Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For Indonesia Without the FPI

Last February 11th, thousands of Dayak people converged on the town of Palangkaraya, demonstrating against the Islamic Defender's Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI) which was coming to set up a branch in the Central Kalimantan province. Hundreds then stormed the runway, so that the FPI's leaders who had come from Jakarta for the ceremony could not get off the plane. Inspired by this action, a few days later people gathered for a rally in central Jakarta inviting people to imagine 'Indonesia without the FPI'.

It takes bravery to challenge this powerful and violent organisation that for 13 years has been manipulating religious sentiment into a fearsome street-fighting movement of the extreme right. Few public figures will declare against them, and local and national government almost always seems to capitulate when faced with the threat that the FPI will mobilise against them. Laws and governmental decisions increasingly seem designed to appease the religious right, and their strength grows steadily.

To give some background of where this organisation came from, we have translated a special edition of Catatan Kaki, a newsletter from students at Hasanuddin University in Makassar about the FPI, published in May 2011. It explains FPI's emergence in post-Suharto Indonesia, focussing especially on the role that organisation played in the military's efforts to maintain power. There is also a chronology which is not a complete list of the FPI's violent actions, but gives some indication of the sort of things they get up to. As it was originally written for an Indonesian audience, Catatan Kaki refers to several incidents and groups involved in Indonesia's recent history which might be unfamiliar people reading this in English, but we've tried to make the translation as clear as possible.

Catatan Kaki's webpage ( was down when we posted this in February 2012. However, a copy of the original can be downloaded from

Catatan Kaki Special Edition May 2011.

Demanding the night as the sun shines bright.

The Front Pembela Islam, or Islamic Defender's Front (FPI) is a membership organisation which was officially formed on the 17th of August 1998. The main reason for founding the organisation was to push for the application of Islamic Shari'a law, which had been included in the principles of the Jakarta Charter, a pact between different religious and nationalist factions signed prior to independence about how the future state should be.

It's not really clear why this organisation was given the name Islamic Defender's Front. If its aim is really to defend Islam then this would imply that Islam is a weak religion whose existence must be defended. If, however, the organisation is aiming to uphold Shari'a then that is clearly misguided, because that Indonesia was established from many different ethnic groups and religions.

Since the FPI was formed in 1998 their aggressions have often caused unease amongst the population. The way they take the law into their own hands, judge what is right and wrong according to their own viewpoint and enjoy acts of violence means that FPI doesn't come across as a group of Muslims acting out of love, but more like a gang of thugs in turbans.

Acting as self-appointed judges, their actions show disdain for human rights. Each of us should have the same rights before the law - it is not alright for a few people to take the law into their own hands and decide what is right and what is wrong.

But FPI's history is that of an Indonesian people's organisation that not only effectively stamps on human rights, but also on the religion it claims to act in the name of.

Because we oppose their ways of acting and all the acts of violence that have taken place, we have collected various writings about the FPI, starting with some cases that have already taken place. We are aware that there is very much that we have missed, however waiting for FPI to change is like demanding the night while the sun is shining.

As a final word, this piece of writing is not trying to pick up on every single attack or act of violence that FPI has ever carried out, but to spark some thoughts of how terrible this country would be, if we all thought that we were always in the right.

The Real Face Behind the Religious Mask

A religious school called Al Um, situated in Utan village, Ciputat, Jakarta bore witness to the founding of the Islamic Defender's front. The calender on the wall would have been showing the date of 17th August 1998 as a group of Ulama (religious scholars), Habib (descendants of the Prophet Muhammed), Mubaligh (preachers) and several high-ranking military officials, including the then chief of Jakarta's police Nugroho Djayoesman, declared the birth of the FPI. The moment was witnessed by hundreds of Muslim students from Jakarta and surrounding cities.
The fall of Suharto gave FPI's founders the impetus to commence their activities. The new organisation, to be headed by Mohammed Rizieq Shabib, would have the objective of upholding Islamic law in Indonesia. Such activities would not have been tolerated during Suharto's New Order Government's 32-year reign.

