Papua peace is not just about iron fists, carrots and sticks

Papua peace is not just about iron fists, carrots and sticksIndonesian government must talk to opponents and dispense justice fairly if peace efforts are to work

January 22, 2020Just a few hours before Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi, the apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese in Papua, issued a New Year’s Day call for the military and police to abandon heavy-handed methods in dealing with indigenous Papuans, shots rang out.

No one was reported hurt in the New Year’s Eve clash between Indonesian police and several armed separatists in Mimika Regency’s Tembagapura district, not far from where giant mining company Freeport operates.

However, the bishop’s call for dialogue and peaceful solutions to Papua’s problems was not exactly because of that clash.

Bishop Mandagi’s call had more to do with last year’s wave of violence committed by Papuans angered by discriminatory abuses such as the arrest of 40 Papuan students in Surabaya in East Java province. For allegedly vandalizing an Indonesian national flag.

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What a soldier can do to fix religion in Indonesia

Despite criticism in certain circles, Fachrul Razi’s appointment as religious affairs minister may be quite a good thing

Indonesia’s new Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi (right) and former minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin during a handover ceremony at the ministry on Oct. 24 in Jakarta. (Photo supplied by Religious Affairs Ministry)

The appointment of a former general, Fachrul Razi, as Indonesia’s religious affairs minister has drawn fire, particularly from Muslim clerics who say the post has traditionally been the domain of Islamic groups.

Giving it to someone outside their circle ignores this history and shows a misunderstanding of the minister’s function, the groups claim.

Opponents of the move include Robikin Emhas, a senior official in Indonesia’s biggest and moderate Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama. He said many of his fellow clerics were disappointed President Joko Widodo did not appoint one of them.

Lawmaker Sodik Mudjahid, one of the MPs who oversee religious affairs, doubted Razi’s ability to lead the ministry as he is not a Muslim scholar.

Their criticism seems fair because, since the ministry’s founding in 1946, Muslim clerics or scholars have headed it. Criticism from the Nahdlatul Ulama also makes sense as the organization with over 80 million members played a significant role in securing Joko Widodo and his Muslim cleric vice-president, Ma’ruf Amin, victory in this year’s election.

However, in the context of today’s Indonesia, which is under attack from radical and extremist elements, the role of a religious minister is more than just taking care of faith practices. It requires someone who can take strong action against threats to tolerance and interfaith unity.

Razi may have a mediocre knowledge of Islam, but a combination of being a devout Muslim and his military background provide him with significant tools to do this.

Widodo billed him as the man to handle radicalism, which has gained momentum since former dictator Suharto fell and the “Reform Era” began in 1998.

Reform that has seen a relaxation of restrictions on free speech has seen the rise of radical groups espousing beliefs such as Wahhabism from the Middle East that promotes a literal interpretation of the Quran. These groups included Hizb ut Tahrir, a pan-Islamist political organization that aims to establish an Islamic caliphate.

Despite Hizb ut Tharir being banned, its impact is still being felt, while the growth of the Islamic State group and its sympathizers in Indonesia has seen radicalism and terrorism become two sides of the coin.

This has been exacerbated by many Indonesian politicians cooperating with or using radical groups to achieve their goals, while the influence of radicalism has been growing among the young, especially in universities and mosques, which are being used by conservatives and extremists to target them.

Widodo has subsequently warned of a huge and divisive threat from radicalism, calling it a thorn in the flesh that will hamper economic and political growth in Indonesia.

As such, the president has instructed Razi to make radicalism his priority but also help people grow in faith and spirituality.

As a military man, Razi will more be predisposed to taking a firmer line with mosques and educational institutions and could synchronize the ministry’s efforts with other anti-radical or anti-terror groups such as the Indonesian intelligence and anti-terrorism agencies.

Clearing up scandals

Radicalism was not the only reason why Joko Widodo chose a soldier to head the ministry. He also wants to clean the ministry of scandals that have damaged two of Razi’s predecessors.

Former religious affairs minister Suryadarma Ali of the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) is serving a six-year jail term after being imprisoned in 2014 for graft.

The last minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, was tainted by connections to a senior party official accused of bribery in the appointment of ministry officials in East Java. Saifuddin was mentioned in several court proceedings in a case that is still ongoing.

Widodo’s appointment of Razi is likely an attempt to ensure the dignity of the ministry is not tarnished again by the dirty hands of politicians.

Razi is also expected to transform the bureaucracy at the ministry and lead the way in ending controversies around the issuing of licenses for houses of worship.

Religious minority groups in Indonesia, particularly Christians, often face difficulty in building places of worship in the Muslim-majority nation.

In the past decade, about 200 churches have suffered from this, the latest being Pentecostal Church community being denied permission to worship in Indragiri Hilir district in Sumatra. They were forced to stop using their church and move to another one, eight kilometers away.

