Sat, 12 Feb 2000

Islamic groups find their footing in new Indonesia

By Ati Nurbaiti

JAKARTA (JP): Munir, the petite human rights activist with a reddish moustache, addresses a seminar in a voice gone quite hoarse over the past weeks: "The great problem in addressing human rights violations," he said, "is that the issues are seen as properties of certain groups."

"The issues are responded to with suspicion, instead of being seen as issues of humanity."

The slaughter of communists in the aftermath of the 1965 attempted coup is therefore seen as only the property of victims' families, the shooting of crowds at Tanjung Priok, 1984, is seen as a property of another group, and so on, he added.

Munir's effigy was burned last month by protesters, and the body which he coordinates, the government-sanctioned Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (KPP HAM) in East Timor, has been lambasted for not being nationalists, but for being a "brood" of Christians and that it should be dissolved.

With his colleagues in KPP HAM, Munir, a former activist in a Muslim student organization and a candidate nominated as 1998's man of the year by the Muslim magazine Ummat, is at the center of controversy over the commission's recommended list of generals to be further investigated.

Questions have been raised with the focus on East Timor only and why a similar body for Maluku, where most victims are said to be Muslims, was only set up after much protest. A KPP HAM member acknowledged to Republika daily that they were slower to act on Maluku, and that East Timor had an earlier response because of threats of an international tribunal.

Such fragmentation over the human rights violation issue should not happen, Munir stressed. "We cannot correct the human rights condition as long as such perceptions persist." The root of these perceptions of "properties" and various suspicions, Munir said, is yet another sin of the New Order regime.

"It was always like that, the product of the New Order's attempt at survival. Political problems would be thrown back at the public instead of being settled and this continues to today."

Munir criticizes the elite for a lack of responsibility. Leaders like President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri and reformist figure Amien Rais "are busy bickering instead of taking care of the people's interests" and educating their respective followers, he told The Jakarta Post.

Observers closer to more liberal or moderate Muslims have said that Muslim groups appearing to be militant are "small" in number. Munir did not name any groups but some, given wide exposure in the Islamic media, have been vocal in protesting what is perceived as injustice toward Muslims.

Munir's lament suggests that however small such groups are, the aspirations raised are considerably hampering the country's poor human rights record from being addressed, vital to reach the much repeated jargon of a civil society.

Apart from human rights, other issues which have reportedly been more or less affected by Muslim politicians of various groups are the battle for power in the Ministry of Forestry and Plantations and the takeover of state assets.

Decades of marginalization of Islam under second president Soeharto including arbitrary detentions of activists have been blamed for suspicions against any sign of a return of the past condition.

Hence, for instance, the confusing situation of demonstrations and counter demonstrations ahead of the 1999 presidential elections. The latter protests rallied around then incumbent president B.J. Habibie, who despite his shortcomings was considered the best choice compared to a "secular nationalist."

The Post recently asked sociologist Imam Prasodjo of the University of Indonesia, who is also a former activist, whether he saw an increasing militancy, or radicalization of Islamic groups. Indications include high-profile protests such as the sudden "takeover" by the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) of Jakarta's municipality office. They demanded that Governor Sutiyoso close nightspots which had a potential for vice during Ramadhan.

Other groups standing up to prostitution in Jakarta and other cities have gained public support as seen from letters to the editor, mainly in the Islamic media. Other media have fretted about mob rule.

Instead of militancy or radicalization, Imam replied that what he saw was more a "process of identity politics among different elements among Muslims here". Each element of the diverse Islamic groups "is trying to define which aspirations among Muslims fits them best," Imam said.

Among the political parties, he added, the Justice Party is more specifically students; the Crescent Star Party comprises more of those who still wish the return of the dissolved Masyumi party and the United Development Party has both elements of the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, the largest Islamic organizations.

Imam said the mass gathering (tabligh akbar) or the "one million gathering" last month reflected "the beginning of a convergence of these different elements".

"Before the presidential election they came together to prevent Megawati Soekarnoputri from being president. The 'axis force' was only a strategic alliance," he said.

While the mass gathering reflected a convergence, he added, "it's still not clear what kind of format such a convergence will take. Will it be a collective leadership or a caucus?"

Asked how he viewed the mapping of political Islam today, Imam said there was a "synergy". There are Nahdlatul Ulama people in the Muslim United Development Party; and the inclusive National Mandate Party (PAN) seems to be trying to court Muslims.

"All these parties, PKB, PBB, PK and the others have found they can not beat the nationalists. They have yet to reach an agreement on whether they want to use an Islamic banner (azas), which could be like striving for an Islamic state," Imam said.

"I think the parties will form a caucus. Or a collective leadership and Amien Rais could be the leader. The difficulty now is that people are still paternalistic and depend on a strong figure."

With all these elements, how does the President manage to face them?

The President, Imam said, "has a syndrome leading to him being more accommodative with others outside the circle of at least NU and Muhammadiyah, whose leading figures he knows well. He knows that whatever is the reaction within his own circle, people will at the most bear grudges but will not stab him in the back."

This, Imam said, is reflected in reactions to Abdurrahman's statements which may offend the modernists, for instance; "they have not criticized Abdurrahman, but they have targeted his aids or those who 'whisper' to him".

"The modernists refuse to be pitted against the traditionalists in NU. This is Abdurrahman's art; Amien Rais knows this and joins in the game."

This, Imam added, "is why (Muslim noted scholar) Nurcholish Madjid has said Abdurrahman's great service is bringing the traditionalists and modernists together".

Such differences within Muslims, Imam said, make the minorities feel more secure. "They would feel unsafe if the Muslims were all solid."