When ABC Presenter Tony Jones was interviewing Dutch MP Geert Wilders in 2013 he attempted to disprove Wilders’ belief that Islam was a totalitarian ideology by highlighting the apparent success of Indonesia as a secular Islamic country, ‘we live very close to the largest Islamic country in the world, Indonesia, which has 250 million people and has recently transitioned to democracy. According to you that’s impossible for an Islamic country to do. Yes, they have a problem with radical Islam. It is a small problem relative to the whole population.’’
Jones thought he had obtained a gotcha moment from Wilders’ with this statement but fast-forward to 2017 it looks as if Wilders’ view of Islam is now applicable to Indonesia. Recent events in Indonesia shows the nation is going down a slow but certain path to Islamization, despite its multi-religious past. This poses a significant security threat to Australian given that Indonesia has always been a crucial partner in securing Australia’s borders, the trade relationship between the two nations, and also tourism, particularly Australian tourism to Bali.
The most concerning development is in the Indonesian province of Aceh in the nation’s north. In response to decades of civil unrest including domestic terrorism, the Indonesian Parliament in 2006 granted the province the ability to be governed autonomously after a negotiated peace deal. Aceh was well known for being a very conservative Islamic region of Indonesia, therefore it should have been of no surprise that the autonomous province enacted sharia law as part of its criminal code in 2014 which included criminalising alcohol, homosexuality, adultery and public displays of affection with punishments including public caning. Aceh’s strict sharia code has gained international media attention over the past few days with a gay couple being arrested and sentenced to public caning for sodomy.
However, the Islamisation of Indonesia is not confined to the conservative Aceh region. Nothing highlights this more than the trial of the Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by the nickname Ahok, for the charge of blasphemy. These charges have been laid in the middle of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election and all the allegations amount to is Ahok telling voters that the Quran did not dictate that they were forbidden from voting for a non-Muslim candidate.
Many might view these charges as just a dirty election tactic, but once you look at who is behind these charges it reveals a growing Islamic influence in Indonesia politics. There was a rally attended by tens of thousands in Jakarta against the governor in November last year organised by group called the Islamic Defenders Front. There has also been a fatwa issued against Ahok by the National Ulama Council. Such a course of action to defeat a political opponent has never been used in Indonesia’s so far secular government, even if Ahok is acquitted the trail will have lasting consequences for the prominence Islam plays in Indonesian politics.
There are other minor examples of Islamization in Indonesia such as the rising rates of female genital mutilation and the prevalence of child marriages. This shift to radical Islam is a sad development in a nation which was once a beacon of Islamic secularism. This was a nation that had a female President in Megawati Sukarnoputri early in their transition to democracy who did not wear the hijab. It remains to be seen what consequences the direction of Indonesia will have on Bali given that it is a Hindu island but the fact that it was the location of two Islamic terror attacks in the 2000s we can only dread what fate awaits them.
It still amazes many Australians that our government currently gives Indonesia $365.7 million in aid (which includes training security forces who carry out the enforcement of Islamic law). Given the direction Indonesia is taking we should be putting even more pressure on our government not to hand over our money to a nation which already time and again bites the hand that feeds them.
It is certainly not an exaggeration to claim that in the not too distant future Indonesia could become an Islamic Republic like those we see in the Middle East. We are seeing that same Islamization occur in once secular Turkey, the trend is easily recognizable. Islamic majority nations are moving towards a more pure interpretation of Islam and the Muslim populations in western nations are living a more pure Islamic lifestyle. An Islamic Republic right on Australia’s doorstep would certainly strain further Australia-Indonesia relations and could mean our government turning a blind eye to Islamization at home to maintain trade and security arrangements with our northern neighbor. The concept of moderate Islam appears to be evaporating and its more radical version could soon be only a boat ride away from our shores.