Borchers, H. (2004) - Hardline Islamist Discourse in Indonesia-Sabili


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Borchers, H. (2004) - Hardline Islamist Discourse in Indonesia-Sabili

  1. 1. 1 Borchers, H. (2004): Hardline Islamist Discourse in Indonesia: Sabili and the International Dimension (Draft paper)1 Abstract: The ‘War on Terror’ and US foreign policies subsequent to 9/11 have not changed hardline Islamist discourse in Indonesia significantly. The players are the same, locked in the rhetoric of a ‘clash of civilisations’, but certain hardline views – as articulated in the popular news magazine ‘Sabili’ – have moved from the fringe of public opinion closer to the mainstream. Thereby, hardline Islamist discourse contributes to a growing awareness of regional and global issues among the public. While eyed with suspicion by foreign observers, the prevalence of hardline Islamist views may be conducive to furthering critical debate on such issues in the Indonesian political discourse. Introduction Indonesia is in a time of transition. The post-Soeharto years have been characterised by civil and political turmoil. As the successful elections in 1999 and 2004 indicate, however, the process of democratisation is positively transforming the country’s political landscape. One feature of this development is the rise of political Islam. Historically, the Indonesian state has had an uneasy relationship with Islam. The question of whether Indonesia should be founded upon secular or religious principles was at the crux of the problem, but the establishment of a full-blown Islamic state is now only the aspiration of a hardline fringe within Indonesia’s Muslim majority. As the elections suggest, most Indonesians are in favour of a secular, pluralistic system (see Raillon 2004). At the same time, the pluralism of Indonesia’s civil sphere has also strengthened and promoted a discourse that endorses the imposition of a narrow minoritarian and exclusionist ideology. Hardline Islamist discourse in Indonesia is much more visible now than it ever was or could have been under Soeharto’s authoritarianism, which effectively silenced any ideology contrary to the principles espoused by the regime. Indeed, it has become a widespread and vocal element within popular political discourse. The fortnightly publication Sabili is the flagship of this phenomenon in the publishing world. It analyses domestic and international affairs from an Islamist perspective. Although its exclusivist views are representative of a hardline minority among Indonesia’s tolerant and pluralistic Muslim majority, Sabili has now become among the most popular news magazines in Indonesia, with a circulation of approximately 145.000 in 2003 (Vatikiotis 2003). This situation leads us to wonder what special appeal this magazine holds, and how we can account for its popularity ahead of many more moderate Islamic publications. Content analysis of Sabili over the past 15 years suggests that one of its main strengths has been its ability to tap into the growing political awareness of Indonesia’s Muslim community. Some of the views expressed in Sabili that are based on domestic concerns, such as perceived secularisation and a decline in morals, also appeal to a wider, moderate audience. Moreover, the plight and suffering of Muslim communities worldwide and America’s role as ‘world police’ has long been a prominent feature of this discourse. In this international dimension, Sabili illustrates global politics through 1 This is a draft paper; it should not be cited without authorisation by the author (
  2. 2. 2 the lens of a ‘civilisational clash’, by bluntly portraying Western political domination as a new Crusade, a ‘War on Islam’ and an attempt to establish a new, post-Cold War, world order. The wars in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are depicted as a clash of Islam with ‘the other’, epitomised by U.S. imperialism and what is perceived to be a “Judeo-Christian” conspiracy to destroy Islam. While under the New Order, such views were only asserted by a small, politically outcast minority and largely ignored by the majority of Indonesian Muslims, they now enjoy very broad popular support in the context of contemporary geopolitics and the liberalised information market in which both print media and the internet play important roles. Sabili appears to be at the epicentre of this phenomenon. The discursive underpinnings of Islamist extremism now receive wide attention among the Muslim community, suggesting that certain views are becoming more acceptable and relevant. The new wave of anti-Americanism and anti-Bushism among Indonesians generally and the Muslim community in particular resonates with the views about current world affairs as articulated by hardline Islamists. More importantly, the hardline Islamist discourse of publications such as Sabili may in fact be an important stimulus in the construction of a modern Indonesian Muslim identity that could considerably influence the national and regional policy development. Sabili’s leap forward from the fringe of hardline Islamism closer to the Muslim mainstream may exemplify the subtle ideological transformation Indonesia’s umat is undergoing.2 The Roots of Islamism in Indonesia Though prominently termed ‘the world’s most populous Muslim nation’, Indonesia’s history has been characterised by secularist politics, legally founded on the 1945 constitution and ideologically articulated in the five pillars of the Pancasila, the state philosophy. Pancasila was propagated by the political elite, and widely accepted by the populace as reflecting cultural and moral values held in common by the numerous ethnic and religious communities of the country (van Bruinessen 2002a). Indonesia accommodates Hindus, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists, alongside its majority Muslim population. Although the first of Pancasila’s five principles encodes “belief in the one and only God” – a non-sectarian restatement of the doxological la ilaha illallah, the first pillar of Islam – its lack of overt Islamic language was designed to acknowledge Indonesia’s religious diversity in language reassuring to the Muslim majority.3 Also the constitution did not make any explicit reference to Islamic law and practice.4 Muslim leaders had drafted an amendment for the preamble of the constitution that would oblige adherents to Islam to uphold Islamic law, or syariah. However, in a last minute manoeuvre the Piagam Jakarta, or ‘Jakarta Charter’, was excluded from the final version of the constitution (Hefner 2000:42). Although until the 1960s all Islamic parties supported the Jakarta Charter, it was never passed under Soekarno and Soeharto, both of whom promoted a political order 2 Here, umat stands for the members of the Muslim community, but this transformation would also manifest itself in society at large. 3 The other four principles of the Pancasila are nationalism, humanitarianism, social justice and democracy. 4 Article 29 states that [1.] The State shall be based upon the belief in the One and Only God, and [2.] The State guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion orbelief. (Department of Information, 1989, The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia).
  3. 3. 3 that subordinated Islam to a secular political culture. Support for the amendment decreased under the Soeharto regime and, in Indonesia’s 1999 election, most of the larger Islamic parties such as the Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) and the Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN),5 alongside their respective popular support bases Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, had distanced themselves from the Charter. Overall support was minimal, and Islamic parties in favour of the Jakarta Charter won just 4% of the vote that year. This did not change much in the parliamentary and presidential contests of 2004, with Islamic parties only making modest gains, indicating limited support for the nation-wide imposition of syariah. All indications are that the majority of the Indonesian electorate endorses pluralist parties and a secularist political regime and opposes the exclusivist politics under the banner of Islamism.6 These electoral results appear to confirm the popular notion that Indonesia’s Muslim majority practices a pluralistic and tolerant Islam, and that many adhere to a syncretic or idiosyncratic variant of the faith. Islam arrived through trade links with India andthe Middle East, and in most cases areas adjusted itself to the contours of pre- existing faiths, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and indigenous beliefs. However, there was a steady and growing intellectual exchange with the Middle East and the Arab peninsula since the mid-19th Century. This flow of ideas helped initiate an Islamic revival in many parts of the archipelago, which endowed portions of the Indonesian umat with a stronger Muslim identity. Nevertheless, most of Indonesia’s Muslims remain somewhat nominal in their faith, and casual about their devotional obligations, with adherence to Islam being a matter of culture or convenience. Only about one third of Indonesia’s Muslim population is said to practise a devout or orthodox Islam (Eliraz 2004:74). At the same time, Islam in Indonesia has been ‘on the rise’ for the past quarter century, experiencing a rejuvenation of belief and practices, expressed in the effort of moving from a casually heterodox to a committed orthopractic interpretation of Islam. This is to some extent due to the socio-political and economic changes the country has experienced over the past decades, and to similar trends in transnational Islam. Increased urbanisation, economic stagnation, a large pool of discontented poor and insufficient state education are counterbalanced by the presence of Islamic institutions, some old, some quite new, including Islamic credit unions and micro- banks7 and the provision of affordable education in Indonesia’s many pesantren, Islamic boarding schools.8 The development of these institutions parallel to, or in place of, government services is significant in that it calls into question the social 5 The PKB, or National Awakening Party, came in third at the 1999 and the 2004 elections. Its major figure is Abdurrahman Wahid/Gus Dur. PAN, the National Mandate Party, is led by Amien Rais and came in fifth in 1999 and seventh at the 2004 elections. Both stand for a secular, pluralist Islam. 6 See Eliraz (2004:68ff), Wanandi (2004), Fealy (2003), Davis (2002:14), Lanti (2002). Significantly, the situation is quite different in Jakarta, where the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), or Prosperous Justice Party, which is perceived as a “clean Islamic party” that stands for a more orthodox interpretation of the faith, won the 2004 election with 22 percent, thereby possibly distorting the overall impression of political Islam in the country (Raillon 2004:2ff). However, the PKS does not support syariah, which has probably helped in attracting 7.2% of the national vote and 22.8% of the votes in Jakarta (Eliraz 2004:23-24, Raillon 2004:3). 7 Particularly since the 1997 financial crisis, Islamic ‘banks’ were at the forefront of bailing out poor families hit by the crisis. See Wright (2000), also Azra (2003:40ff). 8 Blanchard (2004a:5-6) observed that almost 20-25% of primary and secondary school children in Indonesia attend pesantrens. See also Azra (2003:41ff) and Wright (2000).
