Extremism in Indonesia: A Personal Encounter

This post will be an account of my personal encounter with the radical Muslims of Indonesia. It is not gripping story of escape, tense confrontations, or any other sort of drama. Rather, this account is taken more from a distant, passive perspective. One where I sat, listened, and watched.

It was a Saturday, when I was lighting up a cigarette in the living areas of my boarding house. There was no one else in sight and sounds emanated from the corners of the room, it being two A.M. in the morning. Then came a “Test, test, test,” from somewhere outside. Close enough to hear clearly, yet definitely not originating from inside the four-story building.

Later came the noises of a crowd gathering—footsteps, idle conversations, laughter. I tried to peer out of the west-side windows to see what the minor commotion was about. Unfortunately, it was too dark to even catch a glimpse of a stage, podium, or anything. The crowd was a blur, and as far as I could tell, they could very well be all-draped in black.

“Hello everyone,” boomed the speakers. “I’m glad to see so many of us could be here tonight,” the invisible speaker said. I thought that it was a routine meeting of some sorts—a group of hobbyists, amateur actors, whatever. How often they met I do not know, and this meet-up was the first time I’ve ever noticed such a group existing near my home. Perhaps their previous gatherings were set up in different times and places, or are simply scheduled irregularly. But that is only baseless, idle speculation.

The voice continued, “You might be surprised to hear, that our great teacher is here!” Loud clapping and cheering abounded. Some of the cheers came from men, others from women, and a few obviously from children. It’s a diverse group, that much I could tell. I was getting interested, ‘what sort of teacher starts his class at two in the morning?’ I wondered. I began paying attention to the event. At least it’s not the usual funerals or weddings that often took place in the area; this, was something new and interesting.

“He [the teacher] is here to tell us,” a pause, “something very, very important for us all,” proclaimed the speaker. “You will pay attention to him! Give him your utmost respect! Turn off your phones now, and stay quiet when he speaks!” Instructions, quite thorough ones at that. What for? What could possibly demand—and get—the unwavering attention of someone’s words? I needed to hear this thing play through.

Then he, the teacher, came forward. A shuffling of shadows, whose gender I could only discern when he began to speak, “Welcome, welcome everyone!” A thunderous clapping followed. “As you all know, a great danger has descended upon us! We, the holy followers of Islam are under threat.” Last I checked, the majority and national religion of Indonesia was still Islam, though that might have slipped past the man’s mind. “Ahok: the Chinese, the Christian, is the governor of our great capital [Jakarta]!” So that’s what this is about.

The former vice-governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” has recently come into power. As the “teacher,” has said, he is of the Chinese and Christian minorities; a member of the two most prosecuted groups in Indonesia—churches were and sometimes still are burnt to the ground, and the Chinese were murdered, raped, and robbed en masse during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis as the scapegoats of choice. Needless to say, Ahok’s not the likeliest of candidates for the governorship of Jakarta. In fact, his current position is a hand-me-down from Joko Widodo, who held Ahok’s seat before he moved forward to become president of the country. Ahok is not at all popular with the more orthodox of Indonesian Muslims.

“Teacher” continued on with his speech. Spouting mindless drivel about how Ahok’s position would allow the outnumbered Christians to elevate themselves, crowding Jakarta with so many churches that mosques would be so outmatched as to be unnoticeable. This, the man thinks, is a disaster bound to happen. He riveted his followers with prophecies of how Ahok would escalate the power of Christians, how the governor is the greatest threat to the integrity of Indonesians’ morals and values. They cheered, clapped, as they already did, again and again. It was jarring to see how spiteful they were to the possibility of equality between the two religions.

But perhaps the possibility of equality did not occur to these people. Maybe in their minds, there is no room for two majority religions in Indonesia, only one. Only Islam should have influence over government policies. Those that are not with Islam must be terminated—in their eyes. Sure enough, that was exactly what they were thinking: “Burn, burn, burn the churches! Down with Ahok! Down with Christianity,” came the chorus of hatred and bigotry. I, being an atheist, was deathly afraid of the group suddenly exploding into organized violence on the nearby populace. My friends, myself, my classmates who live nearby, could be in a danger that they’re not even aware of.

Thankfully, relief came. “Children, my children, my family, my friends, calm yourselves. We are not ready. We must build, we must arm, and we must pray. We will bring the Chinese pig [Ahok] down! But we must do so with patience, as Allah teaches us.” I did not know whether to be thankful, or soil myself to hear that they’re amassing a force for resistance. They could be a minor and isolated threat, but I eat and sleep here. If this sect of extremists ever let themselves loose, I suspect my area would be in peril; especially perilous to the local Chinese and Christian populace.

They must be put to a stop. I do not know how. I cannot even guess how many they are, and how much more groups such as theirs exist. If the gathering I described above is a growing trend, Ahok would need to step up. As a citizen, I sincerely request that my governor would calm the Muslim populace, assure them that their belief and their position as the majority are not under threat. They are after all, only planning resistance out of fear. Some of their members may even not hold a grudge towards the Christians and the Chinese, and simply following the steps of madmen out of a misguided sense of righteousness and security.

Jakarta is not the safest of places for non-Muslims today. Ahok’s position is itself is in danger of a coup. I would guess that in upcoming elections the more radical and Muslim a candidate can be, the surer his chances of winning would be.

By the end of the sermon, the group dispersed. They left laughing, talking, in a general mood of joy and anticipation. I pray that they never come into possession of dangerous armaments, or gather enough members to start a violent rebellion. If it comes to that, Ahok might just be too late to save the lives he could have. I would not wish such a burden on the conscience—the likes of others’ preventable deaths—to be on anyone’s heart.

This is a request, a report, and a warning all at once. Hopefully, someone with more power than myself would read and recognize the gravity of the situation. Even if all-out armed conflict doesn’t pop up, people could still die or be lucky enough to just be hurt. And there are too many of those two things happening in the world already. If anyone can lessen the sufferings caused by violence and extremism, it is his or her duty to do so.

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