Indonesians Angered over Hard-Line Ramadan Raids

By Niniek Karmini 30 July 2013

JAKARTA — The head of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization called Monday for the disbanding of a hard-line Islamic group after a pregnant woman was killed in a car accident during illegal raids to curb prostitution during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Islamic Defenders Front, known by its Indonesia acronym FPI, has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups.

“Their attitude does not reflect the teachings of Islam,” said Aqil Siradj, chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization. “We called on the government to disband the group that did this vandalizing.”

He said he regretted that the government has remained silent as hard-line groups shuttered Christian churches, attacked their worshippers and torched Ahmadiyah and Shiites mosques, which they consider heretical.

The latest incident occurred July 18 in Central Java’s Kendal town. About 50 FPI supporters attempted to raid an area they believed was allowing prostitution. While fleeing the scene to escape an angry mob of local residents after vandalizing businesses, one of their vehicles hit a couple on a motorbike, killing a pregnant woman and injuring her husband.

In a separate raid, supporters of the group vandalized a liquor store in Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi province in eastern Indonesia.

Even though arrests have been made in both cases, it has thrust Indonesia’s weak law enforcement under the spotlight and sparked anger online and in local media, with many denouncing the group.

“My position is very clear, we will not forgive any form of intolerance,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a rare condemnation last week. “This has to be prevented so that no other organization, including the FPI, engage in any more violence.”

The hard-liner group responded by releasing a statement calling Yudhoyono a “loser” and a “disgrace to Muslims.” Two days later amid growing pressure, its leader, Riziek Shihab, released an apology for the accident and pledged that the group would expel any member who engages in violence.

Prominent rights activist Hendardi from Setara Institute, a watchdog for interfaith tolerance, said Monday that the controversy raises further questions about the commitment of the National Police, whose leaders have repeatedly vowed to crack down on raids carried out by the group.

“It seems that the police are not serious and there’s a reluctance to take legal action against FPI,” said Hendardi, who like many Indonesians uses a single name.

An online petition calling for FPI to be disbanded had been signed by more than 41,000 people on Monday.

However, police spokesman Rianto said authorities were not authorized to do so.

Indonesia, home for 240 million people, has more Muslims than any other country in the world but is secular with a history of religious tolerance. In recent years, however, an extremist fringe has grown louder.