An enormous rally shook Jakarta on the 4th November. With unusual zeal, between 50 and 100 thousand protesters managed to trash several parts of the capital. Cars were torched; traffic in the center came to a standstill. Police fired teargas canisters at the protesters and water cannons were used. According to the AP, one elderly man died and scores of demonstrators and policemen were injured.
These were the biggest demos in recent years. Considering how many profound problems Indonesia is facing, the country is shockingly compliant.
Were these protests against the on-going genocide in Papua, where Indonesian forces are massacring the mostly defenseless local population on behalf of Western companies?
Or perhaps, were they against the corrupt turbo capitalist regime, which has governed this virtually collapsed nation ever since the 1965 US-sponsored military coup against the progressive President and the father of the Non-Aligned movement, Sukarno?
Frankly, none of the above! In Indonesia, the horrors committed in Papua are not discussed publicly at all, and capitalism remains sacred here; even the poorest of the poor are conditioned to revere it.
The riots were actually over alleged ‘blasphemy’, and the participants consisted mainly of hard-line Muslim fundamentalists. Lately, religious ‘topics’ are the only ones that are managing to mobilize crowds of ‘outraged’ citizens.
So what went wrong this time? Actually, nothing really!
As reported by the BBC and others, “Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, is the first ethnic Chinese to hold the governor’s post in the capital of the majority Muslim Indonesia.” His nickname is ‘Ahok’, he is extremely popular, and he is one of the very few Indonesian politicians who are determinedly cracking down on corruption while introducing various social programs for the poor.
Most Indonesian hardcore Islamists are extreme-right wingers. They regularly attack and disperse even the most ‘benign’ political gatherings where the introduction of free medical care and other social benefits are shyly suggested and discussed. To them, everything social stinks of ‘Communism’, and Communism has been banned here ever since the 1965/66 Suharto bloodlettings.
The religious rightwing cannot win politically; therefore it regularly plants seeds of disinformation and chaos.
“Ahok said, during a meeting with voters, that there are those who are misleading the population, while using verses of the Holy Koran,” explained Ms. Ira Muslim, a Jakarta-based engineer. “They say that people should not vote for Ahok, because the Koran says that Muslims are not supposed to have a non-Muslim, kafir, as a leader. Nine days later, a man called Buni Yani, edited the official video into a much short version. He omitted several words in the transcript, and the document totally changed its meaning, reading that Muslims are actually deceived by the Koran itself.”
Mr. Buni Yani (interestingly a graduate of Ohio University, Southeast Asian Studies) later admitted his deed, which should have closed the matter. But it didn’t.
The demands of Ahok’s opponents soon ranged from dragging him to the courts, and to directly murdering him. Several preachers demanded Ahok’s blood, despite the fact that the two largest Muslim organizations in the country ordered their members to stay home and not to join the protests.
Professor Isna Wijayani, a lecturer at Bina Darma University in Palembang, explained:
“I personally like the way Ahok works. As for those ‘religious statements’, controversy could have been easily resolved if things would have been openly discussed. But Indonesian mass media does not want people to stay calm; it ignites dangerous passions. Anyway, even if Ahok would be guilty of blasphemy, things could have been resolved within the legal framework, not by trashing the capital city.”
Most Indonesian linguists agree that there was no trace of blasphemy in the original discourse by the Governor of Jakarta. Ms. Yeyen Maryani from the Ministry of Education and Culture publicly stated it, and so did many others.
For now, the riots are over, but the anti-Ahok activists demand that decisive legal action is taken within two weeks, “or else”!
Who is behind this embarrassing mess? Surely it is not just some bunch of religious fanatics. In Indonesia, things are never that simple!
Mr. Agus Suhartono shared with me his belief that there are clear signs of the involvement from the highest ranks of the Indonesian political ‘elites’:
“The situation in Indonesia is now very dangerous. SBY [Susilo Banbang Yudhoyono, former President of Indonesia, a retired general] has been using his leverage to stir up the conflict at any cost. Ahok incident is just the tip of the iceberg. I am afraid that the real problem is much bigger than that.”
Most likely it is: SBY’s son is now running against ‘Ahok’ for the post of Governor of Jakarta.
“What do they really want?” Ms. Susy Nataliwati, a researcher of Japanese Studies at the University of Indonesia, asked this rhetorical question: “It appears that they want Ahok to be disqualified from running for his second term in office”.
While the Western mass media is only talking about the blasphemy case and the radical Islamist groups, the true issues are much bigger: corrupt, right wing, pro-Western and pro-business elites of Indonesia are jealously guarding their ruling position in this already plundered and devastated archipelago. There is still plenty of booty above and below the surface! After 1965, money and ‘control’ over people is all that matters.
Is this the final assault against Ahok, or just a warning? The current President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo (nicknamed “Jokowi”), began his political career as a ‘pro-people reformist’, but after he encountered determined hostility, even menace, from the true rulers of this country, he lost his courage and briskly converted himself into a spineless ‘centrist’.
And how does Islamic extremism fit into all this mayhem? For decades it was actually only a tool of the corrupt generals and extreme right wing market fundamentalists, many of whom were not even Muslims.