Religious vigilante mobs target critical minds – OpEd – Eurasia Review
By Siktus Harson
(UCA News) – The recent attack on a university professor shows that radicalism remains a big threat in multi-faith Indonesia and its influence should never be overlooked.
It also indicates that religious vigilantes are back and this time they are more deadly, targeting individuals who speak out boldly against religious fundamentalism or who criticize Islamic practices.
One of their targets was Ade Armando, a senior lecturer at the University of Indonesia and an outspoken social media campaigner for religious tolerance and democracy. He was brutally attacked by intruders during a protest organized by students in Jakarta last week.
The demonstration, among other things, called on the government not to delay the general elections scheduled for two years. The postponement plan was devised by political parties who want President Joko Widodo to lead the country after his term ends in 2024.
Armando was at the scene of the protest to shoot videos for the All-Indonesian Movement, a channel he launched in March. The organization is made up of journalists, activists, scientists and people who care about diversity, nationalism and unity, who have been undermined by radicalism and anti-democratic movements.
However, when a group of demonstrators, suspected of belonging to a radicalist network, noticed him, they immediately beat him up and threw him to the ground. He was stripped of his clothes and his body was covered in blood.
Armando often challenges other Muslims who have a superficial understanding of Islam. He speaks frequently against radicalism or religious bigotry. He is one of the supporters of democracy and pluralism.
His views are considered anti-Islamic and he has been targeted by conservatives and radicals. They tried several ways to imprison him, including filing blasphemy charges. He was reported for saying, among other things, that “God is not an Arab” or that “the Koran only teaches three daily prayers, not five”.
But police found no evidence to pursue such complaints, angering complainants, who accused police of intentionally keeping their case at bay.
What happened to the speaker tells the Indonesian public that radicalism is not dead. Let it not stop with the dismantling of intolerant groups or the putting behind bars of controversial clerics.
Some observers even believed that the pandemic was the time for radical groups to consolidate. The pandemic may have restricted their movement, but that hasn’t stopped them from bullying people who have different views on social media. Now, as pandemic restrictions ease, they’ve banded together and shown the public that they still exist.
Their nature of harming someone who criticizes Islamic teaching or criticizing provocative clerics remains unchanged, and last week’s assault was proof of that. Police have arrested six people linked to the attack, but some are still at large.
The public believes the culprits belong to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which was disbanded in December 2020 for its connection to terrorist activities. A year before it was banned, its members kidnapped and tortured Ninoy Karundeng, a social media activist whose views were opposed to theirs.
The abduction took place on September 30, 2019, when the Indonesians marked the deadly communist coup of 1965. They took him to a mosque in Jakarta and brutally beat him and threatened to kill him. He survived.
Karundeng was attacked because of his writings which criticized certain clerics. He was also against Prabowo Subianto, now Indonesia’s defense minister, who was backed by many radicals in the 2019 presidential race.
Some FPI officials were linked to the kidnapping, including Munarman, its former secretary general who is in prison for his involvement in several terrorist activities.
But even though two FPI leaders, Munarman and Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, are in prison, radical movements have started to show their teeth in the post-pandemic era.
The assaults on Armando and Karundeng, as well as the endless threats and harassment against peace and interfaith activists, have opened the eyes of Indonesians to the fact that the fight against radicalism is a never-ending battle.
Anyone who speaks out against religious fanaticism or extremism is in constant danger. The state and all social elements must be on their side in their fight against radicalism.
This is much more necessary now with the approach of the 2024 elections. Radicals and even terrorists are seeking their way into the presidential palace by supporting candidates capable of welcoming them.
Armando was a supporter of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama during the 2016 Jakarta governorship election, which put him at odds with radical groups siding with Governor Anies Baswedan.
In all likelihood, political parties and crooked politicians will use conservative or radical groups to win more voters in the next presidential poll in February 2024.
When politicians politicize religion for personal gain, chaos will ensue, as happened in the 2019 presidential race. Power-hungry politicians and radical groups whose aim was to establish an Islamic caliphate attempted to manipulate the election results. But they failed.
Indonesian radical groups that have been particularly influenced by the ideology of the Islamic State never give up. The counter-terrorism squad may have arrested thousands of suspected terrorists, but many are still there disguised as officials.
This is what Indonesians and young people influenced by radical ideologies should be more concerned about.
*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.