Regional Outlook, Global Perspective

 BEWARE THE DANGERS OF PULPIT POLITICS

          Now that the shock of the horrific suicide bombings in Surabaya and other terrorist attacks last May have subsided, it is probably the right time to revisit the causes that led to them in the first place. Although quite a few suspected terrorists and would-be bombers have subsequently been the target of law enforcers, the past two decades has shown that militants tend to lie low before striking again.

To its credit, the government has acted quickly to discover what lay behind these terrorist acts.  It is lamentable that they were only shaken out of their complacency by the fact that the bombings involved entire families, including under-age children. That attacks such as this had become a family affair finally jarred the authorities into action.

Yet, the signs had been around for everyone to see: seeds of radicalism being sown under our very eyes. They were spread at schools and universities and then more widely through Friday sermons at thousands of neighborhood mosques. Few of us saw the danger or were unwilling to recognize it.

In the post-bombing research conducted by academics, government officials and the media, there can be no denying that radicalism has penetrated educational institutions and found its way into religious sermons.

The Koran Tempo daily newspaper, quoting the results of a study conducted by the Perhimpunan Pengembangan Pesantren dan Masyarakat (P3M or Association for the Development of Pesantrens and Society) and Rumah Kebangsaan (House of Nationalism) was unequivocal about it in its July 10 front-page story. The P3M research revealed that 41 out every 100 mosques within the government’s jurisdiction had been infiltrated by radical groups.

Tempo’s report showing the research results in the Jakarta metropolitan area alone said it all. Among the 37 mosques within state-owned enterprises compounds, 57 percent of the sermons contained what was called a “high-level” of radical content. A similar result was found among 34 percent of mosques inside 35 ministry compounds and 29 percent of those in 28 other state institutions.

It was a damning denunciation of the government’s failure to do its job in monitoring educational and religious institutions and ensuring they adhered to the tenet of the Constitution with regard to religious freedom.

What exactly is “radical” content in sermons? The study claimed that 73.6 percent “taught hatred” while the rest tended to look down on other religions, minority groups and female leaders.  According to Agus Muhammad, the P3M research coordinator, “those who were infected with radicalism were actively preaching values contradictory to religion, tolerance and the Constitution.”

Fortunately, both the Jakarta municipal administration as well as President Joko Widodo’s government are finally heeding the call to rein in rogue preachers who have used their pulpits for other than religious purposes.  The President has been firm in ordering stricter supervision, not just of mosque activities, but also on university campuses where radical teachings have somehow become included in curriculums.

There is now a sobering realization of what influence this can have on the April 27, 2019 legislative and presidential elections. Some improvements have been made following the government’s consultations with organizations such as the Indonesian Council of Mosques (DMI) and the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI). A massive public campaign to reject radicalism and intolerance may have also helped.

There was certainly a collective sigh of relief when it was determined that the recent gubernatorial, municipal and district elections across half of the country’s 34 provinces appeared to be free of primordial problems.  However, it is only next year that we will see whether the effort to prevent pulpit politics will have succeeded or not.

yismartono@asiaviews.net

23/07/2018 in Insight, Viewpoints

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