Actors and Issues in the 411 Mass Action
Twenty factory workers from North Jakarta joined the November 4, 2016 action in Jakarta. As Muslims, they felt “called” by the posters they had received through facebook and whatsapp, appealing for jihad. They had been frequent participants in workers demonstrations but this time they were witnessing something different. Not only were there endless lines of people, but also, the leaders did not leave the streets even when they were attacked with tear gas.
The 4 November 2016 mass action would be the largest post-Suharto demonstration on the issue of religion. It was organized and joined by mass organizations using the Islamic label, as well as some that did not display the name of Islam. Many participated as individuals in the action and many took part in supplying food to the demonstrators.
The masses came from various Indonesian regions like Serang in Banten, Solo in Central Java, Tasik in West Java, Aceh, and so on. National television stations like Kompas TV and TV One provided direct coverage of the demonstrations although Metro TV was not allowed to make recordings.
The enormous crowds that gathered around the Hotel Indonesia circle surpassed most early estimates, including of those who played a direct role in the action. A release describing the preparations for the mass action by the National Movement to Protect Fatwa of the Council of Islamic Ulema (Gerakan Nasional Pengawal Fatwa or GNPF MUI) estimated that around 100,000 people would come and spend the night [in Jakarta, tr]. Three days before the mass action, the Field Commander of the Action, Munarman, mentioned that there would be around 130,000 people from outside Jakarta. At previous mass actions, usually only 5000 people had been recruited in Jakarta. On the basis of this, it was calculated that around 150,000-200,000 people would participate. On 4 November, the security apparatus calculated that masses would only number 50,000 and thus only deployed 18,000 joint security forces.
On 7 November, the Muslim Governor for Jakarta estimated that there had been as many as 2.5 – 3 million people, numbers that equalled the Workers’ demonstrations of 2012 and 2013, the National Strike I and World Labour Day, though there are important notes to take away from the comparison. For the workers demonstrations, as with peasants’ demonstrations, the joint security forces of the military and Police had been deployed to keep the peace in Jakarta. Through the mass media, the security forces had issued warnings against anarchist actions on the part of demonstrators. In addition, there had been several actions taken to prevent masses coming from regions outside Jakarta.
There were many reasons for people to participate in the demonstrations. The choice of time, location, organizers, demands and arguments created became important factors that were directly related to the direct participation of the masses. Organizational networks, availability of funds and transportation were also factors in the ability to mobilize masses. What is clear is that the demonstrations given the name “Action to Defend Islam II” had been planned and announced well in advance. Seen from the angle of the politics of security, it appeared that the masses were deliberately allowed to come to Jakarta in large crowds. As can be seen below, one of the important factors in the action was the presence of the Gerakan Bela Negara (Action to Defend the State, GBN). The role played by these retired military men and their networks in mobilizing the masses should not be downplayed.
Where the supporters of the 4 November Action spread a mystical aura in the choice of date [411 visually similar to the arabic script for the word, tr.] “lillahi” and references to the Arab Spring demonstrations, those who rejected the action attempted to prove that the demonstrators were no more than “puppets” of political actors who had mobilized them at the cheap cost of rice packets [the equivalent of lunchboxes — they were labelled panasbung, rice packet regiments, tr.]. It is worth noting that the term “panasbung” was also indiscriminately applied to workers actions.
By way of introduction, it can be said that the selection of the date at the beginning of the month and the last day of the week is directly related to the ability [of participants] to spend money and get time off from work. This is an indicator that some of the masses were young, middle class muslims working in Jakarta and the surrounding areas.
However, to see the 4 November Action only as an attack on those insulting the Quran ignores a number of other factors. The appearance of videos of the Thousand Island [Pulau Seribu] district speech by DKI Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, aka Ahok, should not be disengaged from other events, such as the endless campaign about the prohibition on choosing an infidel leader, the establishment of a Muslim shadow governor, and other demonstrations against Ahok’s policies. Yet another fact is the widespread dislike of the Jakarta Governor among those who had become victims of urban development and the dislike of Ahok’s verbal style and rhetoric when addressing the mass media. As the events took place in the run-up to the Jakarta elections for heads of regional government, it is important to include the phenomenon that a number of organizations involved were active supporters of a particular candidate, who also participated in the action.
