by saying their achievements are due to discipline, hard work and the pursuit of quality education.
While some in the minority try to prove they are committed to the nation by converting to Islam and funding mosques, others aggravate by showing off in public and fuelling resentment.
Helping offset negative perceptions was a contingent at the Declaration from Ma Chung University, including athletic martial arts performers as a curtain-raiser. The campus opened in 2017 and has less than 2,000 students, yet it’s already ahead of Unisma – born 1981 – on the Unirank website.
Before this century discrimination was legal. Ethnic Chinese born in the country and eligible for Indonesian passports, and whose families have called the archipelago home for generations, were barred from using Chinese names, calligraphy and language.
They were also shut out of the armed forces and government. Many turned to banking and now dominate the profession.
During his brief tenure (1999-2001) President Gus Dur scrapped the bans. He also recognized Confucianism as an approved religion along with Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
All were represented on the Malang stage plus a surprising addition – an adherent of kebatinan, the traditional Javanese faith. The government calls this a cultural practice, refusing requests for a higher status for fear of diluting Islam.
The intent was good but unbalanced. All speakers were men, middle-aged to elderly. The only women to get before the public were dancers and musicians in the warm-up.
Few opinions would have been changed by the Declaration as attendance indicated acceptance of a multi-faith society.
The next task is to broadcast the message to the kampong, villages and pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) where the millions don’t always hear the moderates. Here the primacy of the pribumi (indigenous) is often strongest, intolerance greatest and ‘virulent Sinophobia’ most likely.
Australian journalist Duncan Graham (www.indonesianow.glogspot.com lives in East Java.
The Jakarta prison riot was not well covered in Australia – more details here: http://www.atimes.com/article/prison-riot-shows-isis-lethal-reach-in-indonesia/
The Tim Lindsey feature was published on 10 May here: https://johnmenadue.com/tim-lindsey-post-reformasi-indonesia-the-age-of-uncertainty/