Banning FPI is No Solution

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaBanning all activity of the Islam Defenders Front solved nothing. There should be a strategic cultural design to address extremism.

    THE government should not have taken the short cut of stopping all activities of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI). Aside from solving nothing, banning activities and organization’s attributes violated the constitution.

    The Republic of Indonesia's Constitution is definite in its protection of the freedom to convene, to associate and to state one's opinion in public. Thoughts, ideology and ideas cannot be put on trial nor be persecuted. History has proven how gagging an idea can never obliterate it completely.

    This is why Law No. 16/2017 on civil society organizations which makes it possible for the government to disperse an organization without going to court from the outset was problematic. Making use of the controversial regulation as the tool to ban the FPI has indeed added to the muddle.

    It cannot be denied that many groups in society were beleaguered by FPI's antics. Public statements by the FPI mouthpiece, Rizieq Shihab, was filled with hate-mongering and malicious badgering to conduct violence. Several of the organization’s members were allegedly involved in terrorism.

    If indeed enough evidence existed proving criminal violations, why did not the government elect to take the route to court? Such an act would provide the public a far more valuable lesson regarding the importance of supremacy of the law.

    The big question now hanging is how effective is the ban of all FPI activity and attributes. Can freezing all FPI's bank accounts quell their political aspirations, which calls for formalizing Islamic sharia (law)? Can Islamic extremism be overcome with the disappearance of FPI content on social media? Not a month has passed, several FPI leaders already have plans to declare a new organization with a similar name. Obviously, the government can refuse registry to the new entity and once again ban it, yet still that would not address the essence of the matter.

    Those who were in support of the FPI ban regarded the move as one that restored public peace and order and brought back religious tolerance. With such logic, the success indicator of the move obviously is the return of interfaith tolerance and strengthening of civil liberties. The problem is, it is paradoxical that protecting the civil freedom of the society was enacted by threatening that self-same freedom.

    Several studies have shown how the support base from youngsters and the urban lower masses towards the FPI in part came from their dire economic straits. Unemployed youths with no means to meet their basic daily needs are enamored with religious extremism conveyed in straightforward, easily-digestible language. Leaders of the FPI gather the masses by offering a black-and-white view of who is a friend and who is foe. Religious populism is usually bolstered when there is dissatisfaction in society.

    Banning FPI activities was akin to reacting like an ostrich burying its head in the sand when a storm ensued. It seemed the issue came and went, yet there it still is. Members of the community dissatisfied with government policy, or who feel their aspirations are unrepresented in the existent system will continue seeking ways to make their expression heard. The potential for these people to get mired into terrorist groups becomes ever greater.

    The government likes to claim it takes its steps based on research and sufficient evidence. Without an appropriate political culture designed to address the aspirations of Islamic hardliners, the move that banned FPI felt shallow and slapdash.

    The act was followed by a further government move to curtail FPI activities on social media while stripping their attributes in public, and freezing their bank accounts. The climax was when the Chief of Police requested the community to no longer spread FPI content on the Internet. The announcement was rife with errors, from legal, formal, and social perspectives. Besides having no legal basis and contravening Article 28F of the Constitution, the Police chief's announcement was rife with the possibility of creating horizontal conflict.

    The government's ineptitude in responding to the FPI with appropriate and comprehensive policies is worrying. If not immediately rectified, bad outcomes of the new rulings will be felt five to10 years down the line. With the current administration's tendency to lean toward authoritarian means, it feels like Indonesia is slipping further away from the values of democracy, freedom, and respect to civil liberties. Ironically, that is exactly what the FPI aspire to achieve.

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