A. Lin Neumann
One very good thing might come of the current dirty campaign seeking to use religion and race as an issue in the runoff campaign for Jakarta governor. It could all be ignored.
Exhortations to defend Islam at the ballot box are dangerous in a country where race and religion have too often incited people to violence.
The messages call on Jakarta voters to reject the candidacy of Solo Mayor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his running mate, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, because the latter is both Chinese and Christian. This has no place in a secular state where freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution. And while incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo has denied being behind the tactics, it still smacks of desperation.
Here’s a recent SMS: “Jokowi is going to restrict room for mosques and increase room for churches; he’s a convert to Islam, and his father was Chinese. With both him and Ahok being of Chinese descent … Watch out for the next elections, Chinese could take over.”
While no one seriously suggests that Jokowi is of Chinese descent, what possible difference could it make? The point of municipal government is to provide basic services and a large majority of voters in the first round seemed to think Fauzi has fallen short on that count.
Preacher Fahmi Albuqorih told a congregation that included Fauzi at the Al-Muttaqin Mosque last week: “Muslims must pick a leader of the same faith. I was born and raised in Jakarta so it is hard for me to see Muslims choosing a leader who is not one of us.”
“Joko Widodo has greater ambition and is using the governorship as a stepping-stone. Eventually the one leading Jakarta will be Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese in ethnicity and a Christian,” dangdut icon Rhoma Irama said during an address at a mosque on July 29. “If the capital of a Muslim country is led by a Christian, it would be an embarrassment.”
Rhoma later explained that he was “only reciting Surah An-Nisa verse 144, in which God says firmly that the faithful are banned from voting for a kafir [infidel] as their leader. Muslims who vote for a non-Muslim leader become an enemy of God.”
One translation of that verse is “O ye who believe! Take not for friends unbelievers rather than believers: Do ye wish to offer Allah an open proof against yourselves?” To my eyes, that doesn’t say anything about voting, but using the Koran as a guide to 21st century democracy seems as fraught with risk as those politicians in the United States who insist on a literal translation of the Bible as the basis for science textbooks.
Those orchestrating calls to defend the faith are “deliberately trying to stir up anti-Chinese sentiment as well as insinuating that only Fauzi Bowo can protect Islam,” said Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group office in Jakarta. “But most people I’ve talked to don’t think the campaign will work, either in terms of swinging the vote toward Fauzi or in causing a significant increase in racial/religious tensions in Jakarta.”
It is that latter statement — which is echoed widely— that gives me cause for optimism. Fauzi’s distant, imperious ways have failed to inspire Jakarta residents. Fauzi may have the backing of both the Democratic Party and now Golkar, but Jokowi seems to give people hope. For entrenched political interests, the real problem may be that Jokowi’s common touch could prove destabilizing if he actually listens to the aspirations of Jakartans for a city where quality of life is taken seriously.
Jokowi himself laughed it off, praising an old Rhoma song called “135 Juta” (“135 Million”), which noted that Indonesia’s many different ethnic groups must not insult one another. “I like the message of that song, about how we value difference and do not criticize one another on ethnic or religious grounds,” Jokowi explained, presumably with the wry timing of a natural comedian. That attitude may yet have him laughing all the way to city hall.
A. Lin Neumann, founding editor of the Jakarta Globe, is the host of the “Insight Indonesia” talk show on BeritaSatu TV.