  4. 4. 4 contract between the state and the people. It could also be interpreted as a basis for criticism of the nation-state as a Western – and as such unsuitable – concept. The prevalence and efficiency of Islamic organisations and institutions in the socioeconomic sphere furthers the erosion of the legitimacy of the secular state and suggests an alternative, Islamic model (see Ehteshami 1997:189). Furthermore, Islam is becoming an important social and cultural element among the middle class that emerged over the past two decades.9 The trend towards devotion to Islamic values is a widespread phenomenon among well-off and better-educated Indonesians.10 The growing popularity of Islam was certainly facilitated by the increased support the faith received in the later years of the Soeharto era, making Islamic practice more socially acceptable among Indonesia’s progressive urbanites. The transformation Islam has undergone in recent years is reflected the rising popularity of the adherence to Islamic dress codes by Indonesia’s youth11 and attendance at Friday prayers at the mosque.12 Moreover, it is visible in media and the public, in advertising and lifestyle. Raillon suggests that in light of the 2004 election, “despite santrification or reislamization, Islam in the largest muslim country does not translate into a powerful political force” (2004:5).13 At the same time, subsequent to numerous bombings in the country, there has been a lively discussion in international corporate media and academia on the potential rise of ‘radical Islam’ in Indonesia.14 For those who have observed developments in the country over the past few decades, Islamist extremism is not a new phenomenon. In fact, alongside Hefner’s ‘Civil Islam’ (2000), there has been a history of a more politically oriented, more radical and at times militant, Islam throughout Indonesia’s history as a republic. A brief review of earlier Islamist movements in Indonesia explains where current dynamics in hardline Islamist discourse are rooted. Islamist Movements in Indonesia Since the declaration of independence in 1945, there has been a lively political competition between the nationalist, traditionalist and the reformist, modernist communities regarding the nature of the Indonesian state. Whereas nationalists and liberals pursued a secular and democratic state, reformist Muslims and hardline Islamists aspired to setting up an Islamic state governed by syariah. Two major forces were representative of the different interpretations of the role of Islam during the early 9 One aspect of this phenomenon is the increase in Indonesian hajis, afforded by improvements in the socio-economic situation of many Middle-class Muslims and spurred by the effects of globalisation, such as easier and faster travel. In the last few years, Indonesia consistently sent the largest haj contingent from outside Saudi Arabia (Azra 2002:35, see also Eliraz 2004:45ff). On Islamic resurgence as a response to social changes, see also Hefner (2000). 10 Vatikiotis (2003), Sebastian (2001), Jamhari (1999:181). 11 S. Brenner (1996), for example, discusses how young Javanese women’s decision to wear “the veil” is made out of a new historical consciousness that conceptualises the process of how they have used their knowledge and practice of Islam to bring about personal change. 12 Azra (2003:40). On Islamic resurgence in Indonesia see also Hefner’s detailed account (2000). 13 See also Davis (2002). 14 See, for instance, ICG (2001, 2002, 2005), Jones (2004b, 2004c), Kurlantzick (2004), Batley (2003), Hasan (2003), Sukma (2003), Vatikiotis (2003), Barton (2002), Davis (2002), van Bruinessen (2002a, 2002b), Lanti (2001).
  5. 5. 5 years of the Republic. Both political parties Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Masyumi agreed that the country should be governed under syariah, yet they did not have a clear conception as to how this should work in practice. They disagreed in their vision of the political system, however; NU pursued a secular state whereas Masyumi aspired to an Islamic state. While most Muslim social and political organisations representing Masyumi’s vision adopted parliamentary and electoral approaches,15 some movements employed a jihadist discourse and took on more militant approaches to achieve their goals. Among the most prominent was the Darul Islam, which shook Indonesia through the 1950s until the 1960s. Disagreements with the Republican government during the independence struggle led Muslim militia in West Java under Kartosuwiryo to break away and eventually establish their own government and state apparatus based on syariah. This movement was later joined by groups in South Sulawesi, under Kahar Muzakkar and under Teungku Mohammad Daud di Beureueh in Aceh. Darul Islam seriously challenged Indonesia’s republican government long after independence was finally won in 1949. The rebellion only ended with the capture or killing of its leaders in the early 1960s,16 but the struggle for establishing a political ‘House of Islam’ is to this day prominently rooted in the minds of Indonesia’s hardline Muslim community.17 Moreover, there is ample evidence to suggest that underground networks have persisted until the present day.18 Indeed, according to a recent ICG report, “[o]ver the last 55 years, that movement has produced splinters and offshoots that range from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to non-violent religious groups” (2005:i). The movement’s leaders have been glorified in hardline Islamist discourse as heroes fighting for Islam, and as recently as 2001, Sabili reported that Kahar Muzakkar, or Qahhar Mudzakkar, who is said to have been killed in 1965, may be alive after all.19 The government’s authoritarian strategies to suppress political Islam were not limited to radical Islamist movements. Following Soekarno’s “Guided Democracy” experiment from 1957 and the end of the Constitutional Assembly in 1960, Masyumi was banned, with its leaders imprisoned. The ban of Masyumi set off what Hefner called the “long winter of discontent for reformist Muslims faithful to the Masyumi vision” (1997:82). NU was politically active well into the 1960s, and only in the late 1960s backed away from demands to implement syariah (Hefner 2000:91). The division within Indonesia’s Muslim community remained, however, and “[u]ntil the present day, association with NU or Masyumi is an almost primordial attribute of Indonesian Muslims” (van Bruinessen 2002a). 15 See Azra (2003: 49), Lanti (2001). 16 Kartosuwirjo was captured and executed in 1962, Muzakkar was reportedly killed in 1965. 17 According to Eliraz (2004:61), Kartosuwirjo is considered to be a primary political inspiration for the ‘Ngruki Network’, the group of former graduates of Ba’asyir’s pesantren in Ngruki. On the “Ngruki Network”, see also ICG (2002). For a Ngruki perspective, see Irfan S. Awwas’s hagiography (1999). 18 ICG (2005), van Bruinessen (2002a). 19 Sabili VIII/15:72ff (January 2001). This mystification of leaders of the jihad is an essential part of hardline Islamist discourse, wherein militarily or spiritually outstanding characters, such as Muzakkar and Ba’asyir, as well as personalities of the ‘global jihad’, such as bin Laden, Yassin and Basayev, serve as role models for their followers in the struggle against national oppression and global hegemony, see Sabili X/25:33ff (July 2002).
  6. 6. 6 In the subsequent decades under Soeharto, Islam was further depoliticised. The number of Muslim representatives in the country’s military and bureaucracy decreased until disproportionally small.20 The silencing of political Islam culminated in legislation that obliged all social and political parties and associations to subscribe exclusively to the secular tenets of Pancasila. This principle of ‘sole foundation’ (azas tunggal) was particularly controversial, and led to numerous clashes between Muslim groups and the army, as well as generally to a radicalisation of politically motivated Islamist groups. In the 1970s and 1980s, a group alleged to have connections with the Darul Islam, the Komando Jihad, was held responsible for a string of arson and bombing attacks on churches, nightclubs and cinemas.21 Further, the bombings of Borobudur and of a branch of Bank Central Asia, as well as the 1981 hijacking of a Garuda airplane, seemed to indicate that Islamist extremism as a response to the country’s secular politics endured (see Lanti 2001). Significantly, in several cases these incidents – and Komando Jihad activities generally – likely had the direct support of the army and/or the intelligence services, and ultimately served other agendas, such as gaining or maintaining power, influencing elections, or intimidating the Muslim electorate.22 20 See Bourchier and Hadiz (2003:139), Davis (2002:16), Schwarz (1999:181). 21 ICG (2005), van Bruinessen (2002a), Hefner (1996:28). 22 Azra (2003:50), van Bruinessen (2002b), Hefner (1996:28).
