BOGOR, Indonesia: The battle lines are being drawn in Indonesia between a group which campaigns for an Islamic caliphate through non-violent means and those who are concerned it is undermining the country’s social and religious harmony.
One of the front lines in this battle is Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) in West Java – one of Indonesia’s top educational establishments, attracting some of the brightest minds to its campus.
It is also one of the places seen as a recruiting ground for Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the organisation that wants to see the country become a caliphate, operating under strict Islamic code.
“HTI recruits students and others via social media and their bulletins which are widely circulated at the university campus mosque as well as public mosques,” Zimanul Adli, a biophysics Masters student from the university, told Channel NewsAsia.
“They aim to get students and the general public to agree with their (concept) of the caliphate,” Zimanul added. “Generally, their numbers are not so big but they are militant.”
HTI GOAL IS TO DISBAND THE NATION STATE OF INDONESIA: NU
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, sees HTI as a threat because it seeks to dissolve the pluralistic Republic of Indonesia and replace it with an Islamic caliphate.
“If Indonesia is dissolved, it will have serious implications for the rest of Asean,” Yahya Cholil Staquf, secretary-general of NU, told Channel NewsAsia.
“HTI rejects the country’s secular constitution and the state ideology of Pancasila (the philosophy of democracy, social justice and unity which guides Indonesian politics). They encourage their followers to disobey the laws of the land,” said Staquf.
“To them, the government is an infidel.”
HTI, said Staquf, openly articulates ideas against democracy.
“Under the caliphate, there will be no respect for individual rights, no elections and you will not be able to choose your own leader,” he said, adding that HTI’s ideology will stir up conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as fellow Muslims who do not share their beliefs.
INDONESIA BANS HTI AMIDST RISING SECTARIAN TENSION
Concerns about HTI have intensified of late, prompting the government to ban the organization last month “to protect the country’s pluralistic state” and national unity, said Freddy Haris, director-general at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.
HTI was dissolved under the powers of a decree, issued by President Joko Widodo, to ban groups which do not support Indonesia’s constitution and state ideology.
The ban comes amidst rising religious extremism and sectarian tension, exemplified by sometimes violent rallies held against former ethnic Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was accused of committing blasphemy against Islam.
HTI was part of the movement that organised the rallies.
Human rights groups have criticised the ban, saying it undermined the right to freedom of association and that the decree could be used by the government to crack down on dissent.
Some nationalist figures in the country, however, endorsed the move.
“I support the banning of HTI since the organisation openly campaigned against the concept of Indonesia as defined by our constitution,” former environment minister Sarwono Kusumaadmatja told Channel NewsAsia.
“The idea of a caliphate is dangerous since it can lead to sectarian conflict even within our Islamic community. It is also a dangerous utopia,” said Sarwono.
HTI TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION AGAINST BAN
However, HTI is not taking the ban lying down. The group called the ban arbitrary and “tyrannical” and vowed to take legal action to challenge it.
“We will not keep silent. We have already filed for a judicial review against the (presidential) decree to the Constitutional Court on 17 July 2017,” HTI spokesman Ismail Yusanto told Channel NewsAsia.
“We are currently preparing a suit against the revocation of HTI’s legal status which will be filed to the State Administrative Court,” Yusanto added.
“Up until today, HTI has not violated any laws and we do not know what we have done wrong as no warning was ever issued to us, as required by the decree. Our legal status was revoked without any prior warning given to us,” said Yusanto.
Asked whether HTI’s campaign for a caliphate threatened the country’s state of unity, Yusanto said: “That is just a made-up excuse.”
Although HTI is questioning the ban, its desire to challenge the established Indonesian political system is not in doubt: Earlier this year, HTI held rallies in major cities in Indonesia, including Surabaya and Makassar, where its members paraded with banners calling for an Islamic caliphate.
HTI EXPANDS THROUGH EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS
The challenge for the government in its attempt to limit the influence of HTI is that it has become a well-established entity, with a wide influence.
It operated underground until it was granted legal status during former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s rule from 2004-2014.
As a legal entity, HTI was able to move freely, not only reaching Muslim communities on campuses but also developing its influence in the government bureaucracy.
“Its call for a caliphate was no longer heard only in mosques and university campuses but also in seminar rooms and government offices,” wrote Mohammad Iqbal Ahnaf of Gadjah Mada University, in the New Mandala, a site hosted by the Australian National University which provides analysis on Southeast Asia.
“HTI’s confidence grew as its reach widened and it began to pursue what it declared to be the final stage in realising the formation of the caliphate, seeking the support of influential figures who would join it in seizing power,” wrote Ahnaf.
In its stronghold in Bogor, it has expanded via a network of educational facilities – building nurseries and one large, private Islamic school with thousands of students.
“Their (HTI’s) activities in education and prayer sessions bring them huge crowds. They seem to have lots of resources to fund such activities,” said Ifan Haryanto, head of NU’s Bogor branch.
HTI BELIEVED TO HAVE TWO MILLION SYMPATHISERS
The net result of its activities is that it has significant support. According to the NU’s youth wing Ansor, HTI’s sympathisers are estimated to number around two million.
“This is an extraordinary figure,” Yaqut C Qoumas, head of Ansor, told Channel NewsAsia.
“They have successfully infiltrated among retired military officers, the bureaucracy including state-owned enterprises. They have lots of resources,” Yaqut added.
The other key challenge for the authorities is that there are concerns that although it seeks to establish a caliphate through peaceful means, human rights activists say the fact that HTI shares this goal with Islamic State (IS) and preaches intolerance leaves open the possibility that some of its supporters could be tempted to use violence.
“Yes, HTI’s teachings have contributed to the strengthening of radicalism because the intolerance that is promoted can be transformed into radical-terror action,” said Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace.
HTI is the Indonesian branch of the transnational Hizbut Tahrir (HT), a secretive organization that aims to replace all existing governments with a global Islamic caliphate based on shariah law. HT is banned in many countries including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia.
According to London-based Quilliam, a counter-extremism organization founded by former senior Hizbut Tahrir members, HT shares the same goals as the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
“The only difference between them (HT) and Islamic State … is that IS uses violence to achieve what they want, HT aren’t using violence. They (both) want the same thing,” Haras Rafiq, CEO of Quilliam, told Channel NewsAsia.
According to Rafiq, many of HT’s members become susceptible to jihadist organisations.
Indonesian Muslim scholar M. Najih Arromadioni and author of the book, The Distortion of the Islamic State’s Ideology, say people exposed to HT’s ideology are vulnerable to being provoked to commit violence.
“People who have experienced radicalization and militancy, when the time and momentum is right, it is very easy to mobilise them to carry out violence,” said Najih.
BAN IS A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD: SETARA INSTITUTE
It is unclear what impact the ban will have, with the Setara Institute cautioning that it is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.
“The ban gives rise to two possibilities – extremism strengthens due to disappointment and consolidation amongst those who are opposed to this ban,” said Setara’s Hendardi.
“Or, extremism can weaken because the ban weakens the group as more firm legal action can now be taken (against extremists acts),” Hendardi added.
NU said there is a need to create awareness of the dangers of extremist movements and that banning them may not be enough.
“We need to consolidate Indonesian movements to make them aware that this kind of movement (HTI) is dangerous,” said NU’s Staquf.
Former environment minister Sarwono agreed.
“Sectarian ideas are gaining ground. The banning of HTI has to be followed up with programmes to instill a sense of nationhood and to establish good governance,” said Sarwono.