Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The scenario of Shia persecution

Al Makin, opinion The Jakarta Post

The anti-Shia movement in Indonesia wants to seize the momentum of both the legislative and presidential elections against this Islamic minority. Not only do they intend to attract public attention during their mass gathering in Bandung recently, but they also want to achieve some political goals.

Shia issues, for various conservative and radical groups, are indeed marketable. The louder they shout their hatred against minorities, the more pious they feel.

In November and December 2013, a group called the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) threatened the Shia intellectual group called Rausan Fikr in Yogyakarta.

In two months, the threat was raised three times. Before they besieged the targeted place, the police warned the victims, who then reduced their activities and dispersed for a while. Clearly the anti-Shia movement Yogyakarta wanted to seize the momentum of the legislative election of April 9.

At the height of the legislative campaign period and the rivalry between Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, the candidates of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Gerindra Party respectively, the anti-Shia movement caused another stir with a huge gathering in Bandung, which was attended by 1,000 people to spread hatred once again.

Cholil Ridwan, a conservative clerk and politician, called upon his supporters not to vote for the PDI-P in April or for Jokowi in the July presidential election.

He reminded his followers that Jokowi might appoint a PDI-P legislative candidate, Jalaluddin Rakhmat, a prominent Shiite intellectual, as the religious affairs minister.

It is likely that there are national and local scenarios in the anti-Shia movement.

At the national level, opportunist politicians took advantage of the Shia issue. Apparently, certain leaders of the Islamic United Development Party (PPP), which is now recovering from an internal rift primarily caused by chairman Suryadharma Ali’s support of Prabowo, played their cards.

One can easily link the embattled party chairman’s consistently insensitive attitude toward the Shiites in Sampang, Madura in East Java and his party’s similar attitude to the minority. The more politicians express their hate toward minorities, the more support they expect from radicals.

Local politicians have also done their best to garner more support. Like with the case of Sampang, in which rivalries between village politicians came to the surface of the persecution of the Shiites, in Yogyakarta local politicians also wanted to effectively court local radical voters.

According to my interviews with some Shiites and several religious leaders in Yogyakarta, my informants cited a legislative candidate from an Islamic party who had triggered the siege against the Rausan Fikr. This legislative candidate has built mutual relations with radicals.

As an affluent politician, who used to hold the highest position in the city of Yogyakarta, he is quite generous in financing the activities of certain groups. The perpetrators of the intimidation against the Shiites in Yogyakarta still monitor the minority group closely.

Nonetheless, the Bandung gathering of April 20 seemed to be a celebration, rather than a gathering to incite hatred. One can also see the gathering as a national level consolidation, in the form of the anti-Shia declaration. The actions were executed at local levels, such as in Sampang and Yogyakarta.

However, the planned siege of the Shiites in Yogyakarta failed. Sultan, Hamengkubuwono X had guaranteed the safety of the minorities. Some local religious leaders and NGO activists pledged their support to the victims. The anti-Shia movement in Yogyakarta did spread fear but nothing more.

But just be prepared to watch the anti-Shias’ next moves in the aftermath of the Bandung gathering, locally and nationally.

The writer is a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.


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