The FPI took advantage of the political upheaval in 1998 to renew their demand for the reintroduction of seven words which were included in the Jakarta Charter prior to independence but were later left out of the Pancasila, the principles on which the Indonesian state was founded:“Godliness, including implementing Sharia law for Muslims”. The underlying motivation was the FPI's feeling that representative democracy had failed in Indonesia. The FPI felt that the state's duty to provide economic security had never really worked, and so they had to take action.

Now in 2011 the organisation is around 12 years old. The actions they have carried out have reaped criticism from across society. Their history is studded with a series of cases of violence. Often they have tried to uphold Shari'a law by attacking places where they accuse immoral acts of taking place. According to Andreas Harsono, author of the book “My Religion is Journalism”, speaking in Makassar, the FPI often take the law into their own hands. For example, they once shut down an event marking World Aids Day in Makassar, although this event had already received a permit from local government and police.

Harsono, a Harvard graduate, claims that FPI shouldn't carry out these illegal actions. “I know that many laws in Indonesia are not perfect or well-enforced, but this doesn't mean that you should do things that are simply wrong”.

Whoever they FPI really is are and whoever is behind them, they seem to be beyond the reach of the law.

The FPI's Relationship with the Military.

The fact that the FPI's inaugural event was attended by several high-ranking military officers as well as the Jakarta police chief gives an indication of their close links with the military. Kivlan Zein, the ex-chief-of-staff of Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), describes this relationship in his book, 'Conflict and Integration in the Indonesian army'. This close relationship can be linked to other attempts by the military to retain their position of power around the time that Suharto fell, such as the creation of Pam Swakarsa, an armed citizen's militia formed by the military, or the the crowds that were mobilised to support the Special Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) in 1998. However Wiranto, the Commander-General of the Armed Forces, was not capable at the time of withstanding the popular pressure to replace the Habibie government. It was the start of the democratic transformation, including bringing the date of the scheduled general election forward from 2002 to 1999, during the Special Session of the MPR.

Major General Kivlan Zein was ordered to go and see General Wiranto, who asked him to mobilise in support of the MPR Special Session. Wiranto felt that the general would be capable of regaining control of the Senayan Office which the people's uprising had taken over in May 1998.

“They were President Habibie's orders” said Wiranto

The financing he asked for would be connected to Setiawan Djodi, a businessman, and Jimly Asshidiqie, ex-chief of the constitutional court,who was on President Habibie's staff at that time. The source of funds would flow through Setiawan Djodi, one of Kantata Taqwa's former staff members.

The hardline Islamic group was also rumoured to have been close with Lt. General Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo's political alliance with Islam at the time managed to recruit two powerful generals, General Feisal Tanjung and General Hartono. Both of these men suddenly became Muslim generals, and were seen going about wearing Muslim dress and caps. Later, Prabowo and Hartono established the Center Policy for Development Studies (CPDS).

This institute recruited Islamic generals from the TNI such as Major Generals Muklis Anwar and Fachrul Razi, and Brigadier Generals Robik Muklav and Kivlan Zein. Prabowo both built up this network of generals and linked it to hard-line Islamic groups which he had also created. However no-one has been able to prove what Prabowo's strategy was when he used this group. Accusations of FPI's involvement, from the disturbances of May 1998 to the present day, remain shrouded in mystery. What is certain is that Kivlan Zein was appointed as the commander of Kostrad's second infantry division at the time that Suharto's ex-son-in-law Prabowo was Kostrad's Commander.

The presence of about 30,000 people mobilised by Kivlan Zen raised the army's spirits as they protected the Special Session of the People's Consultative Assembly. The conflict with the students and other members of society had served to weaken the soldiers' morale. So it was this mass of new recruits that Kivlan Zein had mobilised that were to take the lead in confronting the movement of students and other people. The security forces, it seemed, would only intervene if clashes broke out.

