Mobocracy? Counting the cost of the rallies to ‘defend Islam’

Author

Ihsan Ali Fauzi is director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Democracy (PUSAD) Paramadina and a lecturer at Paramadina Graduate School.

Sejumlah mobil terbakar saat unjuk rasa emM Agung Rajasa/pd/16
Indonesian National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said that Rp 76 billion (AU$7.6 million) was spent on security for the 4 November and 2 December rallies. Photo by M Agung Rajasa for Antara.

 

The financial cost of the three so-called “Actions to Defend Islam” was not small. It increased as the number of demonstrators climbed and the goals of the protests broadened. While the first protest was attended mainly by the core hard-line groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), subsequent protests involved a much broader section of the Indonesian population – even former President Soeharto’s daughters Titiek (Siti Hediati Hariyadi) and Mamiek (Siti Hutami Endang Adiningsih) took part.

 

Indonesian National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian said that the National Police spent Rp 33 billion (AU$3.3 million) on security for the 4 November rally and Rp 43 billion for the 2 December protest. He also said that police had requested an additional Rp 95 billion for back-up security for the end of the year.

 

These figures do not include the expenses of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) for its “Defend the Nation” (Bela Negara) program, which has seen TNI Commander General Gatot Nurmantyo travel around the country talking up threats to the nation. It is therefore quite likely that the total amount spent by security forces in relation to the recent protests to “defend Islam” was much higher.

 

Similarly, the cost of President Joko Widodo’s “political safari” to religious and political party leaders would not have been insignificant. Yes, lunching with Megawati Soekarnoputri was probably not expensive. But what about the security costs involved with his visit to the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) headquarters or Prabowo Subianto’s ranch in Hambalang, West Java?

 

The supporters of the demonstration had their own expenses, of course. Although it is difficult to be accurate about the exact origin and amount of funds, one of the demonstration’s leaders mentioned that Rp 100 billion had been laid out on the 4 November rally. Whether the funds came from political parties or individuals is not really the issue. Expenses are still expenses.

 

The expenses outlined above are those directly associated with the three rallies. But there are also many additional indirect costs. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that there would have been significant costs to the Indonesian economy because of workers attending the rallies or choosing to stay home to avoid them. The total cost of the three demonstrations was likely much higher than the figure mentioned by the chief of police. And, of course, all this money was sacrificed just to urge action on a case that is already being dealt with by the justice sector: the allegations of blasphemy against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

 

But there are other costs that far exceed these material costs. The mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of protestors has eroded the foundations of Indonesian democracy. This much is clear from the basic fact that the demonstrations to “defend Islam” were connected to – if not directly born from – the upcoming Jakarta election, in which the Christian and ethnically Chinese Ahok is running for a second term. A friend jokingly questioned whether Ahok would have received the same treatment if he had converted to Islam a few years ago and gone on the hajj.

 

The importance of Jakarta as a political stage, and Ahok’s leadership style and record as governor, has spawned passionate Ahok-lovers and Ahok-haters. This has resulted in the Jakarta election being one of the most bitterly contested and controversial elections in history. In other words, there is a lot at stake in this election. It is easy to understand why elites (political, economic, intellectual, religious – you name it) who would otherwise be reluctant to support the FPI have been willing to form alliances with the organisation to mobilise demonstrators. The result is the pillars of our democracy have, slowly but surely, begun to wear away, with consequences that will extend far beyond Jakarta. The most serious of these consequences is the weakening of state authority in law enforcement.

 

Examining the steps taken by the government over the past two months, it is clear that Jokowi and Tito’s good intentions to prioritise a persuasive approach when dealing with the rallies’ organisers have not been accompanied by judicious use of repressive tactics. And having missed the opportunity to use more repressive means early on, it became too risky to deploy such an approach when the number of people mobilised had swelled. It was a case of too little, too late.

 

This dilemma was the core concern of the most recent issue of Tempo magazine. The issue condemned the rise of “mobocracy”, which it defined as a situation where the law is determined by the size of the crowd. This was similar to the findings of research my colleagues and I conducted and published in 2014, in the book “Policing Religious Conflicts in Indonesia“. We found that the way law enforcement officials respond to a case is almost always determined by public opinion or the support of the majority group.

 

But more than that, the most recent demonstration has also undermined the authority of “moderate” Muslim leaders. On 2 December, with Islam on centre stage, there was a notable silence from the leaders of NU and Muhammadiyah, the two largest Islamic organisations in the country and the backbone of Indonesia’s successful union of Islam and democracy. Although NU and Muhammadiyah are represented in the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), the MUI has been hijacked by the rally’s instigators, who cunningly named their movement the National Movement to Guard the MUI Fatwa (GNPF-MUI).

 

The togetherness inherent in the national motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” has also been severely damaged. This is another serious cost of the recent demonstrations. Although the rallies to defend Islam have become more peaceful with each iteration, that does not erase the reason that these rallies were held in the first place: to impose the will of a particular group through mob rule, mobocracy. And we know that anti-Chinese rhetoric has played a major part in these protests, despite organisers’ claims to the contrary. This has induced fears, behind the scenes at least, of a repeat of the tragic events of 1998. It also moved Rocky Intan, a researcher from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), to pen a moving and scathing personal piece on the issue earlier this week, asking “Is Indonesia Still Our Home?”

 

We need to reinforce and strengthen the foundations of our democracy. Learning from this expensive case, the government and civil society organisations, if they are concerned with strengthening Indonesian democracy, or even the sustainability of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), must open channels of communication, speak frankly, be willing to hear criticism, and support one another. I am not suggesting that they have not been working well. Rather, for too long they have been working in isolation, without adequate collaboration.

 

This piece was originally published in Indonesian as “Ongkos-Ongkos ‘Aksi Bela Islam'”.