In many cases, Christians could not build churches, despite having met all legal requirements, because of objections by Muslim communities

The problem stemmed from a 2006 government decree requiring any house of worship having to obtain approval from at least 60 residents of different religions and the village head before getting a permit.

The problem is that many groups use these stipulations to repress minority groups, and they are often supported by local officials.

This has always been a challenge for the government, particularly the Religious Affairs Ministry, and the newly appointed minister has promised to resolve it.

The day after his appointment, Razi emphasized that he is not the minister of the Muslim religion but of all religions in Indonesia. He vowed to use his authority to make sure that Islam “is a peaceful, tolerant and unifying Islam.”

He also said in settling church permit issues he will handle them on a case-by-case basis through dialogue. If all requirements are met, there’s no reason to withhold a permit, he said.

Let’s hope he lives up to Widodo’s expectations and the promise to uphold the freedoms of all religions.

Published in La Croix International Nov.6, 2019


Liberating youngsters from toxic religious fanaticism

Almost one in four students supports jihad to establish an Indonesian caliphate, survey shows

Students were among hardline Muslims who staged a protest against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese decent, on Oct, 14, 2016. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

A large number of Indonesian secondary and tertiary students have been poisoned by Islamic fundamentalism.

This constitutes a threat to the future pluralism and social fabric of the world’s most populous Islamic nation.

And it is a shame for these students themselves as radicalization often comes at the expense of academic achievement.

Surveys over a decade have shown high levels of religious intolerance among students in Indonesia. Bottom of Form

A 2011 poll conducted in 50 schools pointed to widespread support for attacks on the places of worship of non-Muslims and allegedly deviating Muslim sects.

A recent survey, involving a professional Indonesian company called the Alvara Research Center, showed that more than 23 percent of 4,200 students supported jihad to establish an Indonesian caliphate.

The Indonesian National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT), through its own polling, found that 39 percent of students embraced radicalism in fifteen provinces throughout Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java, Maluku and Bali.

These surveys seem to confirm the finding of the Pew Research Center in 2015 that most of the 10-12 million Indonesians supporting the international terrorist organization Islamic State were young.

All the polls reinforce the notion that radicalization efforts have targeted the younger generation, not least on campuses.

It is dangerous when graduating students go on to spread intolerance, including while holding important official positions or as members of parliament

Formalism in religious education

Psychologically, youngsters are in the process of finding their own identities and are hence vulnerable to negative influences.

There is, co-incidentally, an absence of the state instilling tolerant values through education.

Didin Wahidin, director of student affairs at the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, robustly criticizes the poor quality of religious education.

Students from elementary to tertiary levels were taught prayers, fasting and a need for charity. However, there was a lack of emphasis on the importance of understanding religion is a social context.

In other words, radicalism grows because of a closed-door transfer of religious understanding among students.

This cuts them off from the moderate practice of Islam as well as from other religious viewpoints.

This trend is worsened by the influence of a transnational Islamic movement at educational institutions.

Sidney Jones, of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), has said that student intolerance is partly a reflection of activist support for Muslim causes.

Secular ideology

President Joko Widodo, since he took power in 2014, has expressed concern over persistent intolerance among students.

Many had joined large protests organized by radical groups, including a number with terrorist links.

Indonesia has more than 4600 higher learning institutions and there have been efforts to revamp curriculums, including through greater emphasis on citizenship and Indonesia’s secular ideology, Pancasila.

This is an ideology centered on unity and pluralism, which President Widodo believes could counter inclinations among students to become bigoted.

Even the anti-terror agency BNPT is involved in raising awareness among students on the dangers of extremism and the necessity for critical thinking.

According to Agnes Purbasari, an academic and an official at the recently  established presidential task force on Pancasila, revamping curriculums is essential.

Also, some lecturers failed to properly impart community-oriented values.

And extremist attitudes could be inculcated by families and radicals within communities as well

as by elementary and high school teachers, Purbasari cautioned.

Preaching to the millennials

Nusron Wahid, a politician and adviser at the Mata Air Foundation, a group that promotes moderate Islamic values, called for the freeing of mosques from fundamentalist influences.

Wahid said that clerics of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest moderate Islamic organization, needed to reach out to the millennial generation.

Preaching on campuses needed to be done using language that students could understand.

And another large moderate Islamic group – Muhammadiyah – should be more proactive, including through the use of social media, Wahid added.

A substantial number of young people still look up to clerics as role models.

So, the government must be active in the training of preachers, especially those present at tertiary institutions.

After all, combating campus radicalism is a task for government, lecturers, and clerics.

Published in UCA News on 11 December 2017


Corruption and the high cost of politics in Indonesia

Greed plays a part but the financial burden on politicians running for office is one of the main reasons many turn to graft

Indonesia’s former house speaker Setya Novanto sits in the courtroom during his trial in Jakarta on April 24, 2018. Setya Novanto, once among Indonesia’s most influential politicians, was found guilty of taking millions in kickbacks and bribes linked to the issuance of government ID cards to Indonesia’s more than 260 million inhabitants. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Indonesia has entered a highly volatile political period, beginning with regional elections this year through to national legislative and presidential elections in 2019.