On the 4th of November 1998 a meeting was called between the leadership of Islamic membership organisations (including FPI) and Islamic boarding schools. That event added another 30,000 people who would come to Jakarta, the majority from Banten province, but also from cities adjoining Jakarta, Java and Lampung. All of these people assembled in the eastern Senayan parking lot, under the leadership of Daud Poliraja, Divisional Commander of Kiblat (the United Islamic Committee to Save the Constitution).

A few days later on November 9th there was a meeting in General Wiranto's office. Aside from the host, it was attended by police chief Major General Nugroho Djayoesman, Kivlan Zen and Jakarta Regional Commander Jaja Suparman. It was agreed that Pam Swakarsa (this mass armed civillian organisation) would be in the front line of conflict with the masses, but if the situation got tight then the Jakarta Military Commando would step in to calm things down. Actually what happened in practice was that Pam Swakarsa was beaten into retreat by marine troops, who had not been let in on the plan beforehand.

Throughout the duration of the People's Consultative Assembly Special Session there were repeated clashes between Kiblat (whose name had been changed to Pam Swakarsa by Nugroho Djayoesman) and students or others opposed to the Special Session. There were many casualties killed from the ranks of Pam Swakarsa, overpowered by the mass of students and others who rejected the Special Session.

When Abdurahman Wahid was chosen to take over from Habibie as President, he requested that the fighters disband themselves. Some who remained, especially those from the province of Banten and the cities around Jakarta, found their way into groups such as FPI, or in groups of community fighters such as Front Betawi Rempug (FBR).

It was no longer possible to deny the close relationship between the FPI and high-ranking military officials. Take for example the case of when fighters armed with clubs and machetes invaded the office of the National Human Rights Comission (Komnas HAM). They were objecting to Komnas HAM's investigations into General Wiranto's involvement in human rights violations in East Timor.

Ex-Jakarta police chief Nugroho Djayoesman says in his memoir 'Riding the Wave of Reformation” that a close relationship with FPI was part of the process of creating something new. He is not the Taliban general that some people have accused him of being. “However much their actions make people nervous, organisations such as FPI should be embraced and encouraged to talk about current social problems”.

The Indonesian Police Chief and former head of Jakarta police, Commissioner-General Timur Pradopo said on one occasion that that FPI could be given a role to help maintain security. “I think, as a member, and even a leader, of the Indonesian Police, that it is necessary to build links with all key players in society that could help us keep the peace” he said. However when asked about the string of cases of violence carried out by the FPI Timur denied the popular belief that he was soft in confronting them. He claimed that the incidents that had occurred over the years were the behaviour of individuals acting in the name of the organisation. “There's a clear guideline to sort this out. If it's individuals then that would not implicate the organisation. And what we have seen has been individuals”, he added.

Incorrect Understanding of Religious Problems

According to Muhammad Habieb Rizieq, founder and chair of FPI, the establishment of FPI was an attempt to uphold the principle of amar ma'ruf nahi munkar (commanding right and forbidding wrong). On one occasion Rizieq stated that there are many Islamic activists that oppose immoral behaviour such as gambling, prostitution and drinking alcohol, but they are unable to do anything about it. To change this he wants to realise the dream of an Islamic state, whatever the consequences of that might be. He clearly holds some admiration for the Taliban, and indirectly takes ideas from the Taliban about how Sharia law could be implemented. From the very beginning of FPI, he has spoken of building on the potential strengths of the followers of Islam to push out secular society.

On the other side, Professor Dr. Qasim Mathar of UIN Alauddin Makassar has said that the FPI's violence bases itself on an incorrect view of religion. Although he does view FPI as Muslim brothers, he nevertheless raises criticisms of organisations that easily resort to violence. “Even though we are different, the principle difference is that you shouldn't take steps towards violence,”, stated Dr Mathar, who was born on 21st August 1947 in Makassar.

