Saturday, August 29, 2009
  Ruminations On Unreligious Affairs Part 1

When asked to state my religion, my answer depends on the questioner.

I may state 'me', citing the mantra that if God is in all things then I am a piece of Her puzzle. If asked to be more precise, I answer that I'm a bit of everything because I follow the basic principles, the 'good' bits of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism etc.etc. because they all have a basic premise - we should try to live together in harmony.

Taking it one step further, if labels are required, I answer that I feel most in tune with animists because they are the most in tune with Mother Nature. I don't see God as a male judgmental figure but as a nurturing mother providing all living creatures with a space to survive and thrive.

If an official asks me, I answer 'Muslim', because 'Er Indoors has that on her ID card and the law has it that Indonesians must 'belong' to a registered religion and marriages between folk of different faiths are not allowed. So I made the 'sacrifice' of leaving my atheism behind for the sake of a piece of paper. (My affection for animism came later following a visit to the Mentawai on Siberut island.)

Indonesia is notionally and constitutionally a secular state; this begs the question as to why there is a Department of Religious Affairs which, among other matters, determines which religious sects can be deemed to be blasphemous, proscribed and even sent to jail.*

It also begs the question as to the government does not act against certain groups which preach 'disharmony' and which engage in violent acts against those groups which do not adhere to the narrow-minded interpretations of their particular faith.

For those with an inquiring mind, this is a justification to search for hidden agendas among the complex network of the political élite, intelligence groups, military, and business 'interests'. Why are religious groups used to stir up communal violence?

Unless we bloggers have 'proof' provided by the mainstream media and/or other published documents to provide credence to our opinions, we have to be careful when we point fingers at the rich and powerful. So what follows is based on a Jakarta Post special report on Jakarta's underworld, a report which included 'biographies' of the mafia-type groups currently operating.

Islam Defenders Front (FPI)
Notorious for its violent attacks on bars and restaurants and Islamic groups who do not follow their fundamentalist mindset, the FPI is a splinter group of the Pamswakarsa civil guard set up by the military on August 17th 1998 to support the Habibie regime which immediately followed Suharto's 'abdication'.
Membership requirement:
Muslim and able to read the Koran.

Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR)
Although supposedly established to "merely to advocate for the revival of the long-marginalized Betawi" ('native' Jakartans', the FBR is alleged to have received backing from the Jakarta administration, the military and other opponents of President Gus Dur (who was the patron of the Nadhlatul Ulama (the largest national Islamic organisation). It continues to provide support for the Jakarta bureaucracy and Islamic groups.
Membership requirement:
Betawi and Muslim.

Pemuda Pancasila (Pancasila Youth)
Established on 28th October 1959 by then army chief A.H. Nasution to fight communism. After 1978 it evolved to enlist youths to vote for Golkar, Suharto's 'functional grouping'. Allegedly involved in the bloody riot against Megawati's PDI-P H.Q. on July 27th 1996 and the sectarian violence in Ambon in 2000. Former leader and financier Yoris Raweyai is currently a Golkar legislator. However, with Golkar now a much diminished force and funding drying up, members are now moonlighting with the FPI, FBR and Laskar Jayakarta.
Membership requirement:
all ethnicities and religions.

Laskar Jayakarta (Jayakarta Warriors)
Laskar Jayakarta is a proxy group for the police; lead by Adj. Sr. Comr. Susilowadi of Jakarta's police, it "provides unofficial security protection" in Jakarta's largest entertainment centre based around Harmoni. Laskar's top officials are former members of Pemuda Pancasila, FBR, and Forkabi, the military's family forum.
Membership requirement:
all inclusive, but primarily for native Jakartans.

Eastern Indonesia factions
Primarily from the Moluccas and East Timor, these groups have been riven by competition for the provision of 'security services', especially debt collection through intimidation. A former leader, Ongen Sangaji, is now an executive in the Hanura Party founded by former military chief, Gen.(ret.) Wiranto.
Membership requirement:
exclusive to ethnicity.

Haji Lulung group
Now probably the most successful underworld group, Haji Lulung's rise, with the backing of the Jakarta administration and law enforcers, coincided with the 'need' to oppose Gus Dur. He also benefitted from the decision of the then Governor Sutiyoso to 'clean up' Tanah Abang, Southeast Asia's largest textile distribution centre, although he attributes his success to having been a member of Panca Marga Youth, a group which brings together children of military and police officers. Haji Lulung's group now also provides 'security services' to many of central Jakarta's shopping centres and other notable sites. Haji Lulung is now a city councillor for the United Development Part (PPP), the Muslim party created by Suharto.
Membership requirement: preference to native Jakartans.

It is tempting to draw too many conclusions from the above. However, it is good to have some hard information rather than the sparse gleanings of bar gossip. I hadn't realised, for example, that Jl. Pelatahan, the Blok M nightlife area which was then under the patronage and protection of Suharto's wife, Madame Tenpluspercen when I haunted it in my bachelor days, is now the domain of the Jakarta administration and police.

Suharto was wary of the power of organised Muslim groups, especially those that thought that his version of Pancasila democracy seemed hollow because it restricted the practices of Islam to family and mosque, rather than "allowing Islam to enfold the fullness of human activity, including politics". Later, in the name of 'national development', he co-opted the mainstream Muslim organisations, going to great lengths to demonstrate that he was a good Muslim, including making the haj to Mecca in May 1991.

Jakarta's current underworld owes much to the alliances formed in those days. It does seem, however, that now he's gone, predominantly Muslim groups are, with the support of the military and police, freer to engage in the full range of human activities, including the provision of 'protection' for those premises involved in unIslamic activities such as the consumption of alcohol and prostitution.

But then, Malaysia, which is much stricter in its interpretation of how a Muslim dominated society should be run, is also hypocritical in its interpretation of what is acceptable.

Muslims in Malaysia are governed by sharia law – which forbids the consumption of alcohol – in family and personal matters. The government has therefore barred Muslims from attending a concert by US hip-hop stars the Black Eyed Peas on September 25th because the event is organised by the Irish brewer Guinness.

An official at the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture said, "Muslims cannot attend. Non-Muslims can go and have fun."

So, to sum up, being a Muslim means that u
nless you are protected you are not allowed to have fun.

I'm confused. Should I tear up my marriage certificate?

Next: Are Muslims really responsible for recent terrorist attacks?
* I'd also like to be enlightened as to why Catholics and Protestants are deemed to be two separate religions, rather than as different manifestations of Christianity.



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