Indonesia clamping down on extremists, urges public to report “radical” civil servants

19 November 2019

Authorities in Indonesia seem to be combatting hard-line Islamist ideology by urging members of the public to report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material.

The Indonesian government announced on 12 November the launch of a website where people can report posts by civil servants containing elements of “hate, misleading information, intolerance or anti-Indonesian sentiment”. This, says the government’s answers to Frequently Asked Questions, could include “liking” or commenting positively on radical content on social media.

Indonesian Communications Minister Johnny G. Plate said the intention was “to bring together and improve the performance of our civil servants, as well as to foster higher levels of nationalism”.

Indonesian president, Joko Widodo

Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, has a history of moderate Islam. Until about a generation ago Indonesian Muslims and Christians lived peaceably side by side as equals, in accord with the state-promoted philosophy of religious tolerance and national unity called “Pancasila”. However, in many parts of the country this no longer holds true and Christians, at least 15% of the population, have been facing discrimination, harassment and violence.

Religious Affairs minister, Fachrul Razi, sparked a debate earlier this month when he flagged that the government are considering regulations to bar the wearing of the cadar (full face veil with eye slit) on government premises, citing security as the reason. The minister also said men in the civil service must wear trousers that cover their ankles, in line with civil service regulations. In Indonesia, cingkrang trousers (stopping just above the ankle) are widely believed to be popular with Islamic radicals.

Opponents criticised the minister’s stance, saying it is against President Joko Widodo’s position. Another retorted, “the minister thinks those who wear a cadar are radical. Many terrorists wear jeans”. President Joko weighed into the debate to affirm that “anyone is free to choose what clothes to wear,” but added that any institution’s dress policies should be adhered to by its employees.

It is thought that 19% of civil servants and 3% of military personnel in Indonesia favour establishing an Islamic state (i.e. ruled by sharia, Islamic law), according to an independent survey. Some 18% of private employees and 23% of students shared this view.

In a separate move, the country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs announced it is to replace 167 Islamic textbooks, considered to contain radical or intolerant material, in schools by the end of this year. “The intention is so that religious teachings can make students more tolerant and appreciate others who are different from them,” said Kamaruddin Amin, director general for Islamic Education.

Earlier this year, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Indonesian Muslim political party and world’s largest moderate Muslim movement, made a significant break with Islamic conservatism in an unprecedented decision to abolish the legal category of “infidel” (kafir) for non-Muslims. The groundbreaking move was apparently aimed at sweeping away Islamic doctrines often used by extremists to justify terrorism.

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