The above are factors that explain why the 4 November Action was an intersection of a number of competing interests: groups whose religious feelings were disparaged, those whose social-economic interests had been harmed, those who had lost their small businesses, those who wished to drag down Ahok’s electability as candidate for governor, and those who rejected democracy and embraced the establishment of the Khilafah Islamiyah (Islamic Caliphate). All were brought together in a single political cooperation under the GNPF MUI, and under the banner Defend Islam Action II.
This essay will discuss two matters. First, how the actors played a role in the 411 Action. Second, how the issue of defamation of the Quran was socialized. In the final part, I shall try to reflect on what lessons might be learned from the 411 Action.
The Defend Islam Action II: From the Muslim Governor to the Fatwa of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI)
The Defend Islam Action II was organized by a number of political leaders and leaders of Islamic organizations in Jakarta under the name GNPF MUI. The preparatory meeting for this action was held at the Puri Putri Room, on the second floor of Grand Sahid Jaya hotel, in Central Jakarta. The meeting was attended by 75 people. Some of the important figures were:
- Mohammad Rizieq Shihab (Trustee, GNPF)
- Bachtiar Nasir (Chair, GNPF)
- Misbahul Anam (Deputy Chair, GNPF)
- M. Zaitun (Deputy Chair, FNPF)
- M. Al Khaththah (Secretary General of FUI — Forum of Muslim People)
- Abu Jibril (Mujahidin Council of Indonesia, MMI)
- Ja’far Sidiq (Central Leadership Board of the Islam Defense Front)
- Abdul Rasyid (Leadership of Al Irsyad)
- KH Muhamad Siddiq (Islamic Dakwa Council, Indonesia)
- Munarman (Islam Defense Front)
- Rokhmat S Labib (Chair, Central Leadership Board of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia/DPP HTI)
- Major General (Armed Forces, Retired) Budi Sudjana (Chair of the Movement for the Defense of the State)
- Rachmawati Soekarnoputri (Gerindra Party)
- Fahira Idris (Member, Regional Council, Republic of Indonesia)
- Rita Subagio (Chair, Movement for a Civilized Indonesia)
- Ratna Sarumpaet (Ratna Sarumpait Crisis Centre/ People’s Joint Action)
- Hamem Tohari (Hidayatullah Syuro Council)
- Ahmad Z. Abidin (YPI As Syabriyah)
- Cholil Ridwan (Cooperative Council for Indonesian Muslim Schools [pesantren/BKSPPK)
- Ahmad Dhani (Artist/candidate for the Regency of Bekasi from the Gerindra Party).
The minutes of the meeting at the Hotel Grand Sahid Jaya state that the 411 November Action is a continuation of the earlier rally at the Istiqlal Mosque. On 14 October 2016, Islamic and non-Islamic organizations launched the Action to Defend Islam in Jakarta. Similar rallies took place in several other cities. After that date, mass actions against the defamation of religion took place in several cities. For example, on 27 September, demonstrations took place in the city of Bogor and the Bekasi Regency.
Other organizations taking to the streets displayed a wide variety of characteristics. Among these were the Fraternity of Indonesian Muslim Workers (Persaudaraan Pekerja Muslim Indonesia, PPMI), the Movement of Indonesian Muslim Workers (a new organization whose leadership are active in the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions – Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia), the Islamic University Student Movement (HMI), The Indonesian Islamic Students (PII), Association of United Indonesian University Students (HIMA Persis), The Islamic Youth Movement (GPI), the Muhammadiyah Youth, and so on. There were also organizational networks of pesantren like the Daarut Tauhid. With the exception of the Nahdhatul Ulama, almost all Islamic social organizations were involved in the demonstrations.
Organizations that did not use the name of Islam were, among others, The People’s Collective Action (Akar), the Red and White Network (JMP), the Alliance of North Jakarta society (AMJU), the Luar Batang Troops, the Muara Baru Troops , the Betawi Rempug Forum (FBR).
