FPI: Rising Radical Movement in Indonesia
As the world’s largest Muslim country and third-largest democracy, it is interesting to see how Indonesian democracy is coping with the country’s increasingly dynamic social conditions. One recent phenomenon is the emergence of more radical Islamic movements, the most well-known of which is Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front or FPI).
FPI has recently sparked public controversies through such actions as physically attacking the author Irshad Manji, a liberal Canadian Muslim who was about to launch her book ‘Allah, Liberty and Love’ in Jakarta; by threatening to storm a planned concert by the American singer Lady Gaga, claiming her music promoted Satanic teachings; and forcing the withdrawal from sale of another book, ‘Five Cities that Rule the World’, on the grounds that it defamed Islam. FPI has also violently targeted Indonesia’s Ahmadiyah Muslims.
FPI’s protests effectively led to the cancellation of Lady Gaga’s Indonesian tour and also gained support from other key national stakeholders. The National Police objected to the concert for security reasons. Legislators from parliament’s Commission III, responsible for law, human rights, and security, thought the performance contrary to Indonesia’s anti-pornography laws.
The emergence of this hardline movement can be viewed as a part of the dynamic of Indonesia’s growing democracy. The group claims that its actions are acts of freedom of expression. Nevertheless, many human rights activists and liberal groups in Indonesia believe that FPI’s ideology and violent approach are serious threats to the country’s pluralism. It is well known among the public that FPI is not merely a religion-based organisation, but also a business that provides security to the members of the élite, cloaked in religious motives. An investigation by Al Jazeera found that FPI and other similar groups were linked to retired police officers and generals who had hired them to put political pressure on the government.
The public has demanded the government take stronger action against FPI’s violent approach. The indigenous Dayak community of Central Kalimantan, for example, has banned visits by FPI because they see its ideology as being against the principles of pluralism and diversity. Thus, FPI’s ideology is also contrary to the third point of Indonesia’s national Pancasila principles, which stresses the importance of unity in diversity.
Several political parties have demanded that the government disband the organisation to hold it responsible for its violent actions. Former President Megawati Soekarnoputri and former Vice President Jusuf Kalla both made such calls earlier this year. Unfortunately, the government seems unwilling to act in a stronger manner. National Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi stated that the Ministry had sent two warning letters to FPI in 2008 and in late 2011. He also explained that the Ministry has the right to freeze an organisation if it has been violating order and causing public insecurity. In an interview with KBR68H radio, Ministry spokesperson, Reydonnyzar Moenek, stated that it was not easy to disband a group’s activity, because every process taken has to be based on the law. He also stated that the 1985 law covering “civil society organisations” is outdated and not specific enough as it does not identify the mechanisms that could be used in the current situation. He also added that to revise the law would take a long time. Perhaps the government’s commitment to the law could be a justification not to pay more serious attention to this issue.
The FPI case shows that Indonesia’s growing democracy not only needs guaranteed freedom of expression, it also needs a stronger law enforcement effort to safeguard it. What is at stake now is greater than social cohesion – it is the foundation of Indonesia’s pluralism. As the 2014 presidential election gets closer, the more manoeuvres FPI will perform to get the public’s attention. If the government does not take decisive action soon, FPI and other similar groups will continue to grow. The emergence of such radical groups and the government’s handling of the situation could be setting a bad precedent for Indonesian democracy.
Indian Ocean Research Programme
 Vaessen, S., ‘Gag on Lady Gaga stirs Indonesia Fears’, Al Jazeera, 30 May 2012. <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/05/201252911249772546.html>.
 Siregar, D., ‘Mega dan JK Dukung Pembubaran Ormas Bermasalah’ [Mega and JK Support to Disband Troubled Organisation]. 17 February 2012. <http://id.berita.yahoo.com/mega-dan-jk-dukung-pembubaran-ormas-bermasalah-215723816.html>.
 Guslina, I., ‘Sekali Lagi Anarkistis, Gamawan akan Bekukan FPI’ [One More Anarchical Act, Gamawan Will Freeze FPI], 16 February 2012. <http://www.tempo.co/read/news/2012/02/16/173384456/Sekali-Lagi-Anarkistis-Gamawan-akan-Bekukan-FPI>.
 KBR68H Radio, 6 June 2012, ‘Jubir Kemendagri: Tak Mudah Membekukan Organisasi Pengrusak’ [Ministry of National Affairs Spokesperson: It is Not Easy to Freeze Troubled Organisation]. <http://www.kbr68h.com/berita/wawancara/19456-jubir-kemendagri–tak-mudah-membekukan-organisasi-pengrusak on 6/06/2012>.