An Islamic Hate Group Stalks the Streets of Jakarta
Militants recently launched bloody attack
Shortly before Islamic State terrorists launched a bloody attack in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, on Jan. 14, I was in the city for research.
As chance would have it, I decided to conclude my recent trip to Indonesia by looking into an Islamic hate group. The Islamic Defenders Front, known as the FPI in Indonesia, prides itself on opposing Ahmadis, alcoholics, communists, gays, moderates, non-Muslims and others it perceives as anti-Islamic.
The FPI has used machetes, rocks, spears and swords to scare its opponents — and urged its supporters to riot against them.
My host in Jakarta, a secular Muslim, told me that the FPI is a rare phenomenon in the country. “They aren’t liked or respected,” she claimed. “They want to enforce Islamic values, but they don’t really even understand Islam. Members of the FPI are just thugs.”
Though the FPI challenged the governor of Jakarta’s authority, arguing that a Christian had no right to rule a Muslim-majority city, the Indonesian government seemed to accept the hate group. Some observers, including the U.S. State Department, allege that the Indonesian National Armed Forces and the Indonesian National Police actually fund the FPI. A police spokesperson denied these allegations, but noted to The Jakarta Post that “as a part of society, the FPI is our partner in a positive way.”
My guide and I traveled to the paramilitary’s headquarters in Jakarta, based in an impoverished urban community. “I don’t entirely agree with the FPI,” he said, “but they understand Islamic values and do good work.” The men at the headquarters greeted us, shaking our hands. Outside the building, a man sold FPI uniforms and t-shirts with anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian slogans.
The primary official at the headquarters approached me and my guide. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Do you have documents to verify your identity?”
“What documents?” I replied. “I’m just a student conducting research.”
“Documents showing that you are a student conducting research.”
I showed the official my student identification. He insisted that I show him other “documents” to prove myself. Instead, my guide and I left to see another official in the suburbs of Jakarta.
The second official received us in a remote madrasa two hours by car from the Indonesian capital, where he explained what the FPI believes and practices. “We are not a hate group,” he said. “We merely want to maintain our country’s Islamic identity. Everyone calls us extremists. It is a propaganda campaign by the Indonesian and Western media. We help people through our projects in civil society — like after the tsunami in Aceh. We were there. We helped. We work with the police to keep order, but we certainly don’t get money from them.”
He wondered aloud whether I would add to the “media propaganda.”
I thanked the second official and left.
My guide and I ended our travel by interviewing an intellectual whom the FPI had attacked. “They hit me with wooden sticks,” Guntur Romli remembered. “I had to go to the hospital.”
“Why did the FPI attack you?” I asked.
“Because I pushed for end of the organization. The FPI isn’t only a hate group. It’s also a crime syndicate. Right outside its headquarters, there are three brothels and a church. Why do you think that they can stay there? They pay the FPI protection money. The FPI has no problem with you if you submit to it. That’s the problem. The members enforce their way of life on you unless you pay them.”
Unlike the separatists of Aceh and the terrorists of Central Sulawesi, the FPI seeks to exist as a social movement, using riots instead to enact its own smaller revolution. This strategy seems to work. In a massive city where violence is rare, the FPI avoids the showy tactics of other Islamic hate groups, even if its methods have earned it more than enough infamy.