Jakarta mulls ban as crime, faith collide

June 30, 2010 12:00AM

ORGANISED gangs in Indonesia using Islam to call for attacks on Christians are themselves facing calls to be banned.

The latest disbandment calls came from members of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle, some of whom were recently attacked by hardliners in an East Java set-to as they met with constituents.

The hardliners, belonging to the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, said they understood the meeting they attacked to be an underground gathering of former Indonesian Communist Party members and therefore fair game.

The Communist Party has been banned since 1965.

The FPI, characterised by a mix of street criminality and religious chauvinism, has been involved in numerous attacks on businesses, community groups and non-Muslim organisations over recent years.

But a spokesman dismissed the parliamentarians’ call for its banning as “one of the dirty ways of the neo-communists and neo-liberals to sneak into this country”.

There are widely held concerns the organisation is gathering steam, although banning a formally registered group such as the FPI would present significant constitutional challenges.

The FPI was closely involved in the recent formation of a group in the Jakarta satellite city of Bekasi, calling for the imposition of Islamic sharia law, and demanding that action be taken against “conversions to Christianity”. Part of its strategy would be to station surveillance teams at Bekasi mosques, it was reported.

It has even warned of the possibility of “war” against Christians, who number in the tens of millions in Indonesia’s population of about 230 million.

Newspaper editorials have warned that a return to the religion-tainted open bloodshed of the 1999-2000 conflicts in Poso and Maluku, in the country’s east, could easily be sparked should extremism such as that advocated by the FPI be allowed to flourish.

But spokesmen for the country’s two biggest Muslim mass-membership organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, warned that disbanding the FPI was not the solution.

“(That) will violate human rights,” said the Nahdlatul Ulama’s Slamet Effendy Yusuf, while the spokesman for Muhammadiyah cautioned: “What they need is guidance and education.”

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