  7. 7. 7 Most memorable, however, are the incidents at Tanjung Priok, Jakarta in 1984 and Talang Sari, Lampung in 1989. In both cases, clashes between Muslim groups and the army were grounded in popular discontent with the government’s secular policies; the regime’s determination to deal with this sentiment ruthlessly caused hundreds of casualties. The alleged involvement in the Tanjung Priok incident of Armed Forces Commander General Benny Moerdani, a Catholic, only exacerbated Muslim anger and fed the sentiment that a non-Muslim minority dominated the Muslim majority.23 The impression of government and military repression along with a general disillusionment with the Soeharto regime fuelled a resurgence of devotion to political Islam and particularly motivated Indonesia’s students, who had already been inspired by the 1979 Iranian Revolution.24 Many of these students established Islamic discussion groups to further their commitment to revitalising and strengthening Islam. Meanwhile, Mohammad Natsir’s Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (DDII), the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council, which was established in 1967 after the Arab-Israeli war, carried on the legacy of Masyumi mixed with virulent anti- communist, anti-Christian and anti-Zionist propaganda. It furthered discussions on domestic issues and, more significantly, introduced analyses of international issues that spoke directly to the Muslim community. More than any other dakwah (proselytism) organisation, the DDII forged ties with international Muslim organisations and increasingly received assistance from donors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan.25 Their periodical Media Dakwah, which stopped running due to financial difficulties in 2003, served “as a broker for Middle Eastern Muslims’ ideas” (Hefner 1997:86) and devoted more attention to the larger Muslim world than any other Indonesian Muslim media (ibid.94). It adopted an emotive discourse critical of the liberalisation of Islam, and dwelled at length on a perceived international conspiracy against Islam, enriched by strong anti-Semitism and an “almost paranoid obsession with Christian missionary efforts as a threat to Islam” (van Bruinessen 2002a). Hefner (1997:85) observed that the DDII’s efforts to keep the issue of Christianisation in the public discourse had direct impact on some government policies regarding restrictions on Christian evangelism, suggesting that already then hardline Islamist discourse had a certain impact on government policies. Now considered “a perfectly respectable, if conservative, organisation dedicated to the implementation of Islamic law” (Jones 2004a:25), the DDII laid the groundwork for today’s hardline Islamist discourse, and its legacies are most evident in the now popular publication Sabili. From the mid-1980s Soeharto increasingly patronised Islam and afforded a more balanced representation of Muslims in Indonesian politics, military and bureaucracy. His intent was a strategic move to co-opt Islamic and Islamist dissent, counterbalance the power gained by the military, and ultimately gain the support of large factions of Indonesia’s Muslim community.26 To promote Islam, he established the Ikatan 23 See Bourchier and Hadiz (2003:140). On the impact the Tanjung Priok and Talang Sari incidents had on Muslim dissent, see Hefner (1996:29ff). Moerdani is one of the favourite bugaboos of Sabili and likeminded publications, which celebrated his death in August 2004 as a blow to the perceived project of Christianising Indonesia. 24 See Eliraz (2004:41). 25 Hefner (2000:109, 1997:86). 26 See Betrand (2004:83ff), van Bruinessen (2002a, 1996), Hefner (2000). Also Soeharto’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1991 can be understood in this context.
  8. 8. 8 Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia (ICMI), the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals, under his protégé B.J. Habibie in 1990. ICMI had the objective of combining Muslim piety with a secular educational curriculum promoting scientific knowledge, yet it was ultimately designed to mobilise Muslim support for the regime.27 This was intended to be perceived by the umat as a sign that the government was beginning to pay due respect to the role of Islam in Indonesia. More importantly, the regime attempted to control the growing phenomenon of Islamic rejuvenation that had been subtly transforming the image of Islam in Indonesia over the previous two decades, restructuring the social, cultural and, ultimately, the political sphere. Significantly, this was not only a domestic phenomenon. Islam has experienced a global rejuvenation or resurgence since the 1980s (Roy 2004). The faith was losing its association with rural backwardness and attracted a wider following, most notably also among the urban middle and higher classes.28 27 Woodward (2002:130), Hefner (2000:125). 28 Azra (2003:42), Bourchier and Hadiz (2003:141), Lanti (2001), Hefner 2000).
  9. 9. 9 The Global Umat Lanti has recently argued that “[t]he general Indonesian public may [have become] more pious in their religious practices and may be more aware of their Islamic identity, but their political behavior has hardly been changed” (2001).29 In fact, Islam in Indonesia has significantly changed since the 1950s, having evolved from a rural, ‘backward’ religion to a faith whose adherents on the one hand are rooted in Islamic values and tradition, yet on the other are increasingly aware of the changing dynamics of Indonesian society and the social and political environment. Muslims in Indonesia have become ‘more mature’ (Jamhari 1999:183) as Islamic education has improved, enabling the Muslim community to participate in discourses about current socio- political affairs in Indonesia and on the application of and implications for Islamic values and law.30 Moreover, the notion of a global umat assumed more relevance in the mainstream discourse.31 The international dimension had already been a popular element of hardline Islamist discourse, which has played no small role in introducing the idea to Indonesia’s Muslim community, aided by the revolution of information technology and wider availability and affordability of print media. At the same time, there has been a steady and growing intellectual exchange with other Muslim countries, particularly with – but not limited to – the Middle East. Links to the Middle East had long been established. From the 16th Century there has been a steady flow of ideas to Indonesia. Since the 19th Century, growing numbers of Indonesian Muslims took part in the haj, and until today many Indonesians receive all or part of their education at institutions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen and Egypt’s al-Azhar university.32 Upon return, Indonesian students have maintained contact with their fellow students from all over the world, thereby forming networks of friends. These global networks have become a determining factor in strengthening the notion of a global Muslim brotherhood, which in turn also influenced the Islamisation of Indonesian society and politics.33 The notion of a global umat vs. ‘the other’ is the most determinant feature of the international dimension in hardline Islamist discourse, and it calls to mind Huntington’s theory of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ (1993). His hypothesis informs the essentialist bipolar worldview professed by hardline Islamists that categorises the 29 See also Azra (2003:42). 30 See also Hefner (2000:58ff). 31 The concept of the global umat shares many traits described in Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’ (1991), and other concepts that are informed by Anderson, such as Roy’s (2004) notion of the de- territorialisation of global Islam, and Mandaville’s (2002) discussion on the transformation of the Islamic community, the “reimagined ummah”, through global networks and information technology. 32 See Eliraz (2004), Azra (2003, 2002), Kaptein (2002), van Bruinessen (2002a, 1999). Many of the returnees from overseas held – and continue to hold – high-profile roles as Muslim intellectuals, politicians and imam, or preachers. Prominent among them are Nurcholish Madjid, Dawan Rahardjo, and Djohan Effendi (see Bertrand 2004:85). Also the DDII had sent hundreds of students to education centres in the Middle East, thereby underlining their internationalist outlook (Hefner 2000:110, 1996:86). 33 In Azra’s words, “[t]he most important discourse in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago arising from this wave [of Indonesian students and hajis returning from the Middle East] was pan-Islamism” (2003:43).
  10. 10. 10 world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The hardline Islamist reading of Huntington suggests that instead of a civilisational clash among a number of competing civilisations, the world order is being determined and shaped by a clash between Western civilisation and Islamic civilisation.34 Islamist hardliners such as the DDII had long been engaged in a discourse on the struggle of the global umat against a Judeo-Christian conspiracy and a perceived ‘War on Islam’ that highlighted the West’s role in exploiting and oppressing Muslim communities, particularly in countries of ‘the Third World’. This ‘Crusade of the West’ has been a popular notion among hardline Islamists worldwide. In pre-Reformasi Indonesia, hardline Islamist groups were the most vocal voices critical of what they perceive to be the imperialist agenda of the U.S. and other Western governments. The paradigm employed by the Islamists is decidedly anti-imperialist, and thus reflects certain views held by Soekarno in his instrumental role in the non-aligned movement, while it is opposed to Soeharto’s agenda of integrating Indonesia into the international – and Western-dominated – global market. During the Soeharto regime anti-imperialist and leftist discourse was largely silenced. Soeharto had forcefully and – to a good extent – successfully muzzled the news media and popular political debate to quell any dissent and promote political consensus.35 Since the fall of Soeharto the left is only cautiously being restructured, facing antagonism by both nationalists and Islamists. With the left essentially silenced, hardline Islamists were about the most outspoken group in society that articulated critique of the current world order. Their portrayal of international conflicts was to put forward the notion of a ‘War on Islam’ and thus unify the umat. However, they further utilised this international dimension to address domestic concerns. Indeed, Hefner notes that a reason for the DDII’s international focus was “to voice indirect criticism of domestic actors, including Christians, secularists, feminists, and Muslim progressives” (2000:109). The hardline rhetoric initially barely resonated with the mainstream of Indonesia’s population, but the notion of a global umat slowly gained currency. The nature of conflicts elsewhere in the world, such as in Palestine and Chechnya, increasingly entered the Indonesian Muslim consciousness through Friday prayers and international publications. As many Indonesians grew more aware of their Muslim identity, they increasingly felt a higher degree of ‘primordial’ or religious solidarity (Lantri 2001) with suppressed Muslim communities in other countries. In 1987, two leading figures of the DDII established the Komite Indonesia untuk Solidaritas dengan Dunia Islam (KISDI), the Indonesian Committee for Solidarity 34 As observed by Eliraz (2004:32), the polarity of this discourse corresponds with the significance the terms kafir (infidel) and kufur (infidelity) hold in hardline Islamist discourse alongside the concepts of syariah and jihad. “Radical fundamentalists need worthy adversaries. Confrontation and opposition are essential to their vitality, for clearly demarcating the borders between them and the unbelievers, to prevent contamination and to maintain purity” (ibid.: 31). 35 See Hefner (2000:17). Habermas’ theory on the refeudalisation of the public sphere is particularly interesting in this context. The public sphere is the sphere between civil society and the state, in which critical public discussion of matters of general interest is institutionally secured, thus guaranteeing a critical discourse monitored by the people. Under an authoritarian regime the public is excluded. The press and the media serve less as organs of public information and debate than as technologies for managing consensus and promoting consumer culture (see Habermas 1989). On the applicability of Habermas’ concept to the context of the Indonesian political discourse under Soeharto, see also Hasan (2003:2).