Several of these organizations shared the political orientation of the political party that had nominated one of the candidates running in the DKI Jakarta Elections to choose the regional government heads (Pilkada). For example, JMP is an organization formed during the presidential elections of 2014 to support Gerindra, GPI had close ties with the Moon and Star Party (Partai Bulan Bintang), and Muhammadiyah Youth with the National Mandate Party (PAN). Some other organizations and individuals like Lieus Sungkharisma and Ratna Sarumpaet often raised questions publicly on issues like the Sumber Waras Hospital case and Kalijodo area evictions, such as Lieus Sungkharisma and Ratna Sarumpaet.
Although the Defend Islam Action in Jakarta did not only include Islamic organizations, the most prominent elements were FPI, MPJ and GMJ. These three names were emblazoned on the Defend Islam Action banners and they occupied the highest leadership positions.
FPI is known for its persistence in launching “attacks” on places that have been marked as places of “vice” and religious movements they consider apostate. FPI was founded five months after the fall of Suharto. At the time of its formation, the central role of FPI was held by Habib Rizieq, who was able to organize 20 Islamic leaders, people like Cecep Bustomi and Misbahul Anam, who had stood against the New Order.
It is almost impossible to separate the FPI from the paramilitary organization Pamswakarsa that confronted the university students’ demonstrations. In fact, FPI has often been regarded as having close connections to military generals like Prabowo and Wiranto.
Aside from campaigns on the dangers of Secularism, Liberalism and Pluralism, the FPI also has raised warnings about the threat of the rise of Communism. Last June, together with the Movement for the Defense of the State (GBN), and a number of other Islamic organizations, FPI participated in the anti Communism symposium held in Jakarta.
The GBN is an organization formed in June 2015, by a number of retired military officers with the support of a number of civilian leaders such as Salahudin Wahid and Alfian Tanjung. The most prominent achievement of the GBN is the campaign against the rise of communists in Indonesia. The establishment of this anti communist organization goes hand in hand with the desire to restrict democratic space in Indonesia, and it is also against the movement of workers and peasants against poverty.
MPJ GMJ was initiated and supported by a number of organizations in Jakarta. MPJ GMJ experienced a sharp rise in popularity when they demonstrated and declared the shadow governor. After they had failed to nominate independent muslim candidates for governor and deputy governor, the MPJ GMJ organized three Muzakarah.
The idea of the Muzakarah was to push for a Muslim governor of Jakarta, i.e. Anies-Sandi and Agus-Sylvi; they appealed to all Muslims with a Jakarta ID card to use their votes to choose one of these candidates for a Muslim Governor and a Muslim Deputy Governor, to form a team to study the reality and electability of the two muslim pairs of candidates, and to prevent all Muslim supporters of Muslim candidates from insulting, attacking, and demeaning each other.
The results of the Muzakarah were followed by the formation of the Allliance for the Care of the Umma and Nation that held its activities in the Istiqlal Mosque, on 18 September 2016. The program was scheduled to be attended by 50 thousand people for religious counsel, oratory and a long march to the Commission for the Eradication of Corruption (KPK) to demand the arrest of Ahok. Although the program was not completed, the Grand Meeting (Silaturahmi Akbar) and Prayer for the Safety of the Capital City resulted in nine points or Risalah Istiqlal. The nine points and the results of the Muzakarah both recommended that Muslims vote for either of the Muslim candidates for Governor and Deputy Governor.
The Islamic organizations and leadership in the MPJ GMJ were influential in the networks of each of the participating organizations. Although nationally the Nahdatul Ulama (NU) organization was not involved in the 411 Action, the Jakarta branch of the NU actually was involved in the MPJ GMJ.
From (Majelis Taklim) to Social Media: shaping the narrative.
Writing the 4 November Action as 411 apparently can be read as “Lillahi”, or “because of Allah”. This appears to be an effort at creating a mystical aura in order to attract many people. That is one of the posters used to mobilize participants and funds. Reportedly, the 4 November action was able to collect more than 4.500 million [rupiah].
