Thu, 25 Dec 2003

Muslim voters and Islamic parties in Indonesia

Mochtar Buchori Legislator for Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle Jakarta

What do Muslim voters want to see as the outcome of their support for the political struggle carried out by their country, Indonesia? Do they want to have an Indonesian Islamic state, or an Islamic society in Indonesia, or an Indonesian society where Islamic values are observed? These are three different things, and the country will be spared much unnecessary pain if Muslim voters can be clear about their preferred choice in this regard.

It is hard to answer these questions in a short or concise manner. The reason is that Moslem voters in Indonesia make up a huge but heterogeneous political entity, and within this entity there are differing political visions based on Islam. The political aspirations of the group of young Moslems within the Jaringan Islam Liberal (the Liberal Islam Network), for instance, will in all likelihood be radically different from the ones entertained by young Moslems within the Front Pembela Islam (the Islamic Defenders Front).

And among Islamic political parties there are also different perceptions regarding the kind of Indonesian society each one of them would like to establish. If they wanted the same kind of Islamic society or state, I think they would not be working so hard to outdo each other and establish their own cultural and political identities. And neither would it be so difficult to establish a more lasting alliance among them.

But there must surely be some common elements among these differing kinds of political views derived from Islam. And if I am not mistaken, one such common element is the idea of justice.

To ordinary Muslims in Indonesia the most important thing in life is, I think, the idea of justice. Deep within the heart of every Indonesian man or woman with a sufficiently strong Islamic feeling, there is a desire to see justice observed and defended. Every act of injustice committed by any person or any government anywhere in the world is felt as an affront to this Islamic feeling. I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that every pious Muslim feels that creating a just society is the mission of Islam. Accordingly a good Muslim feels that he or she has the obligation to observe and defend justice.

To Muslims like these, the one unforgivable offense is when one Muslim commits an injustice toward another Muslim. In this regard it is not surprising to see that the act of evicting people from areas where they have lived for years or decades, even though they were living on the land illegally, upset so many people. One such victim said in a radio talk show that what really broke her heart was that she and her family were being treated unjustly by a government consisting of fellow Muslims. And when another listener, apparently a well-to-do Muslim, tried to intervene by saying that the first speaker had no right to complain as she was occupying the land illegally, he was immediately attacked by other panelists on the talk show. They accused him of lacking empathy for the poor and siding with the rich who hold power. Another participant added cynically that apparently being rich had blunted his Islamic feeling. This was not the way Muslims should feel about justice.

To me, this particular episode threw a new light upon one important thing, viz. that political solidarity based on the Islamic faith is not as solid as many of us have supposed. In real politics there is always another factor that proves to be at least as equally important as the faith factor. Whether justice should be established through the creation of an Islamic state, or whether it should be acquired through the implementation of Islamic rules and laws does not, in my understanding, seem to matter too much. What is most important is that efforts to establish justice should take into account all the requirements stipulated in Islamic law, and that it also satisfies the sense of justice prevailing in the hearts of Muslims affected by the decision, especially the ones that can be considered as the losers in each case. Within this atmosphere of morality what Muslim voters despise most in their hearts are people who use flowery words to wax lyrically on about justice in their speeches, but who in their daily lives do not give a damn about justice.

Are these basic realities well understood by our political leaders, especially the leaders of the Islamic political parties? And do the Islamic parties have enough sensibilities regarding the various things in the country that have made Muslim voters unhappy and crave for justice?

What Muslim voters in Indonesia are craving is that for once in this world they will be able to live in an environment where justice is observed. They have been craving for just leaders and just government. And their understanding of justice is, of course, determined by their understanding concerning the teachings of Islam. They want to experience all of these beautiful dreams in this present world, not in the other world of the life hereafter.

Unless these things are well understood it will be impossible for any political leader or any political party to attract the support of Muslim voters.