Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Indonesia: saying "NO" to Islamic Intolerance

-- specifically to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Something happened in Palangkaraya, the provincial capital of Central Kalimantan, on Saturday 11February 2012 that may prove pivotal for Indonesia. While it was not the first time Indonesian moderates, reformists, human rights activists and peace-loving citizens have taken a stand against Islamic intolerance, it was an inspirational victory.

On 11 February, four prominent leaders of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI: Front Pembela Islam) flew into Central Kalimantan from Jakarta to inaugurate their organisation in Palangkaraya. Upon landing, however, the FPI delegation -- which included FPI founder, Saudi-educated Habib Rizieq -- was blocked by a crowd of around 800 locals, mostly indigenous Dayaks, at Palangkaraya's Tjilik Riwut Airport.

After first staging a street protest -- displaying banners at strategic locations and railing against the FPI and its plans to open an office in the city -- the protestors met up at Tjilik Riwut Airport in time to besiege the FPI leaders on their plane. According to Tempo Interactive, "The residents said they did not want the organization, which often uses violence, to enter their area."

The protestors forced their way onto the runway to confront the FPI officials, causing air traffic to be disrupted for over three hours. They dispersed only after airport officials convinced them that the FPI members would not be permitted to disembark and would travel on to another destination.

The Jakarta Globe headline on 16 February was a classic: "Could Palangkaraya Be Our Rosa Parks' Moment in the War Against Violence?" According to Jakarta Globe correspondent Pangeran Siahaan, "The people of Palangkaraya believe violence, which the FPI advocates, is intolerable and they found FPI’s presence in their city as a threat to society. The residents were successful in ousting the FPI, as the FPI officers . . . fled without stepping off their plane."

From Palangkaraya to Jakarta . . .

As Peter Alford, Jakarta correspondent for The Australian comments, "Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) bullying is so rarely confronted that the spectacle of its officials being almost literally run out of town in Central Kalimantan last weekend grabbed national attention.

"Civil society activists in the national capital, where the hard-liners wield their strongest influence, have tried to seize upon FPI's momentary discomfiture to galvanise a 'Movement for an FPI-free Indonesia'."

Jakarta's 'Movement for an FPI-free Indonesia' held its inaugural public demonstration at the Hotel Indonesia (HI) traffic circle on 14 February. "If Kalimantan can do it, Jakarta can also do it," activist spokeswoman Tunggal Pawestri told the Jakarta Globe.

The Jakarta Globe's Pangeran Siahaan attended the demonstration, which he says was inspired by the courage, determination and principle on display in Palangkaraya and fuelled by the same spirit.

"Everybody," writes Siahaan, "has said that they’re fed up with the unlawful behavior of such organizations, but nothing had been done publicly to declare a war against violence and intolerance until the citizens of Palangkaraya stood up and their voices reached the people of Jakarta. Driven by the same spirit and anger caused by the government’s leniency towards violence, I joined the protest rally at the HI traffic circle. It was a peaceful event as the protesters unfurled banners and posters while chanting, 'Indonesia Damai! Tanpa FPI! Tanpa Kekerasan' ('Peace in Indonesia! Without FPI! Without Violence!')."

Siahaan despairs that when FPI militants disrupted the protest and began assaulting some of the protestors, the police chose to shepherd the protestors, rather than the attackers, away from the HI traffic circle, supposedly for safety reasons.

"What a bucket of nonsense," rails Siahaan, "because what’s the purpose of the police’s being there if not to prevent harm to the rally attendants?"

Vivi Widyawati, a coordinator with the "Movement for an FPI-free Indonesia" said the Jakarta rally was intended to widen opposition to the hardline group following the Dayaks’ 11 February protest at Palangkaraya airport.

. . . to Surabaya and beyond

And as Megawati Wijaya reports for Asia Times, opposition to the FPI is widening. "The anti-FPI movement spread to Surabaya, another major metropolitan area where people referring to themselves as 'Surabaya Residents Against Violence' held a similar rally on February 17. Although the group did not specifically refer to the FPI in its addresses promoting non-violence, yells of 'Indonesia without FPI, Indonesia without violence' could be heard from the gathered mass, according to local press reports."

In order to maintain momentum, Jakarta's "Movement for an FPI-free Indonesia" is planning to take the battle online using Twitter, blogging and other social media tools. Bhagavad Sambada, one of the movement's founders, is confident: "The snowball has rolled and it is getting bigger. The movement will be more widespread and will be unstoppable."

The FPI has slammed the movement as a "Western-funded plot".

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Related:
FPI files reports to police over hostile Palangkaraya welcome
Dicky Christanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Mon, 02/13/2012 11:54 AM

No love shown to the FPI
Bagus BT Saragih, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 02/15/2012

FPI and the Government: Best Friends?
by Calvin Michel Sidjaja, Jakarta Globe, 21 Feb 2012