There was a poster designed with many colours that merged Arabic and Roman letters with the logo of the Indonesian Council of Ulema. In addition, thirteen Islamic mass leadership figures were presented, including Syukron Makmun, Cholil Ridwan, Bachtiar Natsir, Didin Hafidhudin, Habib Rizieq. The poster also had notes in small print specifying what people joining the actions would need for their trip to Jakarta. The top of the poster had the writing Allah and Muhammad.
The number 411 and the Press Release displayed a complex range of choices because, whatever else might be said, the calendar used for the date was the Christian calendar, which, and combining the words “jihad”, “defense of Islam,” with the terms “”constitutional” and “rule of law” sought to show that muslims were modern and obeyed the law.
As propaganda material, it is interesting to note several things. First, the name Action to Defend Islam. This defensive view is a reflection of a world view that attributes the adverse situation of Islam to external attacks but also as a result of the lack of obedience to pure Islamic teachings. Using the slogan, “back to the Quran and Sunna,” this worldview, which arose in the early 20th century, urged that Islamic doctribe be read in its pure textuality. Efforts at establishing reconstructionist methodology or reinterpreting the teachings of Islam were regarded with suspicion as attempts to undermine the perfect doctrine. Several efforts to present alternative arguments were readily accused of failing to defending Islam, as liberal, hypocritical, and even apostate. With such a position, the supporters of Action 411 believed that their actions were entirely concerned with the defense of the faith and they strongly rejected accusations that they were raising issues related to ethnicity, religion, race and inter-group relations (known by the acronym SARA).
To reinforce the belief that the Action to Defend Islam was not anti-Chinese, they usually presented a Chinese figure named Lieus Sungkharisma. Lieus had previously been the Chair of the Chinese Reform Party after the fall of Soeharto. But, during Soeharto’s time, Lieus had had a good career. From 1986-1991 he was the National Chair of the Central Organization of Independent Workers (Soksi), on the central leadership board of the Youth Renewal Movement (Angkatan Muda Pembaharuan Indonesia, AMPI), 1994, Leadership board of the Central National Committee of Indonesia (KNPI), and Chair of the Association of Chinese Indonesian Entreprenuers, the Chair of the Indonesian Buddhist Youth Movement (Gemabudhi) in 1985. Lieus’ name first gained prominence when the Mass Rapid Transit project at Fatmawati was launched.
Secondly, the addition of the name Fatwa MUI (Indonesian Council of Ulema Fatwa/Decree). Because Muslims were unable to understand the religious issues with care and depth, it was the task of the ulema to offer explanations. The decrees of the MUI were considered binding.
The MUI Fatwa was issued not long after the circulation of a video edited and transcribed by Buni Yani. The MUI issued a letter titled Religious Opinion and Position of the Indonesian Council of Ulema on 11 October 2016. Islamic organizations then referred to this letter as a fatwa.
In the letter, the MUI mentioned that the Governor of Jakarta had defamed the Quran and the ulema as the teachers of Islam. In the first point, the letter declared “Sura al-maidah of the Quran, verse 51 explicitly contains the prohibition of making Jews and Christians leaders. This article is one of the prohibitions against making leaders of non-Muslims.” Thus, a different interpretation of al-Maidah 51, cannot be used and those who do so are considered people who do not believe in the opinion of the MUI.
When we look at other similar cases, such as the Arswendo and the Lia Eden cases, [we might conclude that] law enforcement should have taken the same action in the case of Ahok. It would appear that Islamic organizations have learned that law enforcement agencies are often lax in the way they enforce the law and must be pressured by the masses. Yet at this point we encounter a further contradiction because in relation to national law, MUI and its fatwa are not a part of the Indonesian legal system. Furthermore, while MUI did not declare a fatwa to participate in demonstrations, for Muslims, fatwa is not obligatory, while respect for and protection of religious beliefs of individuals are products of modern society.
On October 14, on the private national television, TVOne, the Deputy Secretary General of the Central MUI, Tengku Zulkarnain, stated that they had issued the letter because they had received a report from the people. According to him, when Ahok made a speech in the Thousand Island [Pulau Seribu] district, it was not during the gubernatorial elections campaign period. In this way, MUI tried to avoid taking into consideration the context within which Ahok’s speech was made.
On Change.org, a post titled Police of the Republic of Indonesia: Support for MUI in Detaining Ahok said that there were fifty organizations that had sent in reports to MUI. This cyber petition with the rather odd title was created by the account Front Pembela Islam (Front for the Defense of Islam). As of 25 November, the site had only gathered 156,936 of the 200,000 signatures requested.
A television program with the theme “After Ahok’s Apologies” presented MUI representatives, supporters of the MUI fatwa, Ahok supporters, and the police in a live broadcast. Not long after that, the program was recorded and uploaded on youtube by a number of different accounts. Some had recorded the entire program, others only uploaded particular segments, and some uploaded particular segments and offered explanations. What was clear was that the program attracted much attention.
Not long after that, a videoblog under the name Ustaz Yusuf Mansur appeared. The video called on Islamic youth to avoid imitating the behaviour of Nusron Wahid, a supporter of Ahok, who had been disrespectful of MUI ulema. Nusron had said that by issuing the fatwa MUI had violated the principle of tabayyun (clarification), and showed no wisdom in dealing with different interpretations of the Quranic verse. Unfortunately, Nusron had neglected to indicate Ahok’s position as someone whose actions were governed by the code of ethics of a public servant.
The Ustaz did not attempt to clarify the case, nor did he offer comments of substance on the discussion. It is said that the Ustaz had had to apologize for improper comments.
The opinion of the MUI clearly ignored or failed to take issue with the massive “Muslims Elect Muslims” campaign, which had provoked a reaction from Ahok. Several days after the television program, MUI stated that they would not correct their fatwa. Later, when some Islamic organizations demanded that MUI revoke their Opinion, they did not respond. According to MUI, every person has the right to present and defend their religion (Republika.com, 20/10/2016).
The above presentation shows how the supporters of Action 411 had won the struggle on the virtual media. Using the slogan, “this news is not broadcast on secular media” the supporters of Action 411 managed and broadcast their own media, such as habibrizieq.com, fpi.or.id, panjimas.com, and other new media. Habibrizieq.com, for example, in addition to issuing long articles and position statements, also provided radio streaming, naturally supplemented by a list of social media apps. Social media like Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Blackberry Messenger, and dotcom media were used to spread the ideas of Action 411. We can’t omit the fanpage Jonru, the facebook account Suryo Prabowo and lesser known accounts that regularly presented “arguments” to refute attacks by the anti Defense of Islam Action.
Through these media, propaganda material was presented in a short, concise, simple and attractive manner. The initiators of the action were very much aware of the importance of social media and the role of the players in social media.
Does not Defending Islam Mean Defending Infidels?
I shall present a few notes in conclusion. First, the actors in Action 411 had the means to mobilize the masses, i.e. the pesantren and teaching councils (majelis taklim). As far as religious matters are concerned, the capacity of these actors is beyond doubt. In the past ten years, the teaching groups (majelis taklim) have undergone renewal in the form of the zikr (devotional) groups in which urban muslim groups from all age and social groups participate.
Another interesting phenomenon is the “rise” of Islam on screen culture like television, film, internet, and social media. In fact, we are witnessing programs by young ustaz (reigious teachers) who frequently show up on infotainment shows as celebrities. Several local and national television stations have regular “Islamic” infotainment shows.
The study of Ariel Heryanto (2015) states that the users of screen culture are middle class muslims who were subjected to restrictions during Soeharto’s regime. There are not very many of them but they are highly vocal because they have financial resources and information and are interested in national and international issues.
By using screen culture, they are able to “greet” millions of Muslims from different social groups. The specific characteristics of these middle class muslims is the strong desire to study Islam through means that are very different from the pesantren education. The pesantren style of education is rigorous, lengthy and expensive. The highest aspirations of these middle class muslims is to achieve religious devotion and success in an increasingly industrialized world. This perception of devotion and success is often used to give meaning to the empoverishment of the common people. In the large cities, charitable activities to support the poor can be found. Perhaps it is not too surprising that terms like “gratitude” and “work is devotion” has spread to workers as they confront business interests. The “rush money” campaign [a campaign intended to spark a rush on the banks] at least shows that such appeals are not aimed at the muslim poor.
