Jakarta. Disbanding civil groups with long-time notorieties for violent acts in a country where they have been deeply rooted in the political economy would only lead to a backlash, a leading observer warns.
Indonesia has in recent years seen a growing number of violent clashes between local communities and such groups, with the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a rent-a-mob with religious pretensions, being the most notorious.
The group has frequently committed violence in its acts across the Muslim-majority country, ranging from conducting vigilante raids on entertainment joints to disrupting events by religious minorities.
Calls have since mounted for authorities to ban the FPI, which has then received repeated warnings from the government.
But the group, which has seven million members – small compared to the 40-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic group, has been able to operate unfettered regardless.
Banning such groups, however, is not “the best answer” as this could “worsen the situation” instead, said Ian Wilson, a researcher with Murdoch University.
“When you ban a group, people involved in the group will not disappear,” Wilson, who has been tracking the FPI for years, told the Jakarta Globe recently. “They will still be around unless they are fundamentally changed.
“They can still do the same things, but maybe in ways that are less transparent. And this has been one of the arguments for keeping the FPI on the spotlight.”
There could be threats of radicalism “in ways that may not happen otherwise” if such hard-line groups are dissolved, Wilson added.
“I think that could be a quite big backlash.”
‘No political support’
Authorities’ failure to prevent January’s deadly clash between two youth groups in Medan, North Sumatra, has highlighted that Indonesia’s formal politics is still “very much interlinked” with street politics, Wilson said.
The rampage that killed two people occurred between members of the Working Youth Alliance (IPK) and the Pancasila Youth (PP), which has been linked to countless cases of violence across the country for decades.
Renewed calls for the Indonesian government to disband such groups have since emerged, but Ian said authorities are “highly unlikely” to go as far as dissolving them.
“What is complex about the situation is that they are not just local thugs,” he said. “They are deeply embedded in the political economy of Medan.”
The makeup of parliament in the North Sumatran capital has for decades been dominated by people who have come through the “extremely powerful” Pancasila Youth.
“Street politics has changed into formal political power,” Wilson said.
Under such condition, he added, there would probably be “no political support in place” to be able to ban the PP and other similar groups.
“For now, that is the political reality.”