Syarif Hidayatullah, who completed his doctorate in IAIN in 1997, has considered some of the symbols which FPI use. The FPI's use of the word 'defenders' makes it seem as if Islam has been marginalised, but in his opinion, the Koran makes clear that it is only Allah who should take care of Islam's fate. If the followers of Islam feel that they are defending in a way that does not project a good image, such as by using violence, “that means they are not defending, but actually destroying the name of Islam”, he concludes. A similar position is outlined in more detail by Abdurarahman Wahid in his book “God Doesn't Need Defending” published by LKiS Yogyakarta in 1999.

The Face of FPI Violence

21 October 1998. The central organiser's council of the FPI sent a declaration to the Indonesian President about the ninja case in East Java.

28 October 1998. The FPI Central Organisers Council(DPP-FPI) publishes the FPIs “call for Jihad” against the Ninja Forces, which proclaimed that Islam would permit spilling the blood of anyone involved in, masterminding or financially supporting the Ninja actions and terrorising Ulama.

24 May 1999. FPI footsoldiers under orders of the DPP-FPI capture Pilipus Cimeuw, a student from Tarumanegara University, who had taken down one of FPI's banners from a bridge in front of his campus, because he was offended at the banner's message which read “Watch out! Zionism and Communism are penetrating all aspects of our lives”. Two of his companios, Mario and Iqbal had to run away.

7 June 1999. DPP-FPI issue a fatwa making it haram to vote for parties for which more than 15% of their candidates for the legislature in the 1999 general elections were non-muslim.

24 June 2000. DPP-FPI issues a statement demanding the Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) be disbanded. Laskar Pembela Islam attacks the Komnas HAM building because of their frustration at Komnas HAM's achievements, which they see as discriminating against followers of Islam

24 December 2000. The fourth Indonesian President, Gus Dur, speaking on SCTV, gave an ultimatum that FPI would be disbanded.

9 October 2001. FPI caused trouble at a demonstration in front of the US embassy when they tore down a barbed wire fence. Security forces responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.

7 November 2001. Clashes occurred between FPI and Jihad Ahlusunnah fighters and students supporting Mixilmina Munir, a defendant at the South Jakarta State Court. Two students were wounded after dozens of Jihadis overwhelmed them.

26 June 2002. After a demonstration against Sutiyoso at the Capital region's representative assembly building, masses of FPI members caused damage to cafes on Jalan Jaksa, a nearby tourist street. Some of them attacked several establishments with bamboo sticks, including Pappa Kafe, Allis Kafe, Kafe Betawi and Margot Kafe.

21 April 2003. Habib Rizieq Sihab managed to help his supporters escape from prison during the dusk prayers. Habib Rizieq then turned himself over to the Salemba prison.

22 May 2003. FPI's field coordinator, Tubagus Sidik, together with ten other FPI fighters, beat up a man on the toll road. The next day they are arrested.

1 July 2003. Rizieq apologises to the South Jakarta State Court and promises that he will act against FPI members who break national law.

11 August 2003. Judges sentence Habib Rizieq to seven months in prison.

18 December 2003. Ahmad Sobri Lubis, the FPI General Secretary, claims to have met with the Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz in the vice-presidential palace in Jakarta. FPI promised it would change its method of resistance, and would no longer put the emphasis on mass movements or street-fighters. The focus of their struggle would be through building an economic base, developing education and using legal means to combat what they saw as immoral.

3 October 2004. FPI invades the Sang Timur Schoolyard, and order the sisters to shut the church and Sang Timur school. FPI was accusing Catholics of spreading the Catholic religion because they were using the school's sports-hall as a temporary church, as they had been doing for the past ten years.

22 October 2004. FPI destroy caf├ęs and cause trouble with local people in Kemang.

25 October 2004. The head of the People's Consultative Assembly and former president of the Justice and Security Party (PKS) Hidayat Nurwahid, and also the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) criticize the FPI's use of violence in its actions against entertainment establishments that had opened during Ramadan.

