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Indonesia faces a looming constitutional crisis
Moh Yasir Alimi, Semarang
The nation is holding its breath. Within the space of a week we were confronted by two shocking events: the involvement of the Siliwangi Military Command in the alleged persecution of Ahmadiyah in West Java and a letter bomb sent to liberal Muslim activist Ulil Abshar Abdalla. Both evince the changing face of the nation’s society, politics and religious life.
The Siliwangi Military Command for a long time has taken pride as a guardian of the Indonesian people and the national motto of unity in diversity. The legendary command was on the front lines of the fight to save the new Indonesian nation from attempts to set up an Islamic state led by Kartosuwiryo in West Java and Kahar Muzakkar in South Sulawesi.
The command today seems disoriented and has lost sight of its fundamental values and history. Its presence in an operation to “purify” Ahmadiyah followers in West Java might have been unintentional, but in any event was misplaced, scary and might have led to persecution.
We might ask how this disorientation is connected to terrorists who attempt to assassinate people with different ideologies. Both incidents occured because Indonesia is now experiencing constitutional anomie.
Anomie, as Durkheim said, is a condition where there are no norms and the regulatory framework decays. Everyone “aspires to everything and is satisfied with nothing”.
Constitutional anomie, as I define it, is a disruption of the constitutional framework of a nation. In our case, it means that the fundamental principles embodied in the Constitution are no longer effectively realized in the day-to-day organization of politics and public life.
Constitutional anomie has manifested itself in Indonesia in six ways.
First, recent bylaws and statements from the elites contradict the spirit of the Constitution, particularly in terms of tolerance and diversity, and are becoming more open and more confidently expressed.
Second, officials manipulate the process so that it seems that the rules they create accord with the Constitution. Officials at many levels are confusing their religious and constitutional commitments.
Third, as a result of such manipulation, fundamental constitutional principles such as tolerance, religious freedom and diversity have been turned upside down. What is right and wrong has become unclear unconstitutionally.
Fourth, state officials are not on the same wavelength on realizing the Constitution.
For example, the President has made strong remarks on violence while elites talk, smile and offer open arms to extremist groups.
Further, governors have adopted bylaws that violate the spirit of constitutional diversity while top state officials in Jakarta, including the President stand mute.
The President seems to believe that Ahmadiyah, as a colleague said, is “a nuisance to his presidency and wishes they’d just go away.”
Fifth, elites have been sending confusing signals on the principles buttressing the Constitution, leading to state hesitation in cracking down on extremists.
Sixth, a warm reception from state officials has made religious vigilantes more confident.
Underlying these six symptoms a tendency of the elite to exploit violence as political commodity to raise their popularity. The Constitution has been subordinated to constituents and bartered for short-term and myopic political interests.
Above all, constitutional anomie has been exacerbated since the principles of the Constitution have no longer been supported by words and action at the Palace and the House.
We are puzzled why the President himself rarely invokes Pancasila and principles of the Constitution as the foundation of Indonesian values. I am not questioning the President’s commitment to Pancasila, only his inaction.
Constitutional anomie will be fatal for Indonesian democracy. So far we have seen how the abandonment of constitutional values and confusing signals sent by state officials has made the National Police hesitate to take action against violent groups because they do not have enough political support.
The Siliwangi Military Command is disoriented, which, as Durkheim said, happens is the first step on the road of anomie.
Constitutional anomie is like a river; it can sweep away anything standing in its way. Only those who hold to the Constitution and resist mingling it with their political interests will survive.
The most critical result of constitutional anomie is that the nation no longer shares the same spirit or sentiments. If this is not corrected, and the authority of the Constitution is not restored, the nation can fall into an irreversible and vicious circle of violence.
To stop this, soldiers should hold solidly to their basic values. They should not allow their integrity to be manipulated by the whims of Indonesian elites.
And state officials at many levels should stop running roughshod over the Constitution and commoditizing violence as political strategy.
History tells that the use of violence as political commodity will not only endanger the country, but also those who play with it.
If you play with fire, you get burned.
The writer is a lecturer at the School of Sociology and Anthropology at Semarang State University and active in Jamaah Mujahadah Asmaul Husna.