  11. 11. 11 with the Muslim World. KISDI originally intended to heighten Indonesian sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, but subsequently also addressed the conflicts in Iraq, Bosnia, Kashmir and Algeria, among others. Moreover, it served to attract the attention of the Indonesian umat and furthered anti-Western and anti-U.S. sentiment based on allegations of treachery and hypocrisy. To some extent, these allegations were tolerated, if not supported, by Soeharto.36 KISDI emphasised the centrality that the suffering of the ‘global Muslim community’ at the hands of ‘Western imperialists and Zionists’ held – and continues to hold – in hardline Islamist discourse. The wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq and elsewhere, along with the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, were interpreted as conflicts between ‘Islam’ and ‘the other’. As diverse as the perpetrators may have been, in their attack on Islam they were all considered part of a global conspiracy designed to weaken and continue to divide the Islamic community. As such, the nature of the discourse was already highly polarised in the late 1980s. This process is not unlike what Greenway understands as the “’kin-country’ syndrome”. According to Huntington, this refers to the phenomenon of “civilization rallying”, wherein “groups or states belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization try to rally support from other members of their own civilization” (1993:35). Indeed, such a phenomenon can be observed all over the Muslim world, in reaction to Western hegemony, but also in reaction to the ill-treatment of Muslim minorities in countries such as China and India (see Ehteshami 1997: 193). In Indonesia, however, hardline Islamists – though supported by Muslim organisations in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere – were rallying their countrymen also to achieve their own goals, the Islamisation of Indonesian society and a greater political role for Islam in the country. The perception of a ‘War on Islam’ turned out to be a successful strategy in generating support and solidarity for Muslims elsewhere among the Indonesian umat – support that could ultimately translate into social and political power at home. Sabili’s role in Indonesia’s hardline Islamist discourse Since it was first published in 1989, Sabili has professed this binary construction of the image of the enemy along the same lines as KISDI, DDII and the previously mentioned Media Dakwah. Sabili is published fortnightly and is now among the most popular news magazines in Indonesia. It is sold in some bookstores and hawked by book vendors outside mosques in the main cities every Friday. Sabili was founded by Abdi Sumaiti, alias Abu Rido, who is nowadays a prominent figure of the PKS. Sumaiti is a former lecturer in Islamic religion at the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). He had pursued his education at Madinah University in Saudi Arabia where he joined the Wahhabi movement.37 His reportedly strong anti-Semitic and anti-Christian stance is well reflected in the early articles of Sabili, which were 36 See Hasan (2003:3), Hefner (2000:109-110). On the links between the DDII and the Soeharto regime, see also Azra (2002:36ff). 37 See Aditjondro (2000), who also discusses Sumaiti’s links to the Laskar Jihad.
  12. 12. 12 initially still copied and translated from publications in the Middle East, such as Al- Mujtama in Kuwait (see Soekanto 2004). From 1989 to 1993 Sabili predominantly featured articles that served as moral guidance, by help of using stories from the lives of the prophet and other, more general anecdotes. These were to instil a sense of understanding of pure Islamic teaching and values among the readership, substantiated by sermons and articles on issues such as Islamic lifestyle, family life and a variety of social issues. Also, it contained discussions of a theological or religious nature such as the necessity of dakwah, along with orthodox, literal interpretations of the Qur’an and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Like the rhetoric of Media Dakwah, Sabili’s religious and moral language in their coverage of and commentary on current events often reflect basic themes of the Qur’an and Islamic history.38 Moreover, it prominently featured articles on international issues, such as the conflicts in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Balkans, as well as discussions on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the role of the U.S. in establishing a new world order. Another element of this international dimension were articles on the suppression of Muslim communities elsewhere, such as in Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Sabili already then invoked the powerful notion of a global umat and a ‘War on Islam’, that would continue to dominate the international dimension of its discourse. It thereby tapped into the “unending stream of anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Shi`a, anti-Ahmadi and anti-liberal tracts, many of them of Saudi or Kuwaiti provenance” (van Bruinessen 2002c), that began flooding the Indonesian book market in the 1980s. Its orthodox interpretations of Islam and its radical views, as well as its analysis of international issues and its more subtle critique of the moral and social fabric of Indonesian society may have warranted its discontinuation in 1993. It was revived in 1998, when it also obtained a Surat Ijin Usaha Penerbitan Pers (SIUPP), a government licence to publish. In the chaos that reigned after Soeharto stepped down, Sabili made full use of the newly gained press freedom. This is evident by the sudden entry of domestic politics into Sabili’s discourse, which could now be openly debated without fear of state repercussions. Discussions on the role of political Islam, as well as criticism of perceived Christian proselytizing and the history of oppression of the umat by the government and the military, all of which would have earned it quick closure under Soeharto, now dominated the publication (see Soekanto 2004).39 Though less frequent in the heated debate on domestic issues during the early Reformasi period, its international outlook remained unchanged. Sabili continued to display its sympathies for oppressed Muslim communities in the Middle East, the Balkans, Southeast Asia and beyond. It further pursued the anti-Western, Anti-U.S., anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric that had characterised it already in the late 1980s/early 1990s.40 At the same time, Sabili addressed a number of issues that also 38 See Hefner’s (1997:89) observations on Media Dakwah. 39 In the context of government and military oppression, reviews of the Tanjung Priok and Talang Sari incidents were – and continue to be – prominent examples. For representative examples, see “AMIN dipancing, Islam dituding”, Sabili VI/22:18 (May 1999) and numerous other articles, passim. 40 See, for instance, “Ayo berjihad ke Palestina”, Sabili VIII/10 (November 2000), “Intifadhah membungkan arogansi Israel”, Sabili VIII/23:51ff (May 2001), “Israel mencipta neraka untuk Muslim
  13. 13. 13 appealed to many among the increasingly discontented and confused Indonesian majority. Indeed, as noted by van Bruinessen, “[s]olidarity with Palestine is only part of the story; the labels “Jew” or “Zionist” refer to a whole range of internal enemies and such threats as secularism, cosmopolitanism and globalization, as well as the inseparable evil pair of capitalism and communism” (2002a). Communism and Liberal Islam Communism has long been considered one of the archenemies of Islam in Indonesia, and the fear of – or antagonism towards – communism remains a significant and influential sentiment. Although the 1965/66 massacres and subsequent policy measures such as the ban of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), Indonesia’s Communist Party, largely incapacitated any leftist discourse, communism as an ideology still finds its supporters and, much more significantly, adversaries. Hardline Islamists continue to be among the most vocal – and radical. After 1965, many Muslim groups took part in the public massacres of PKI members and followers, spurred on by military provocation and organisation. Radical Muslims have in fact often been utilised by the military as a means of eliminating dissent or maintaining the balance of power, most recently in Maluku and Sulawesi. Muslim antipathy towards communism was thus to a large extent also nurtured by other elements in Indonesian society, most of all the military, but often with direct or indirect support by the government. Communism is still stigmatised in Indonesia, and to this day it is used both by nationalists and hardline Islamists as a rhetorical device to discredit political opponents and influence public opinion.41 The level of animosity towards communism is surpassed by the denunciation of liberal trends within Islam. Articles on the questionable morality of liberalisation of the faith are a frequent feature in Sabili. Liberal Islam is attracting a growing segment of Indonesian Muslims at the polls. On the Islamic spectrum it is positioned at the left end, with the moderate majority in the middle and hardline groups on the right. Liberal Islam in Indonesia advocates, among other principles, tolerance, pluralism, political secularism, individual and women’s rights, democracy, freedom of thought, and human progress. As such, it is considered to be a ‘good’ form of Islam by the West and regularly attracts funding from public and private sources overseas. Herewith, it has raised the vocal criticism of the hardline community, which considers the liberalisation of Islam to be heretical and accuse it of treason and allegiance with the West. Among a populace that feels increasingly attracted to piety, certain liberal views still cause controversy. Indeed, many moderate Muslim intellectuals and Palestina”, Sabili VIII/25:52ff (June 2001), “Menanti titik akhir Israel”, Sabili VIII/26:54ff (June 2001), on the Middle East conflict. Its anti-Zionist rhetoric is also prevalent in the context of domestic events, such as the April 1999 bomb attacks on the Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta, which was depicted as a means of discrediting Islam allegedly orchestrated by Soeharto and allies and Israel. See “Bom anti Islam”, Sabili VI/05:20ff (May 1999). 41 One only needs to think of the recent removal of leftist and communist literature from bookshelves of Indonesian book stores. See “Muslim militants force leftist author's works off the bookshelves”, Australian Financial Review, May 7th, 2001, “Kontroversi razia buku kiri”, Sabili VIII/25:16ff (June 2001). See also Eliraz (2004:35).
  14. 14. 14 politicians tend to side rather with the right than the left end of the spectrum, either of conviction or so as not to appear ‘un-Islamic’. Both discussions on communism and liberal Islam add up to a potent mix, with which hardline Islamists seek to establish their moral superiority in Indonesian political and social discourse. The prevalence of a liberal Islam in particular is in part blamed on the perceived secularisation of Indonesia, and in part on the influence of Western culture and associated political and social concepts.42 Modernisation and Secularisation The rapid industrialisation and modernisation of Indonesia’s economy and society has brought with it the usual repercussions, such as urbanisation, environmental degradation, overpopulation, and a widening gap between a small pool of the very rich and a vast pool of the desperately poor, though sandwiched in between we find a growing middle class. While the rural and urban poor find themselves in a destitute situation without adequate government support, Indonesia’s middle-class faces its own challenge in positioning itself in a rapidly changing national and global environment. As a common response to the challenges and pitfalls of modernisation, both groups have resorted to spirituality. It may seem that many Indonesians are concerned about the process of modernisation that has transformed Indonesian society over the past decades. In fact, mainstream Muslims do not necessarily reject modernity as such. Islam as a religion and a way of life is not juxtaposed to scientific and technological development or rational thought. Yet it entails a strong notion of morality, and a significant emphasis on Islamic values and codes of conduct, which are ever more perceived to be the only acceptable foundation of Indonesian society by a growing number of Indonesians. Many Indonesian Muslims object to certain aspects of the Western sense of secularisation that are perceived to be detrimental to society and the individual. Accordingly, they consider secularisation along with foreign influence in and impact on the political, economic, social and cultural landscape in Indonesia as transforming and destabilising the moral underpinnings of the nation. While they welcome and utilise technological innovations, Islamists – and with them many moderate Muslims – reject modernity in the sense of it promoting and entrenching numerous ‘social problems’. These ‘social problems’ are perceived to lead to a decline in morals and values. The abuse of alcohol, drugs, gambling, promiscuous sex, as well as the corruption and desolation of the social and political spheres are the dominating themes of this debate. Sabili successfully incorporates these issues into its discourse, thus responding to the concerns of a growing number of Indonesians whose struggle with social change 42 See Adnin Armas, M.A. (2003), Pengaruh Kristen-Orientalis terhadap Islam Liberal; Dialog interaktif dengan aktivis Jaringan Islam Liberal. Jakarta: Gema Insani; Fauzan al-Anshori (2003), Melawan konspirasi Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL). Jakarta: Pustaka Al-Furqan; Hassan Hanafi (1999), Oksidentalisme; sikap kita terhadap tradisi Barat. Jakarta: Paramadina; Luthfi Bashari, H. (2003), Musuh besar ummat Islam: Zionisme, sekularisme, atheisme, sinkretisme, salibisme, JIL, oportunisme. Yogyakarta: Wihdah Press; Umaruddin Masdar (2003), Agama kolonial; Colonial mindset dalam pemikiran Islam liberal. Yogyakarta: Klik.
  15. 15. 15 inspires personal change according to orthodox Islamic teaching. Articles that address these ideas are frequent features in Sabili, and their critique of moral decline is juxtaposed to the notion that adherence to Islamic thinking and practice strengthens moral and social security. Therein, Sabili also highlights matters of interest to Muslim youth, who are thought to be most at risk of being ‘corrupted’. A regular feature of the magazine called eLKa, or Lembaran Khazanah, consists of a 30 odd-page insert – introduced in 1999 – that specifically addresses a young readership. It is dominated by articles and stories on moral guidance that also feature strongly in the ‘adult’ section of the magazine, and further includes general advice columns. However, its content relates to the experience and lifestyle of the youth, promoting an Islamic way of life, often in language appealing to youth. Besides, it regularly features personal portraits of young Muslim activists and intellectuals, both male and female, who are meant to serve as role models, to affirm the ‘messianic’ message intrinsic in many of Sabili’s articles. It is further evident from the reproachful tone often displayed in Sabili’s articles that hardline Islamists reject the process of secularisation as exemplified by progressive Indonesians, whose liberal interpretation of Islam and the Qur’an they strongly object to, and Western powers, which they accuse of betraying the moral high ground they so vociferously claim for themselves. They consider Pancasila, the foundation philosophy of the Indonesian state, as illegitimate and even heretical, and thus reject it, as it is a ‘creation of man’ over Allah. Their interpretation of Islam is considered a superior ethical code and an alternative social doctrine, representing and strengthening the values of Indonesian society. 43 As such, Indonesian Islamists consider themselves in their efforts as guardians of the nation and the Muslim community, of which many also reject the perceived moral decline in Indonesia.44 Westernisation and Christianisation The globalisation of capital and the dynamics of the free market are thought to cause widespread cultural dislocation and economic hardship for Muslim communities. Western political and economic concepts along with cultural influences dispersed via global governance and media are thought to slowly destroy the Indonesian social and cultural fabric. The apparent disintegration of the socio-economically supportive extended family unit, so vital to the renewal of Muslim cultural values, is considered indicative of this transformation (see Ehtashami 1997:196). Sabili reflects this concern by regularly featuring columns and articles that emphasise the importance of social and therein particularly family values alongside more practical articles on how to be good parents raising good children in accordance with Islamic teaching. Indeed, the family circle is considered to be the most important locus for the promotion of dakwah. 43 See Behrend (2003) on the teachings of Ba’asyir, and Behrend’s translation of the paper Ba’asyir presented at the first Indonesian Congress of Mujahidin, Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia (MMI), held in Yogyakarta, 5-7 August 2000, both of which clearly outline these views. See further Eliraz (2004:29,71), Bourchier and Hadiz (2003:140), Schwarz (1999:166, 172). 44 The plans for new ‘morality laws’ bear witness to the influence these public sentiments have on the Indonesian decision-making body. See “Revised code criminalizes public kissing”, Diani, H., Jakarta Post, February 5th, 2005, and “Indonesia plans new morality laws”, BBC, February 6th, 2005.
  16. 16. 16 The discourse of social criticism in Sabili singles out Western countries as a result of a fear of wholesale ‘Westernisation’ of Islamic cultures and a reaction to decades of direct intervention by the West in the Middle East and elsewhere, characterised by enduring military conflict, regime change, and the ‘imposition’ of concepts such as the nation state, democracy and human rights. The resurgence of Islamic identity and subsequent popular devotion to Islamic values worldwide indicates that this frame of analysis is indeed widespread, also evident in the adoption of the Islamic Bill of Rights by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1990.45 Islamic fundamentalism in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan and Turkey can thus be considered a form of cultural nationalism, as much as an effort to challenge the new world order (Ehteshami 1997:184). Interestingly, though, even hardline Islamist discourse as expressed in Sabili at times articulates itself and its political vision in terms of Western concepts. It does so to highlight the corruption and hypocrisy of Western ideologies, by pointing to the double standards employed in the application of these concepts and values. At the same time, however, hardline Islamists also claim some of these ideologies, such as human rights, for their own purposes, generally in the context of the oppression of Muslims in Indonesia and beyond.46 Along with the enduring critique of the detrimental influences of Western thought and action on the Muslim world, Sabili frequently highlights the perceived threat of the Christianisation of Indonesia as another indicator of Westernisation and social disintegration.47 The notion of a Judeo-Christian conspiracy within Indonesia has been fed by the historical oppression of Islam in the country and the relative over- representation of Christians in the country’s army, bureaucracy, media, and social elite. Indeed, Christians own some of the largest publishing houses, such as the Catholic-owned Gramedia group.48 For many among Indonesia’s Muslim majority, this continues to represent a red cape, and the anti-Christian rhetoric of Sabili, ICMI modernists and others echoes at the grassroots level of the orthodox Muslim community.49 More importantly, those within the Muslim community with a predisposition for conspiracy theories – and this is by far not limited to hardline Islamists – readily perceive links between some of the country’s higher officials and bureaucrats and foreign powers.50 45 The Islamic Bill of Rights emphasises divine rule and community values based on syariah, as opposed to the individualism incorporated in the Western concept of human rights. 46 See, for example, Sabili XI/05 (September 2003) on the arrest of Muslim activists. Also Davis (2002:26) remarks that the Laskar Jihad has based its media campaign on “Western” values such as human rights. 47 See, for instance, Sabili V/09:40ff (December 1992/January 1993); “Mereka amat membenci Islam”, Sabili VI/Edisi Khusus:57ff (November 1998), “Pemurtadan berkedok Islam”, Sabili VI/24:51:ff (Juni 1999); “Pendeta versus injil (1)”, Sabili IX/03:38ff (August 2001); “Kristenisasi menyerbu kampus”, Sabili XI/01:96ff (July 2003). 48 See Hefner (1997:88). 49 For a discussion on anti-Christian discourse and sentiments, see Hasan (2003), Eliraz (2004:34). 50 FOKUS (2002), Rencana pendirian persemakmuran Kristen di Asia Tenggara; Surat Arroyo kepada Bush. Bogor: FOKUS (Forum Kajian Khusus). Rustam Kastor (2000a), Fakta, data dan analisa konspirasi politik RMS dan Kristen menghancurkan ummat Islam di Ambon-Maluku. Mengungkap konflik berdarah antara ummat beragama dan suara hati warga muslim yang teraniaya. Yogyakarta: Wihdah Press; (2000b), Suara Maluku membantah; Rustam Kastor menjawab. Polemik buku konspirasi politik RMS dan Kristen menghancurkan ummat islam di ambon-Maluku. Yogyakarta: Wihdah Press. Sa'duddin As-Sayyid Shalih (2000), Jaringan konspirasi menentang Islam. Yogyakarta: Wihdah Press.
  17. 17. 17 Viewed within this larger context from a hardline Islamist perspective, Islam is under threat both at home and overseas. The domestic discourse on modernisation, secularisation, Westernisation and Christianisation corresponds clearly with the apparent struggle between the ‘Judeo-Christian’ West and the dar al-Islam, ‘House of Islam’.51 In this discourse, as Eliraz (2004:36) points out, “anti-Zionism, anti- Semitism, anti-Christianity, anti-Western sentiments, anti-Americanism, and even anti-Communism, are interchangeable terms to define the enemy, and are often expressed in the same breath”. The notion of ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ is obvious, as along with the depiction of the superiority of Islam, a deconstruction of Western civilisation and Western notions of modernity is professed. ‘The West’ is considered morally corrupt, and plagued by countless problems. Indeed, hardline Islamist discourse seems to suggest that the decline of Western civilisation is well advanced and its final implosion imminent. A common example is, not surprisingly, the American political and social system, which is considered the ultimate failure of the Western model. Be it race riots in the early 1990s, or the prevalence of crime, abuse and rape in American society, the hardline Islamist discourse as reflected in Sabili suggests that America is plagued by manifold problems at home that mock their efforts of ‘pacifying’ and ‘democratising’ the world elsewhere.52 Furthermore, because of its role as the sole remaining political, economic and ‘cultural’ superpower, U.S. foreign policies are subject to harsh criticism and cynical interrogation, as the U.S. purportedly uses a double standard in its application and acknowledgement of ‘universal’ rights and the values of freedom, equality, democracy and peace. In this sense, Indonesian hardline Islamists are no different from many dissident groups elsewhere in the world. Anti-Americanism, and therein specifically anti-Bushism, is a popular global phenomenon (Ahrari 2005). In Indonesia, as Hafidz (2003:396) maintains, “one of the root causes of the terror threat [is the] American factor”. Anti-Americanism Anti-Americanism presupposes the existence of Americanism. In Huntington’s words, Americanism stands for the belief that “[a] world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans and to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world” (1993b:83). The current anti-American sentiment can be understood as a reaction to the belief expressed in this modern notion of Americanism. According to a Pew Research Centre survey conducted in 2003, just 15% of Indonesian Muslims look favourably at the U.S. – down from 75% in 1999/2000 (2005:106). However, the Centre’s January 2005 report ‘Global Opinion’ reveals that anti-Americanism is indeed a global 51 See Eliraz (2004:36), Ehteshami (1997:184). 52 See Sabili IV/18:4ff (May 1992).
  18. 18. 18 phenomenon that has been prevalent for a long time,53 and that does not distinguish between cultural, ethnic, or religious affiliation. Anti-Americanism is ‘multi- civilisational’, ostensibly a unifying voice in a global civil society movement – yet not excluding governments – that challenges the current world order. Where do hardline Islamists fit in? US foreign policies, and the UN’s relative inability in mediating these, have for long been a bone of contention for Indonesian Islamists, most specifically U.S. support for Israel during and subsequent to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.54 Indeed, “[f]or Muslims, it has become almost an article of faith that the United States sides unfairly with Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians” (Pew Research Centre 2005:112). In Indonesia, this view is held by 76% of respondents to the Centre’s survey (2005:112). The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the main pillars of global discontent among Muslim communities. But the resentment displayed by Indonesian Muslims is also directed at U.S. policies at large, though hardline Islamists do distinguish between those aspects of relevance to the umat and those that lie outside their sphere of strategic interest. In Sabili, one finds little reference to U.S. foreign policy interventions in the non-Muslim world.55 The focus is largely on Muslim communities and their encounter with ‘the other’, as the complexity of world affairs could otherwise distort the hardline Islamist vision of a ‘War on Islam’. This notion promises to have the potential of unifying Muslims in Indonesia and beyond against a foreign oppressor. which could further lead to rejuvenating Islam. But Indonesian hardline Islamists may misjudge and overestimate the extent and influence of anti- American sentiment. Is anti-Americanism among Indonesian Muslims any different from the anti- Americanism prevalent in the Middle East? There, according to Rashid Khalidi (in Shohat 2004:112-113), one has to distinguish between the sentiment of a minority of Islamists that rejects America as a whole, ‘visceral anti-Americanism’ in his words, and those Muslims who are particularly critical of specific aspects of US foreign policy, while having respect for other aspects of American social and political culture. In this context, the relative anti-Americanism of people in the Middle East, that rejects aspects of U.S. foreign policy while embracing American materialism and consumer culture, the free market and democracy, appears to serve as a counter- narrative to the official US discourse depicting the extent of anti-Americanism within Muslim communities. Richards view is representative of this official discourse, in that he believes that “’Islamic radicals’ enjoy so much sympathy in the Middle East and wider Muslim world” (2003:v).56 Despite much supposed evidence to the contrary, Indonesian Muslims professing a visceral, all-encompassing anti-Americanism are in the minority. This strand of anti- Americanism is likely to remain the domain of hardline Islamists who profess an 53 See Ross and Ross (2004). 54 In this context, Sabili claimed that “’[t]he Crusaders’ (...) together with international Zionists have already succeeded in obstructing the Muslim community’s most strategic asset/territory, the Middle East” (’The Crusader’ [para penjajah Nashrani] bersama dengan Zionis Internasional, telah berhasil menghalangi wilayah kaum muslimin yang paling strategis, yaitu Timur Tengah”, IV/1:24, 1991). See also Hefner (1997:94). 55 See, however, Sabili X/07:20 (October 2002) for a list of U.S. interventions worldwide. 56 See also Tan (2003).
  19. 19. 19 essentialist view of the world and ‘the other’ as a means of furthering their own agenda. The majority of Muslims in Indonesian and elsewhere share in and embrace values and ideals claimed by U.S. government officials and the corporate media as ‘essentially American’.57 Khalidi (in Shohat 2004:120) argues that “[f]or a majority of people in the Middle East, the problem with the United States is not its ideals; it’s that the United States is not true to them, as far as democracy, representative government, constitutionalism, and human rights are concerned”. Here, even the most moderate Muslims in Indonesia cannot but agree. 57 See Jones (2003:75), Tan (2003), Wright (2000). At the same time, Hefner (1997:94) remarks that alongside anger towards U.S. foreign policies, America’s cultural influence evident in the popularity of American films that appeared to condone of pornography, violence, drugs and moral permissiveness, is also considered a threat to Indonesia’s popular morality.
  20. 20. 20 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ One can barely imagine how pleased hardline Islamists must have been about the events following 9/11. The American project had not changed dramatically, but Bush’s rampant imperial Americanism subsequent to 9/11 differed significantly from the hegemonic Americanism of the Clinton era. The events of 9/11 presented the Bush administration with an opportunity to pursue their policy ambitions of unilateralism and global hegemony (see Ross & Ross, 2004:4-5), and provided the necessary policy context that nurtured the rhetoric of the ‘clash of civilizations’ both among the ‘hawks’ in the Bush administration and among Islamists.58 Bush himself brushed all subtlety aside, and his public statements played into the hands of Islamists and anti- imperialists worldwide. The U.S. finally seemed to provide ample evidence that the Islamists had been right all along, with Bush adopting the same ‘Crusader’ rhetoric that had been preached by Islamist hardliners since the early 1990s. In the 1990s, hardline Islamism was a peripheral phenomenon; it gained momentum in the wake of the ‘War on Terror’.59 For the U.S., the ‘War on Terror’ may serve as a means to maintain Cold War-style politics and polarisation (see Roberts 2004:251), yet for Indonesia’s hardline Muslim community, it is the perfect rhetorical device to elicit sympathy and wider support among the Indonesian umat. While after 9/11 criticism of U.S. foreign policy featured prominently across the board of Indonesian media, Islamist groups continued to be the most vocal and radical critics of the U.S. government and Western domination in world politics.60 The ‘War on Terror’ and ultimately, the notion of the ‘War on Islam’ – which had been prevalent since the 1990s – have been regular features of Sabili, with the recurrent allegation that the U.S. and Israel are the ‘real terrorists’.61 The frequent and controversial coverage of current geopolitics registers with a population that has been highly critical of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Indonesian government’s relatively weak stance towards Western governments. The government’s perceived reluctance to crack down on suspected terrorists could also partly be explained as an acknowledgement of public opinion, which – for a while – swerved significantly to the right.62 Any policy that may be considered un-Islamic, such as the government’s cooperation with America’s foreign policy agenda, does not go down well with many among the Muslim community. For example, prior to Ba’asyir’s arrest in relation with the Bali bombings, it had become “a point of national pride [...] not to give in to foreigners’ haughty demands for Mr Basyir’s [sic] arrest” (Economist 2002). This interference in Indonesian domestic politics is considered America’s extended arm of global rule, and regarded by some as ample proof of the validity of hardline Islamist arguments.63 58 See Tan (2003). 59 Carroll (2004), Hafidz (2003), Hasan (2003:13). 60 See Abdurrahman, in USINDO (2002), Brief: Islam in Modern Indonesia. Session III: Indonesian Reactions to September 11, Extremism, and U.S.-Indonesian Relations. 61 See, for example, “Latah”, Sabili IX/09:18-19 (October 2001); “Pamflet Sesat dari kedubes AS”, Sabili IX/15:26-27 (January 2002); “Tak ada Al-Qaidah!”, Sabili X/07 (October 2002); “Rekayasa bungkam Islam”, Sabili XI/02 (August 2003); 62 See Hafidz (2003), Ramakrishna and Tan (2003:23). 63 The Ba’asyir case is thought to be part of U.S. efforts to fight global Islam (see Sabili X/09:8ff, November 2002). See also “US Sought Baasyir Before Bali Blasts”,, January 13th,
  21. 21. 21 More significantly, the government’s handling of this case – and its overall performance in the ‘War on Terror’ – could reflect on Indonesia’s transformation towards democracy. Indeed, Behrend argued that “[a]n Indonesian democracy worthy of the name must protect even the grating voice of Ba'asyir until proven guilty, however outside the mainstream of majoritarian politics, however out of harmony with the generally liberal and secular opinions that characterise Indonesia today. Anything less would be a step backwards towards the repressive policies and Muslim- muzzling of the Suharto years” (2003).64 The international media played no little part in supporting the attempts of Indonesia’s hardline Islamists to gain wider support. The “demonising of Islam by the American press and the insensitive use of words like ‘crusade’ by the U.S. leadership had inflamed the sensitivities of Muslims in Indonesia” (Sebastian 2001). The Bush administration did little to ease such impressions within the Muslim world. Indeed, it only added fuel to the fire. The paranoia of Western media subsequent to the Bali and Marriot Hotel bombings, which led to accusations of Indonesia harbouring terrorists,65 and declaring the region the ‘second front’ in the ‘War on Terrorism’66 did not help to dispel the resentment felt among Indonesia’s umat either. Sabili argued that although Indonesia was ‘under attack’ – thereby evoking the rhetoric used by the Bush administration post-9/11 – it is being accused of nurturing terrorism.67 In a classic twist of conspiracy theory, Sabili and other Islamic publications alleged that only Israel and the U.S. would have had the capacity and knowledge to build a bomb such as the one used in Bali. Accordingly, the bomb was purportedly a pretext to increased surveillance and oppression of Muslim organisations in Indonesia. 68 Generalised accusations of Indonesia turning anti-American only exacerbated Indonesian animosities towards the U.S. Within this ongoing discourse of anti-Americanism, Bush stands out as a symbol of neo-colonialism and imperialism, and “the lightning rod for anti-American feelings” (Kohut 2003). An analysis of Sabili after 9/11 suggests that the rhetoric employed by hardline Islamists has not changed significantly. The glossy cover pages more frequently depict images of international relevance, but there was no need to adapt their discourse to current affairs. Geopolitical dynamics played into the hands of Islamists, 2005, and “Indonesian cleric rejects Bali bomb link, says Bush behind charges”, Channel News Asia, February 17th, 2005. The more recent verdict against Ba’asyir is also indicative of how Indonesian authorities attempt to please both foreign governments and the Muslim electorate at home. See Guerin (2005), “Cleric linked to Bali blasts gets 30 months”, Asia Times Online, March 4th, available at: 64 For example, a drafted revision to the criminal code is perceived by some legislators as a setback to press freedom. It could put considerable pressure on publications such as Sabili. Accordingly, the draft stipulates harsh penalties for certain offences, such as the dissemination of information that undermines the state ideology Pancasila or offending the president or vice president, the heads of state of neighbouring countries and state bodies, races or groups, and religious groups. See Hari (2005), Legislators question revisions to Criminal Code. The Jakarta Post, February 11th, 2005. 65 For a detailed analysis of these allegations, see ICG (2002), Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia: The Case of the “Ngruki Network” in Indonesia, and ICG (2001), Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims. 66 Ramakrishna and Tan (2003:14ff). 67 “Mengubah paradigma bom Bali”, Sabili X/09:13ff (November 2002). 68 Sabili X/09:15ff (November 2002), ‘Mikro nuklir, bukan C-4 apalagi TNT’. According to Harsono and Eriyanto (2003), this theory resonated well with many Indonesians, including some legislators from Megawati’s PDI-P. In a similar vein, the 9/11 attacks were depicted as having been orchestrated by the CIA and/or Mossad to legitimise a ‘War on Islam’ (see Hafidz 2003:384).
  22. 22. 22 affirming and thus legitimising their views that refute America’s claim of defending democracy and human rights with every civilian casualty in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. Though guided by different agendas, the pro-Afghan demonstrations that took place before and after the U.S. strikes on Afghanistan were the first major display of public sentiment over an international issue (Hafidz 2003:385). As Hafidz notes, this phenomenon indicates that the notion of the global umat was not merely rhetorical. Moreover, U.S. foreign policies united those concerned about the violation of democratic principles with those who believed in a U.S.-led ‘War on Islam’ (ibid.). However, “[i]f the protests against the American attack on Afghanistan were dominated by hard-line Muslim organisations, the later rejection of US President George W. Bush’s plan to attack Iraq was shared across the board, regardless of religious and political orientation” (ibid.386). Moderate and liberal organisations were in fact at the forefront of the opposition to the Iraq war.69 Bush has thus become a popular image of the enemy, symbolising ‘the other’ in the ‘War on Islam’ as depicted by hardline Islamists. At the ‘homefront’, the usual issues continue to dominate Sabili’s discourse, more notably before national events such as the 2004 elections. Among the most prominent continue to be the liberalisation of Islam,70 the threat of Christianisation71 and the moral decline of Indonesian society, which tends to be blamed on the West and the ‘Zionist connection’.72 Moreover, the government’s handling of the ‘War on Terror’ led to harsh criticism by hardline Islamists and many among the moderate Muslim community, invoking the notion of a ‘War on Islam’ and the historical repression of Muslims in the country.73 In this context, the Tanjung Priok and Talang Sari massacres continue to be popular examples of the Indonesian government’s brutal history of repressing Islam. They are frequently referred to in Sabili in the context of numerous events, such as the arrest of Muslims in the wake of the ‘War on Terror’, and the Bali bombings.74 Indeed, the massacres are yet to be fully investigated by the government.75 In 2004, Major General Rudolf Butar-Butar (ret.) was the first to be tried for his role in the Tanjung Priok incident.76 On the other hand, General Hendropriyono (ret.), who is suspected of having been responsible for atrocities in Talang Sari, was named National Intelligence Chief within the Badan Intelijens Nasional (BIN), the National Intelligence Agency, under President Megawati. In this position, Hendropriyono was also a key player in the ‘War on Terror’, with the BIN identifying and arresting many suspected terrorists.77 69 Also, the strong opposition towards U.S. intervention in Iraq, culminating in a million-strong international protest in April 2003 only indicated the convergence between domestic and international rejection of U.S. unilateralism (Hafidz 2003:394). 70 Sabili XI/18 (March 2004). 71 Sabili XI/19 (April 2004); XII/05:95ff (September 2004); XII/12:16ff (December 2004). 72 “Kehancuran membayangi Indonesia”, Sabili X/09:96ff (November 2002). 73 Sabili XI/04:29ff (September 2003); Sabili XII/09:16ff (November 2004). 74 See Sabili X/09 (November 2002); Sabili XI/16:ff (February 2004); Sabili XI/20:18 (March 2004) and Sabili XI/19:40 (April 2004). 75 An investigation by Komnas HAM, the National Human Rights Commission, was criticised by Muslim groups, such as the FPI, for lack of objectivity (see van Bruinessen 2002). 76 See “Ex-General Acquitted Over Tanjung Priok Case”,, August 10th, 2004. 77 See “Hendropriyono’s Spy Games”,, November 14th, 2004. Jones (2004a:25-26) points out that the Indonesian NGO community – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – was concerned that anti-terrorism legislation would invite Soeharto-era-style abuse by the government to silence Muslim activists and other dissidents. The arrest of 15 suspected JI members caused a public outcry, for example, due to police misconduct, and was depicted as a kidnapping by family members and
  23. 23. 23 With controversial, high-profile personnel still represented in Indonesia’s decision- making echelons and involved in policy decisions considered detrimental to the Muslim community, many Muslims, both hardline and moderate, cannot help but feel distaste about the government’s apparent lack of commitment in respecting the country’s Muslim majority. Their feeling of discontent as regards the perceived historical subordination of the umat in Indonesian politics and society remains, and is readily exploited by publications such as Sabili. At the same time, Indonesian Muslims are under rising pressure from abroad, as developments in the radical Islamist environment that recall the legacy of the Darul Islam as an influential factor in Indonesia’s political and security context have further contributed to the international image of Indonesia as a terrorist haven. Subsequent to the downfall of Soeharto, several hardline Islamist groups took advantage of the power vacuum thus created and stepped into the open. Their activities, thought to promote a militant view of jihad as “holy war”, have received even more international media and government attention following 9/11 and the Bali bombing, to the extent that they “destructed [sic] Indonesia’s reputation for practicing a tolerant and inclusive form of Islam” (Hasan 2003:1). The fact that “many Indonesians [...] turned out in droves at rallies condemning radicalism” (Kurlantzick 2004:52, see also Hafidz 2003:398). did not feature as prominently in international news headlines, with the focus instead on newly emerging radical Islamist movements. Beside the DDII, the three groups that were most visible internationally are the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), the Laskar Jihad and the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI). The FPI, or Islamic Defenders Front, was led by Habib Rizq Shihab. It was allegedly established as a militia by the military in August 1998 to act as a vanguard against Indonesia’s pro-democracy movement. More recently, it became known for its tactic of using thugs to attack discos, nightclubs and other establishments considered un- Islamic and a threat to the moral underpinnings of the nation. After the Bali bombing, the group was disbanded, though it is now resurfacing – most prominently as a volunteer aid-giver in post-Tsunami Aceh. The Laskar Jihad, led by Jafar Umar Thalib, was established in response to the civil unrest between Christians and Muslims in Maluku in 2000, but was surprisingly disbanded in October 2002, shortly after the Bali bombings.78 The role and significance of the Laskar Jihad has been distorted in international media, however, which preferred to depict the communal conflict as a sectarian one initiated by jihadists.79 Moreover, Muslim militia were in fact encouraged and supported by the Sabili (“Aktivis diculik. Dengar Jeritan Keluarga Mereka”, XI/05). For a more detailed account on Indonesia’s national security strategy, see Sebastian (2003). 78 According to Jones (2004a:34), this was due to discontinued Saudi funding and, more importantly, internal dissession. Hafidz (2003:384), however, argued that the Laskar Jihad disbanded in anticipation of the Megawati government’s assertiveness to wage the ‘war on terror’ subsequent to the issuing of anti-terrorism legislation. Shihab’s and Thalib’s temporary arrest after the Bali bombings appeared to affirm this assessment. They were released shortly thereafter, though, apparently as a concession for the disbanding of their organisations (ibid.:393). 79 The media thereby played into the hands of the Laskar Jihad, which attempted to transform the local conflict in Maluku into an inter-religious conflict (see Eliraz 2004:34-35). See also Aditjondro (2000) and ICG Asia Reports N°10 (2000) and N°31 (2002), via .
  24. 24. 24 TNI, the Indonesian military, in the hope of destabilising the Wahid and Megawati governments and leading the army to regain power and influence. For the Indonesian government and the public, the activities of Laskar Jihad only seemed to be a phenomenon of peripheral significance.80 The MMI, or Indonesian Mujahiddin Council, was established in Yogyakarta in 2000 and appointed as its amir Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. The MMI acts mainly as a watchdog for the safeguarding of Islamic values. For instance, it has been critical of HIV/Aids awareness-raising campaigns and the activities of liberal Islamic think-tanks. At the same time, the MMI is said to have links to radical groups. Many of its members are graduates of Ba’asyir’s pesantren in Ngruki, near Solo and are said to be linked to the Darul Islam network.81 The one group that is said to be the extended arm of global terrorism in Indonesia is the obscure Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI), which is thought to be responsible for the Bali bombings, among others. International government and media attention has been closely centred on this shadowy network. Ba’asyir was until recently on trial for allegedly having been the spiritual head of the network, a claim that has been difficult to substantiate. Indeed, despite several arrests of alleged members of the network, the very existence of the JI is still contested among many Indonesian politicians and the public, with frequent references to the notion that JI is, very generally, the ‘community of Islam’, not a terrorist organisation.82 Not surprisingly, “[t]errorism has not been an election-year issue in Indonesia, and stories on JI don’t sell newspapers in Indonesia the way they do in Australia and the United States” (Jones 2004b).83 At the same time, these phenomena have attracted extensive international media coverage, which consequently – and unfortunately – distorts the international image of Indonesian Islam by depicting it as becoming increasingly radicalised.84 This is even more surprising as until quite recently, Indonesia was far from being considered a ‘terrorist haven’, instead being known to accommodate a tolerant and pluralistic Muslim majority. How could this image have changed so dramatically within a few years? The image created of Indonesian Islam overseas naturally has a considerable impact on the consciousness of Indonesian Muslims in general. The media, and here particularly popular publications such as Sabili, contribute to the notion that individual Muslims are part of a larger, imagined community under threat, thus politicising one’s own, personal experience and perception of domestic and global political phenomena. The ‘War on Terror’, and subsequently the perceived ‘War on 80 Eliraz (2004:68-69), Davis (2002). 81 My understanding of MMI has also benefited from informal discussions with Dr. Tim Behrend who is currently studying this organisation. See also ICG (2005, 2002). 82 See Sabili X/09:24ff (November 2002), Jones (2004a:24-25). For a detailed analysis of JI, see ICG (2002), How Jemaah Islamiyah Terrorist Network operates, and ICG (2003), Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia: Damaged but still Dangerous. 83 See also Ramakrishna and Tan (2003). 84 In 2003 the U.S. government included Indonesia on its terrorism ‘watch list’, thus burdening Indonesian immigrants/visitors with additional and discriminatory procedures, such as the obligation to report periodically to an American immigration authority. This was not well received in Jakarta – and elsewhere in Indonesia – and the Indonesian government ‘retaliated’ by issuing a ‘travel advisory’ against the U.S. (see Hafidz 2003:387).
  25. 25. 25 Islam’, become personal issues as much as ‘Corporate Power’ becomes a personal concern for ‘anti-globalisation’ activists rampaging through the streets of Seattle and Genoa. Unsurprisingly, there is a growing sentiment of discontent and anger among the Indonesian umat, particularly its disaffected youth. Tan (2003:275) has a point when he says that “[i]n the name of protecting and preserving the liberty and lifestyle of a supposedly self-evident ‘America’, ideological representations of tyranny and terror – and the policies formulated and practices implemented in response to those representations – may well prove just as if not more tyrannical and terrorising”. Although the presence of a radical Islamist core in Indonesia and the region could be detrimental to regional security and requires concerted policy responses at the national and regional levels, the wholesale stigmatisation of Indonesia’s umat, as currently perceived by many among them, serves no purpose but further fuel the fire.
  26. 26. 26 Conclusion An analysis of the popular Islamic publication Sabili suggests that hardline Islamist discourse in Indonesia – and therein specifically the international dimension – has not changed significantly since the ‘War on Terror’ and U.S. foreign policies subsequent to 9/11. Instead, geopolitics has played into the hands of Islamists by serendipitously affirming their long-standing accusations, and their depiction of a civilisational clash between ‘The West’ and the global umat. Sabili plays a prominent role in this discourse, as it is the most popular mouthpiece of a hardline fringe in Indonesia’s Muslim community that continues to attract sympathisers based, among others, on the fact that there are few groups in Indonesian society as vocal in their criticism of the current global world order. It is highly unlikely though, that this phenomenon is indicative of a generalised trend of a radicalisation of Islam in Indonesia. Radical Islamists continue to constitute a small minority of Indonesia’s Muslim community. The magazine’s popularity rather suggests that some of the themes prevalent in Sabili’s rhetoric require more critical debate in Indonesia’s mainstream political discourse. Azra (2002:49-50) asserts that while hardline Islamists could potentially threaten the future of democracy during this transitional period, “once Indonesia attains a new equilibrium in this painful transition, most – if not all – of these hardline groups will lose momentum”. At the same time, the stimulus provided by the current hardline Islamist discourse could indeed contribute to the formation of a more pluralistic and ultimately more democratic Indonesia. It is desirable that the political consciousness of Indonesian Muslims, with their growing awareness of the international political environment and their participation in a global political discourse, is further integrated in mainstream media and politics to foster critical debate, inform the country’s foreign policy discourse, and thereby articulate democratic values within Islamic doctrine. As Sukma (2003:353) maintains, “[w]ithin a democratic Indonesia, expressing one’s view in a radical but non-violent way […] is common, if not quite ‘acceptable’ political behaviour”. Sabili’s radical views certainly stimulate debate, and the growing popularity of the publication suggests that some of these views find wider acceptance among a Muslim community that identifies with other communities in the Muslim world and that is increasingly critical of the current world order. Sabili’s main influence – and relevance – thus lies in the Indonesian marketplace of ideas, where it competes with equally strong notions of tolerance and pluralism, “as a model of and for the construction and, crucially, the re-cognition of collective and individual identities” (Spyers et al., page 8). Despite – or because of – the controversy Sabili causes, its hardline views could stimulate the discursive process for shaping a new, Pan-Indonesian Muslim identity that is well aware of its global position and its relative influence on national, regional and global politics.
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