28 October 2004. Despite protests from many groups, FPI continue their series of sweeping raids through Ramadan. Ahmad Syafii Ma'arif, the General Head of Muhammandiyah's central committee, demands that FPI stop their unilateral actions against Jakarta's Cafe's. He believes that the matter is the responsibility of local government and the police.

23 December 2004. Around 150 FPI members clash with security at Jakarta International Container Terminal

27 June 2005. FPI attack the Miss Waria (male-to-female transgender) contest at the Sarinah Hall in Jakarta.

2 August 2005. The FPI's region leadership council (DPW-FPI) in Purwakarta, Java Barat demand that the management of the Tunas Pertiwi kindergarten, put an end to acts of worship and tear down the building. If they refused, the FPI threatened to do so by force.

5 August 2005. FPI and the IslamicBelievers Front (Front Umat Islam (FUI)) threaten to attack the Liberal Islam Network (JIL) in Utan Kayu, Jakarta

23 August 2005. Abdurrahman Wahid, a leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) made a request to the FPI's leadership that they should put a stop to actions forcing the closure of churches of various denominations in Bandung. Wahid put out this statement to express his opinion on the forcible closure of 23 churches in Bandung,Cimahi and Garut between 2002 until the most recent case of the Pasundan Dayeuh Orthodox Christian church on the 22nd August 2005.

5 September. PBNU's General Chair Hasyim Muzadi criticises FPI's violent actions.

19 September 2005. FPI is thought to be the mastermind behind a raid on the Jamaah Ahmadiyah settlement in Neglasari village, Sukadana, Campaka, Cianjur.

22 September 2005. FPI forces the Urban/Culture photo exhibition at the Bank of Indonesia to close.

16 October 2005. FPI chases away a religious congregation who were holding their religious service in Jatimulya, East Bekasi.

18 October 2005. FPI members bring knifes to their demo at West Jakarta Police Headquarters.

23 October 2005. FPI once again hinder those trying to carry out their acts of worship, leading to some pushing and shoving. Security forces just look on without intervening.

19 February 2006. Hundreds of FPI members attend a violent demonstration at the United States embassy.

14 March 2006. FPI cause chaos at an events hall in Sukoharjo Regency.

12 April 2006. FPI attack and damage the office of Playboy magazine.

20 May 2006. FPI members raid 11 locations that they judge as immoral establishments in Kresek village, Masjif At-Taqwa road Rt 2/6, Jati Sampurna, Pondok Gede

21 May 2006. In an action to support the anti-pornography law, FPI, Indonesian Assembly of Mujahidin (MMI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), seal up the office of the Fahmina Institute in Cirebon.

25 May 2006. FPI destroys all the entertainment spots and drinking places in Kresek Village, Jatisampurna, Bekasi. Bekasi branch of FPI surrounds the Bekasi Police Headquarters.

25 January 2007. Hundreds of FPI members, led by Habib Rizieq, come to the office of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to demand an investigation into the national police's attack on the Tanah Runtuh area in Poso, Central Sulawesi a few days before. This area had long been supposed to be the heartland of the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist movement in Poso regency.

29 March 2007. FPI members in their hundreds attack Papernas members, who were for the most part women from the Dukuh Atas area, at11.20 am. FPI accuses Papernas of being a political party that adheres to communist beliefs.

29 April 2007. Crowds of FPI members come to an induction event for officials of Papernas in Sukoharjo because they disapprove of that party, which they accuse of being followers of communism.

1 May 2007. An action to commemorate international worker's day is coloured by tensions between followers of the FPI and FAKI's actions and the Yogyakarta Alliance for Working People (ARPY). This tension, which occurred outside the Museum of the Yogyakarta 1949 General Attack, occurred because FPI and FAKI accused ARPY of being connected to Papernas which they believe has communist tendencies.

9 May 2007. Dozens of FPI members visit a Yogyakarta discotheque and chase away people intending to visit. Their reason was that the disco frequently hosts striptease shows.