As more than 150 million Indonesians prepared to go to the polls to elect new governors, district heads and mayors on June 27, voters were confronted by that classic thorn in the side of anti-graft crusaders — money politics.

The guardians of society — religious leaders and anti-corruption bodies among others — have often encouraged people to be smart and denounce crooked politicians who offer shortcut deals that endanger democracy.

A few months ago, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission shocked the nation with an announcement that 18 governors and 75 mayors and district chiefs were under investigation for alleged corruption and bribery.

Some were arrested, while probes into others are ongoing.

Governor Zumi Zola of Jambi and Gatot Pujo Nugroho of North Sumatra were detained for alleged bribery related to provincial budgets.

Meanwhile, Nyono Suharli Wihandoko, regent of Jombang, Abubakar, head of West Bandung, and Marianus Sae, head of East Nusa Tenggara’s Ngada district, were also arrested for bribery in exchange for the awarding of local projects.

Indonesia Corruption Watch recorded more than 200 cases from 2010-17 in which regional leaders were suspected of various forms of graft ranging from bribery and budget manipulation, and corruption related to the procurement of goods and services.

This shows that local politicians are highly vulnerable to corruption and it is highly likely some of those those elected in this year’s local election — 17 governors, 39 mayors and 115 district heads — will not go untainted during their terms.

High cost of politics

Observers say officials mainly become involved in corruption to cover campaign costs because most political parties do not provide them with funds for this purpose.

One cannot deny that in order to be a candidate a person must spend a huge amount of money. In many cases, prospective candidates have to make secret deals with business people in order to get funding for campaigns. As payback for their victory, they will grant them projects, regardless of the rules and regulations.

During the recent launch of a crowd-funding program for Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party chairman and presidential candidate Prabowo Subiyanto, he admitted that the high cost of campaigning often meant public officials are held hostage by investors who support them.

As a result, more and more are involved in corruption.

The Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) says expensive mahar or dowry payments for candidacy, campaign funds, political consultation fees and vote buying are the main drivers of such high political costs.

It’s no secret that at each election there is talk of candidates giving out money or gifts to win votes. Some cases even occur early on Election Day, which are known as “attacks at dawn” on unprotected polling stations.

Decentralization of corruption

Three years after Suharto’s regime ended in 1998, an ambitious regional autonomy plan was rolled out to transfer administrative powers from Jakarta to provinces and districts.

However, over time, it has been abused and has become a means to decentralize corruption.

Since regional elections were introduced in 2005, corruption among local leaders has proliferated, unlike in previous years when corruption was associated with central government.

The highest number of cases was probably in 2013, according to Indonesian Corruption Watch, when more than 1,270 local leaders fell under suspicion.

Apart from regional leaders, since direct local elections were implemented more than 3,000 provincial and district legislators have been embroiled in corruption.

President Joko Widodo has tried to prevent corruption in local politics, such as trying to reduce costs incurred during local election campaigns via various means that include cracking down on unnecessary campaign rallies.

He has also stressed raising awareness among the public by highlighting the pitfalls of selling their vote.

There has been a suggestion from politicians and legislators that the state fund all party election activities, however, this has yet to be discussed in detail.

Not all corruption, though, is driven by politics. Many cases involve the personal greed of government officials or legislators.

One recent high profile case involved former House of Representatives speaker, Setya Novanto, who was jailed for 15 years in April for his role in one of the country’s biggest ever graft scandals. He was convicted for skimming off $7.3 million from a biometric identity card project.

Corruption eradication however, should start with law enforcement. Unfortunately, Indonesia suffers from the weak application of its laws. In many cases, punishments are minimum, and many corrupt officials are still allowed to run in elections.

Great expectations for KPK

The Corruption Eradication Commission was established in 2003, just as regional autonomy started to kick in.

Since its foundation the commission has brought thousands of people — government officials, legislators, business people — to justice, including former minister of youth and sports Andi Mallarangeng and religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali, who is still in jail for the misappropriation of a hajj pilgrimage fund.

However, as the commission grows stronger and narrows the space for corruption, pressure against it is inevitably growing stronger too.

Former KPK chairman Abraham Samad (2011-15) was forced to quit soon after the agency announced a corruption case involving Police Commissioner General Budi Gunawan.

In April last year, KPK investigator Novel Baswedan lost an eye after an acid attack, allegedly instigated by corrupt officials unhappy with the commission’s all-out war against people like them.

Indonesia’s parliament is also in the process of revising the criminal code, which if approved will hamper the anti-corruption fight.

However, despite the threats, attacks and plotting by politicians, the anti-graft agency stands fast and has the support of the vast majority of people who have seen how corruption has impoverished many.

This commentary by Siktus Harson was published in UCAN News on July 2, 2018