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Does SBY have the guts to ban violent groups?
It looked like there would be a showdown when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to ban violent organizations and the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) — the obvious intended target — retorted that it would start a revolution if the President failed to meet their demands that Ahmadiyah be dissolved by March 1.
The timing of the war of words has never been more critical, occurring only a few days after violent hard-line Muslims stormed an Ahmadi residence in Cikeusik, Banten, and killed three people and others attacked three churches in Temanggung, Central Java.
But, as of today, the President has yet to do anything to make good on his promise, which received mixed reactions from the weary public. It could be just another bluff given that he has made the same threat at least three times since 2006.
But, the FPI has not done anything yet either, apart from a small street demonstration it jointly organized with other radical Muslim groups like the Muslims Forum and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in Jakarta late last month.
In numerous interviews with the media, FPI leaders promised to topple President Yudhoyono should he refuse to ban Ahmadiyah, the way the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia thrashed the authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
In fact, the whole affair has only revealed how weak Yudhoyono’s government is.
When addressing the National Press Day celebration on Feb. 9, SBY ordered his aides to ban violent organizations.
But, none of his most authoritative aides: Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, Attorney General Basrif Arief and National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo seemed to heed his orders.
Instead, Gamawan hosted a meeting with top leaders of the notorious FPI at his office on Feb. 16, exactly a week after Yudhoyono made his threat. Smiling broadly, Gamawan told waiting journalists that he and FPI leaders Habib Rizieq and Munarman exchanged opinions on how deal with Ahmadiyah.
Meanwhile, Suryadharma has been busy blaming the Ahmadis for the Cikeusik tragedy and wanting to ban Ahmadiyah entirely.
Even more mind boggling, the Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Marwan Effendi lauded local governments that caved in to radical demands and banned Ahmadiyah in their areas.
Yudhoyono has not made any comments on these glaring insubordinations. What has happened is that more regencies and cities are toying with the idea of banning Ahmadiyah in the name of regional autonomy.
Gamawan, like Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, is known for his anti-Ahmadiyah stance. Along with then attorney general Hendarman Supandji, they issued a joint decree banning Ahmadis from conducting religious activities outside their community. When Gamawan was the governor of West Sumatra, he was one of the regional heads who introduced the controversial sharia-inspired morality bylaws.
Ahmadiyah followers have suffered from discrimination and physical attacks since the Indonesian Ulema Council called the cult heretical in a 1980 fatwa and reaffirmed it in 2005.
For hard-liners, the controversial decree has become a license to bully Ahmadis with the tacit support of the local police and government bureaucrats. They vow there will be no peace until Yudhoyono formally bans Ahmadiyah, which they consider heretical because it does not recognize the Islamic orthodoxy that Muhammad is the last prophet.
Interestingly, while Yudhoyono has yet to prove he was not bluffing, such provinces as Banten, East Java, West Java, Lampung and South Kalimantan have boldly announced that they have banned Ahmadiyah.
This is a worrying development that can give way to more cases of violence against Ahmadis, whose numbers are estimated at 200,000, living in enclaves across the archipelago.
Yudhoyono’s inaction in banning violent vigilante groups as he promised to do has given added credence to the perception that he is afraid of the small but noisy hard-line groups.
It has also left many wondering if violent radicals are enjoying the backing of some extremely powerful but corrupt individuals in the police, military, political parties or interest groups who are using terror for their personal or institutional interests.
Yudhoyono has mishandled the FPI’s threat to topple him like the Tunisians did with their despot. He was ridiculed when his spokesperson Julian A. Pasha promised to take measures against the FPI.
His critics argue that the President should have ignored the FPI threat because the group is just too small to make an impact politically, because moderate majority Muslims do not share its brand of Islam. His overreaction has made it as if the FPI were so important that mainstream politics has to reckon with it.
Political analyst Hermawan Sulistyo says the FPI, which has only a few thousand members, has no financial and human resources to mobilize the masses for a revolution as it brags that it has.
To start a revolution it would need at least 100,000 people militant enough to demonstrate for at least four weeks, which would also require a lot of money, he says.
Hermawan may be right. The gargantuan anti-Yudhoyono demonstrations that the FPI promised have not manifested. And, Yudhoyono seems to have forgotten his threat as well, for pressing new issues keep arising.
This whole political comedy should not distract Yudhoyono from the real issue: protecting minorities and punishing people who break the law, not banning organizations, as the right to organize is guaranteed by the Constitution.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post