1 June 2008. FPI masses attack followers of the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Belief (AKK-BB), primarily made up of women and children near the National Monument. The AKK-BB was demonstrating at the time against the a government decision against Ahmadiyah Muslims. They didn't only hit people, they also damaged cars parked in the nearby area.

8 September 2008. FPI head Rizieq protests after pornographic books, magazines, CDs and DVDs were found in his house.

24 September 2008. FPI searches and destroys cafes and vendors selling rice and bakso in the Pasar Wetan area, Tasikmalaya, because they were selling food during the month of Ramadan. This action was later broken up by police.

30 April 2010. Dozens of people connected to FPI and LPI visit the Bumi Wiyata Hotel in Margonda Raya Street, Beji, Depok. Although police tried to intervene, the people nevertheless entered the hotel to break up a seminar for waria (male-to-female transgender) that was taking place there. Breaking all the plates and glasses became one of the aims of the mob. Zaenal Abidin, one of the speakers and also a representative of Komnas HAM, became another target for the crowd's anger as he tried to explain the content of the event. One member of FPI even hit him. They then retreated, giving warnings as they did, that they woud return if the event continued.

25 May 2010. FPI try to forcefully tear down the Tiga Mojang statue in Bekasi, which depicts three women in traditional Sundanese attire.

28 May 2010. When the Buddhist Waisak celebration coincided with Friday prayers, the FPI tried to forcibly tear down a dragon statue in Singkawang city.

24 Juni 2010. FPI forcibly disperse a meeting of the IX commission of the Banyuwangi People's Representative Council.

17 Juli 2010. Six of the nine perpetrators of the molotov bomb attack in Singkawang at the Waisak festival on 28th May are arrested by the police. They are thought to be members of the FPI; one of them is the head of the FPI's Singkawang branch's son.

8 August 2010. Hundreds of FPI supporters attack the congregation of the Huria Batak Protestant Christian Church (HKBP) Pondok Indah Timur at 9am in Ciketing Asem village, Mustika Jaya, Bekasi, West Java.

9 August 2010. Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the head of the Solo branch of FPI and Jama'ah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) is arrested by the police on terrorist charges.

15 September 2010. The head of the FPI's Bekasi branch, Murhali Barda, is arrested on accusations of provoking the harassment of members of the Huria Batak Christian Church (HKBP)

1 December 2010. The Waria contest due to take place in Makassar was cancelled. This activity which was planned to commemorate World Aids Day was forcibly dispersed by hundreds of supporters of FPI together with the Darul Mustafa Assembly of Makassar.

29 January 2011. FPI attacks a Ahmadiyah mosque and their secretariat in Makassar. They destroyed their name plate and seized some important documents belonging to the Ahmadiyah community.

10 February 2011. FPI spokesperson, Munarman proclaims a threat that FPI will overthrow Susilo Bambang Yuhoydono's government if he is bold enough to try to disband mass organisations such as FPI. This statement was released not long after the tragic attack on the Ahmadiyah community in Cikeusik, Banten.

18 February 2011. The North Sumatran branch of FPI's demonstration in Medan causes chaos. The action started peacefully, but after discussions with the Medan Regional Secretary, Syaiful Bahri Lubis, the FPI's anger rose. They were offended by Syaiful's words asking FPI to put their morals first before demanding Ahmadiyah's dissolution. Instead they berated Syaiful. The secretary of FPI North Sumatra, Muhammad Iqbal, threatened to report Syaiful's words to the Mayor and Council of Medan.

18 February 2011. Around a thousand followers of FPI and FUI demonstrated against Ahmadiyah at the Bundaran Hotel Indonesia. They criticised Ahmadiyah and demanded they be banned and threatened that they would bring about a revolution like in Tunisia and Egypt if the government didn't stop Ahmadiyah.

7 April 2011. FPI's sweeping actions ended in chaos in three locations: the Harapan Bersama night market in Petterani, Urip Sumiharjo Fly Over and in front of Karebosi Field.

1 comment: