The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was formed in 1998 by Muhammad Rizieq Shihab. This hard-line Muslim organization comprising of about 3,000 people now, was formed with the aim of enforcing strict compliance with the Shariah law in Indonesia.
The organization is believed to be having financial support from political sources, as well as from the police and military. Now the group finances its activities through extortion money which they collect from entertainment centers located in Jakarta and West Java.
Reports also state that the FPI receives financial assistance from political parties. The ability to collect extortion money also suggests that the organization enjoys support from certain elements in the police and military.
Members of the organization are recognized by their trademark all-white attire and are known to vocally oppose and target “immoral” businesses, such as those associated with drugs, prostitution, gambling and bars.
FPI has been labeled as a group of urban thugs by the violent tactics they employ for attacks. It has also voiced against US presence in Indonesia and Afghanistan and threatened to attack Westerners. These threats have, however, not materialized as yet.
FPI, that has religious objectives aimed at bringing about social change in Indonesia and cleansing Indonesia of sin, is often shunned as a terrorist organization.
15 Years of operation and a hard-line reputation
FPI celebrated its 15th anniversary in August of this year. In these 15 years of operation, it has created several difficult situations for the Indonesian government, in addition to the law and order enforcement agencies.
The members of the organization position themselves as a moral police and pressure group working to rid society of immoral behaviors which are against the Shariah law.
FPI's targets include nightclubs, brothels, liberal Muslims, Churches and even embassies of countries that they consider hostile towards Islam.
Most recently, FPI organized protests against the Miss World Contest 2013 being held in Bali. During the month of Ramadan, it threatened to raid night clubs and bars and shut down alcohol consumption if the police and the cops fail to do so.
FPI has a history of attacking any person or group they consider as impure. FPI threatened to burn down an Ahmadiyah mosque existing since the 1940s in Sukatali village, West Java and forced it to close. This act has been one of the latest activities of FPI in terms of religious intolerance.
FPI protesters displayed their opposition against US President, Barack Obama’s planned visit to Indonesia for the APEC summit and celebrated his change of plans.
Throughout the years, FPI has been the mastermind behind many protests against “immoral acts”. In 2012, protests by FPI led to the cancellation of Lady Gaga’s concert.
In 2010, FPI rallies led to imprisonment of the editor of Playboy Magazine in Indonesia. FPI was also involved raiding Asia’s largest gay film festival held in Jakarta. It also disrupted the drag-queen contest that was held by transvestite beauties to mark the World AIDS day.
In 2008, FPI stormed the crowd in the rally of National Alliance for Freedom of Faith and Religion (AKKB) being held at the National Monument in Jakarta and brutally attacked the campaigners, causing injuries to several people.
In 2004, following the Tsunami disaster, FPI threatened Christian relief agencies that were operating in Indonesia and even warned Australia after its relief work for tsunami victims was completed stating that Australia was not welcomed in Indonesia.
Condemnations and criticisms
Clearly, FPI has earned itself a reputation of being a hard-line Muslim group. Throughout its 15 years of existence, different institutions and political figures have condemned the acts of FPI, deeming them to be contrary to the Islamic ideology.
In 2006, many organizations put up a protest against FPI and raised a petition to disband them.
There have been raising concerns for the safety and security of the citizens of Indonesia. Even though Indonesia, a country of 240 million people, is consisted of Muslim majority, most of them practice a moderate form of Islam and are at a threat by growing influence of hard-liners such as the FPI.
Debates in House of Representatives have led to suggestions that include disbanding the organization. In face of the rising influence, the Indonesian government understands the need to act firmly against the organization but is hesitant in fear of possible reactions and pressure building as a result.
The dilemma, although complicated, crucially demands bold action as the basic fabric of the Indonesian society and all respected citizens stands at stake.
This article originally appeared in Global Indonesian Voices, an independent online media written by Indonesians abroad.