Greg Barton: Religious fundamentalists ‘creeping coup’

Posted on September 26, 2012

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Dicky Christanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Tue, September 25 2012, 11:09

Even long before the country’s declaration of independence in 1945, religious fundamentalism marked the lives of the Indonesian people.
Greg Barton, research professor of Indonesian studies at Monash University, Australia, recognizes the foundation of this so-called fundamentalism as the desire to implement religious teachings into daily life. Therefore, the activists will not stop until they fulfill, what they believe to be, the long-term political need.

“There is a need for acknowledgment. The activists have confidence that their religious teachings should be set as a benchmark in day-to-day life. Other reasons such as social problems and lack of welfare may be contributing factors but this has always been the ideology,” Barton says.

He categorizes fundamentalists into four different groups, each with rather distinct characteristics.

The first group can be identified by its “legalization” of violence in order to secure the goal of the implementation of Islamic laws or Sharia throughout the country. The revolts of the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) movement that occurred in four provinces between 1949 and 1965 illustrated this behavior, disturbances transpired in West Java under its charismatic leader Sekarmaji Marijan Kartosuwiryo, Central Java under Commander Amir Fatah, Aceh under Tengku Daud Beureueh as well as in South Sulawesi under Kahar Muzakar. In addition, numerous bombings during the 2000’s were engineered by the notorious Jamaah Islamiah and further, the growth of organizations such as the Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) has confirmed the
existence of this first group.

In contrast, the second group may prohibit the use of violence as part of the struggle but do however, promote radical goals such as supporting the Islamic state, or Caliphate, as an alternative to a secular Indonesia. They display this behavior during mass rallies, which are usually organized in
response to current social issues.

The third group is comprised of educated activists. As a collective they are looking to fight for religious dominance through select political parties. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the United Development Party (PPP) could be categorized as belonging to this third group. According to Barton, the parties’ activists have opted to struggle from within the system. He notices that this third group is rather more fair and elegant than the first two groups but they are still looking for the opportunity to champion religious law as state regulation.

The final group speaks openly of endorsing an Islamic state and is widely known for the use of religious slogans as well as banners and brutality in response to social problems. The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) could be identified as belonging to this fourth category.

Up until now, these four groups often champion the same opinion on particular issues but more often than not, they travel along their own paths.

When asked about the possibility that these groups could be used by other parties for their own interests, Barton states there are is no obvious evidence of this at the current time. “At present, I do not see outside parties like the military or the police intervening or manipulating these groups for their own gain,” he said. The current situation is rather different to the early 70’s when Ali Murtopo recruited former jihadists from the NII movement and allegedly used them to carry out his own hidden agenda.

Among these four groups, Barton suggests, more caution should be taken with those who could gain access to politics. Those with “hands” in politics could try to carry out their agenda through the passing of regional regulations.

To date, the government is in the middle of reviewing 1,500 problematic bylaws across the archipelago. Most of these bylaws are religious-based and are seen to have a negative impact on pluralism and tolerance. The review is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

The weak standpoint of the government, in his view, has also contributed to the mushrooming of fundament organizations and radical religious bylaws throughout the country.

“Strong government is necessary to coup this problem. A firm message that the Indonesian Republic is final should be sent out so that no one dares to change the country’s common platform of Pancasila,” he said.

Despite the weakness of the government and the growth of the religious fundamentalism, a direct consequence of democracy since the reform era in 1999, Barton acknowledges that he is optimistic that Indonesia will be just fine. He has witnessed the resilience of the Indonesian people in their deflection of fundamentalist day dreaming.

Barton, one of the world’s greatest minds on Islamic studies and interreligious relationships, has long been recognized as a true supporter of Islamic thinking and a strong believer of its harmonious coexistence with other religions and cultures.

He has established genuine friendships with many of Indonesia’s moderate Islamic figures such as the late former president Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid and the late Nurcholish Madjid, the founder of the Paramadina University, Syafii Maarif of Muhammadiyah and the current chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Said Aqiel Siradj.

Barton has also developed relationships with organizations such as the NU, the world’s largest Muslim mass organization with more than 40 million members, and the Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim organization that has around 30 million members.

In fact, many interreligious figures must have met Barton as he travels back and forth from Australia to Indonesia, or at least read his articles and books on they take their own journeys to seek the ideal way to coexist in harmony.

Posted in: Politik