Most Indonesian Muslims do not want non-Muslims in leadership positions in government, which points to rising political intolerance in the country, a survey showed on Monday (24/09). (Reuters Photo/Darren Whiteside)

Act Up or Act Normal?: Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands


MARCH 13, 2017

On a freezing Friday afternoon in The Hague this past February, a small group of Indonesian Muslims staged a peaceful rally in support of the "Aksi Bela Islam 4" (Defend Islam Protest Chapter 4) demonstrations taking place in their home country.

To make it look like a real event, they held up three signs whose captions read, "Belanda 112" (Netherlands for 112 — the nickname for the demonstrations which refers to the date it was held, Feb. 11), "Mendukung," (We're Right Behind You) and "Bela Islam 112" (Defend Islam 112). But as peaceful as the rally appeared, you couldn't mistake the religious-cum-political bias — that may backfire on those same demonstrators.

Only hours after the demonstration, an report about the protest appeared in an Indonesian newspaper with a bold and generalizing title, "Di Depan Kincir Angin, Muslim Indonesia di Belanda Dukung Aksi 112," or "In Front of a Windmill, Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands Support Defend Islam 112 Protests." The piece quickly went viral.

Reaction towards the protest varied, but, sadly, those in support of the demonstration have been given a more prominent stage. Generally, the rally received strong moral encouragements, mostly from Facebook users who are geographically isolated from major commercial hubs and are accustomed to consuming half-truths.

But, as somebody currently living in the Netherlands, I can clearly observe that the protest the group staged that February afternoon has already given rise to widespread anxiety among Muslims in the country. Here’s why.

The opinions espoused by those protesters in front of the Molen de Vlieger museum are not representative of the opinions of Indonesians living in the Netherlands. In fact, most Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands do not share the same political opinion with hardline Muslim movements currently sweeping across Jakarta and other provinces.

The majority of Indonesians in the Netherlands do not believe that the action was even necessary or that Ahok, the Jakarta governor, was even guilty of blasphemy.

They are committed to the idea that Indonesia is a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.

Thus, someone’s Chinese roots or different religious beliefs should not be held against them in our country's democratic institutions. If you happen to dislike the idea of a Christian Chinese-Indonesian managing the country's capital, then defeat him on the polls, not through politicized religious offenses.

The majority of Muslims in the Netherlands would rather resort to tolerance and understanding than shoving their religious and political views on someone else's throat. This, to them, is a violation of reason, the very foundation of liberty.

And here's another reason why we should be worried about the current wave of extremism sweeping across Indonesia.

The Netherlands will hold its next general election on March 15. According to two recent opinion polls by Peil and TNS NIPO, the Party for Freedom, or PVV, is far ahead of the pack and is likely to come out as the eventual winner. The party is expected to seize 32-35 seats in the Dutch parliament’s 150-seat lower chamber, twice as much as it won in 2012.  Why is this interesting?

Led by the notorious Geert Wilders, an unconventional politician dubbed by many as "Trump van Nederland," the party claims to defend liberal values against a threatening new enemy, Islam.

The party has devised the popular campaign slogan "The Netherlands is ours again," and has formulated their election programs for 2017-2021 around this very strong statement against Islam: "Millions of Dutch have had enough of the Islamization of our country."

The first plan of the programs that the PVV promises to fulfill is the so-called de-Islamization of the Netherlands. The party promises to close the country's borders to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, ban headscarves, prohibit Islamic expressions that are deemed harmful to the public, imprison suspected radical Muslims, shut down mosques and Islamic schools and, finally, ban the reading of the Koran.

It may sound like an abhorrent political program, but in today’s Netherlands this kind of political commodity is selling quite well, garnering support from voters fearful of potential terror attacks. As irrational as it may sound, this political ideology is quickly becoming the norm.

Three years ago, during a rally in The Hague, Geert Wilders asked his supporters whether they wanted fewer Moroccans as neighbors  the crowd chanted "Yay" in unison. What if, in another rally, he asks his audience whether they want fewer Indonesian neighbors? What would we do?

It seems a little far-fetched, but try to imagine a situation where you cannot organize a Friday prayer because your local mosque is closed down. Or where you just have to stay at home all the time because of you're not allowed to wear headscarves in public. Or you can no longer open your Padang restaurant in The Hague after they find out that one of your Facebook posts is an image of the one fingered-salute, with a caption that reads, "United Muslims Shall Win."

Mark Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands and the leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, once moaned about immigrants who caused havoc and warned them to "act normal" or leave.

Many of my Dutch friends were quite surprised that such statement was made by Rutte and not Wilders, because that line of thought in the global political climate is seen to have some kind of dark, exclusionary ring around it. But probably there is something that we, Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands, can actually learn from Rutte's statements.

Probably it is true that we, Indonesians, should act normal. We should stop being obnoxious and we shouldn't stage poorly thought out rallies in the Kingdom of Low Countries to boost prejudice we're trying to fight back home. Probably we should be more peaceful.

Remember what our parents told us, that wherever and whichever ground we stand on, we should always hold the sky high? Maybe it's time to listen to their advice.

Taufiq Hanafi is a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden University, the Netherlands.