By Johannes Nugroho
The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) has made plenty of headlines in the past few years. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)
Just as Indonesia’s National Police celebrated their 69th anniversary on July 1, at the Wonogondang Camping Ground in Cangkringan, in Yogyakarta’s district of Sleman, about 1,500 participants of the Seventh-day Adventist Church 2015 Pathfinder Club Camporee had their event broken up by the hard-line Islamic Jihad Front (FJI). In a blatant breach of the rule of law, the FJI received the backing of the local police force.
The chief of Cangkringan Police, Adj. Comr. Rubiyanto, told the press: “The organizers of the event couldn’t produce the required permits. Since this is supposed to be a national event, they should have obtained permits from the National Police headquarters, or at least the provincial headquarters.”
However, it appears that the management of the camping ground had in fact secured a permit with the Cangkringan Police. No further permit had been mentioned until the FJI mob turned up to protest, claiming that the event was an attempt at “christianization.” FJI was adamant that the event be canceled, especially in light of the missing permits, threatening it would muster a greater mob if the police refused to shut down the event.
“All thanks be to the Almighty that the Christian scout [sic] event at Cangkringan has been dispersed. This is a lesson for everyone to take care not to offend Muslims, especially during Ramadan,” said Muhammad Fuad, commander of the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) Yogyakarta, an affiliate of FJI.
The organizers of the camp in the end had no choice but to relocate the event. An organizer from Jakarta, Wenny Francisca Tumbelaka, poignantly wrote: “I felt sorry for the children. The food we sent them was confiscated by those people, and they ended up eating all the food, too.”
The question remains whether the event could have gone ahead undisturbed even if organizers had secured all the permits. After all, the police have in the past often cited “public unrest” as a valid reason to break up any event.
It’s worth noting that Sleman was also where a previous attack on the house belonging to a man named Julius Felicianus occurred in June 2014. The same hard-line Muslim crowds were responsible, claiming that Julius’ house had been used for holding church services. Although police officers were present when the mob attacked and trashed the house, they merely stood by.
Historically, what has to be called ‘mob power’ has always been present in modern Indonesia. Its first calculated use by Indonesian independence fighters was in 1945, around the time of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces. At the end of the Japanese Occupation, and pending power transfer to the Allies, mobs ran amok attacking Japanese troops and later also the incoming Allied and Dutch troops.
Mob power played a crucial role in the lead-up to and during the 1945 Battle of Surabaya. Plenty of Japanese armories and warehouses were attacked by the Surabaya “kampung” mobs numbering tens of thousands at times and had their contents wiped clean.
Later on, when the British troops landed in October 1945, they suddenly found themselves facing urban guerrilla warfare waged by Indonesian militias equipped with Japanese guns, and lurking behind them the fearless kampung mobs. The frenzied mobs became the British infantrymen’s nightmare. The power of “amuk massa” lay with the terror their numbers brought.
Unfortunately for Indonesia, the tradition of mob power survived well into the times of the republic. Mob attacks were especially entrenched in the political sphere as they became a tool for parties and organizations with which to intimidate their rivals. The then hugely popular Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) relied on this method to overpower its enemies and those of president Sukarno, when it became the president’s protégé.
In December 1963, for example, PKI thugs across the country started enforcing land reform laws and confiscating land from private citizens, alienating many Indonesians in the process. The British Embassy was also overrun by PKI demonstators and incinerated. In late 1964, pro-Sukarno mobs attacked and burned down the US Information Service libraries in Jakarta and Surabaya. On Sept. 11, 1965, the Indian Embassy in Jakarta was ransacked and burned by crowds protesting against India’s support for Malaysia during Confrontation. It came as no surprise when anti-communist forces in Indonesia struck back during the 1965 and 1966 Communist Purge, mob attacks were also used to deadly effect.
Nowadays, hard-line groups, whether claiming to be religious like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) or FUI, or nationalist like Pemuda Pancasila, also employ the same methods of intimidation and mob terror. Last month a poet and artist from Kendal, Central Java, had his house besieged by PP members for allegedly planning a “communist” art performance.
The Indonesian police have stated that there is very little they can do when menacing large mobs are involved in an incident. Yet it is exactly the reluctance of the state apparatus to bring mob power under the control of the law which enables the reign of terror to continue. Without rule of law, a truly functioning democracy will forever be out of Indonesia’s reach.
Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya. He can be contacted at email@example.com.