Secondly, while Ahok supporters are appealing that everything be subjected to the due process of law, segments of Muslims hope that the MUI will be given a greater scope to speak, including on issues of land appropriations, the evictions of urban communitions, and the exploitation of labour. This is an important note. In the midst of difficulties in securing well-paying and safe jobs, the marginalization of peasants and the meagre income of workers, Islamic leadership has rarely been present. Yet, they are trusted to have the capacity to address the anxieties that people experience all the time. This is a trust that other social movements lack.
One cannot deny that Islam–as is the case with other religions–has a liberatory spirit. We have witnessed that MUI is made up of different Islamic organizations, the government, and intellectuals. The MUI was established on 26 July 1975. At that time, the membership that was declared were the Nadlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah, Syarikat Islam, Perti, Al Washliyah, Mth’laul Anwar, GUPPI (Movement For the Renewal of Islamic Education), PTDI (Islamic Dakwa University), DMI (Council of Indonesian Mosques), and al Ittihadiyyah, four leaders from the Islamic religious services of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Police, as well as 13 intellectuals as individuals. Before that, in 1973, the Federation of Indonesian Labour (FBSI) and the Association of Indonesian Peasants (HKTI) had been established.
Soeharto had succeeded in unifying Islamic organizations of different methodologies and understandings of Islam that had been competing with each other. Sharing the same fortune as those organizations during that time, MUI also supported and helped the policies of the Soeharto regime. MUI were fortunate to obtain state legitimation for the sole power to determine Islamic holy days and deciding whether or not food and drink were halal. During the Soeharto era, one of the most prominent actions of the MUI was to have Arswendo jailed [for defamation of the Prophet, tr]. But, even though the government had issued a ban on the wearing of the hijab in public places we received no information on MUI’s reaction when many people failed to find employment or were fired because they wore the hijab.
MUI is not a state institution, nevertheless, it is a recipient of state funds. As of March 2015, the Jokowi government questioned the allocation of funds for MUI, as well as the existence of the council for sharia oversight and halal certification. This of course angered MUI leadership. MUI also experienced a reduction in the funds allocated to them for social activities by the Jakarta government, which caused consternation among Jakarta social organizations.
Further observation on the priority given by Islamic leadership to defamation of religion happened long before Indonesia was an independent state, including issues of incorrect translations of the Quran, insulting Allah, insulting the Prophet pbuh, and defamation of the Quran and ulema. However, these polemics mostly took place in spaces that were accessible only to particular groups. For example, the debates between HOS Tjokroaminoto and Marthodarsono in the early 20th century. This debate was sparked by the Djawi Hiswara publication. We can imagine [the impact] of a debate taking place in a newspaper in a society that was largely illiterate and under Dutch colonialism, and which was subsequently claimed as an issue for all Muslims. The case itself ended without any explanation by Tjokroaminoto. This was followed by the rise of the progressive haji Misbach. Who introduced Islamic values in simple form to the poor. Towards the end of his life, Haji Misbach piloted a Committee Masigit (Mosque Committee) to train the poor to resist capitalist interests.
Thirdly, for Muslims, the Quran, as well as belief in Allah swt, the angels, the prophets and the last day are all fundamental. Muslims read and obey the Quran on a daily basis. A popular example [of ways used ] to reject and “eradicate” communists in Indonesia was to accuse them of burning and trampling on the Quran, killing Muslim students and ulema. In the same way, the rejection of Liberal Islam was due to the perception that they were dismissive of established Islamic rules.
In my opinion, this is what is often neglected by social movements. I am not proposing a sharia social movement. For example, workers unions are still largely labour law movements, with discussions limited to minimum wages and resolution of labour cases. This is indeed necessary but without long range ideals, it is not sufficient. What we need is an organization in which activities are relevant to the everyday lives of the members.
* Terima kasih kepada Sylvia Tiwon yang telah bersedia menerjemahkan tulisan ini.