At the 2019 presidential election, Indonesia’s Islamist teams have been on the peak of their affect. They banded along with Joko Widodo’s then rival, Prabowo Subianto, to orchestrate probably the most polarising presidential campaigns in Indonesia’s historical past. Though they’ve been battered by government repression since Widodo’s reelection in 2019, Islamist teams at the moment are regrouping behind Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar within the 2024 presidential race.

In the course of my doctoral analysis into Indonesia’s Islamist opposition actions within the Jokowi years, I’ve been following Islamist activists, each nearly and on the bottom, as they marketing campaign on behalf of Anies and Muhamin’s candidacy. I’ve been struck by how far more timid these Islamist teams’ marketing campaign rhetoric is in contrast with 2019. Gone are the times when their volunteers would go round from home to accommodate to unfold internet-sourced propaganda accusing their political rival of being a Chinese communist agent who was bent on abolishing Islam from public life and was conspiring to assassinate Muslim leaders—issues they mentioned about Jokowi in 2019. They now not describe the election in apocalyptic phrases, the place one candidate is portrayed as an evil power whereas the opposite is hailed because the saviour that might salvage Indonesia from impending doom.

Instead, Islamist activists in Anies’ workforce and from affiliated volunteer teams have chosen to emphasize his dedication to what they name “ethical politics” (an Islamist euphemism for governance primarily based in Islamic morality), his concrete achievements as governor of Jakarta between 2017 and 2022, and his promise to revive the freedoms and justice which were eroded below Jokowi. Islamists’ marketing campaign model, in different phrases, has shifted from being one characterised by passionate ideological agitation to a extra level-headed programmatic model, reflecting the overall decline in ideological polarisation throughout Jokowi’s second time period.

But does that imply that Islamists have deserted their ideological beliefs and objectives, or does it merely replicate political expediency? I argue that Indonesian Islamists’ rhetorical moderation is primarily an adaptation to the three key political realities of the late Jokowi years.

Firstly, state repression has made Islamists cautious about embracing overtly sectarian campaigning. Secondly, with Islamists having aligned behind the candidacy of the Anies and Muhaimin, and protecting their choices open with a reconciliation with Prabowo Subianto in a possible second spherical of the presidential election, they’ve sought to not alienate pluralist Muslim voters linked to traditionalist teams like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Third, not like within the aftermath of the mass mobilisations in opposition to the alleged blasphemy of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, there isn’t a religiously-charged subject round which a dynamic of polarisation can come up. The problems with Rohingya and Israel–Palestine battle have featured within the 2024 marketing campaign, however these points don’t divide Indonesians neatly alongside Islamic–nationalist traces, and supply solely restricted potential for the reactivation of ideological passions within the quick time period.

Promotional supplies for a marketing campaign occasion for Anies Baswedan that includes distinguished Islamist cleric and “co-captain” of Anies’ marketing campaign workforce, Yusuf Martak (left)

De-risking non secular rhetoric

I restrict my evaluation to non-violent Islamist teams comparable to FPI—relaunched, after the ban of the Front Pembela Islam/Islamic Defenders’ entrance in 2020, because the Front Persaudaraan Islam/Islamic Brotherhood Front—and the self-styled “Alumni” of the 212 motion activists that led the protests in opposition to former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in 2016–17. These teams share comparatively reasonable objectives and strategies in comparison with jihadist extremists. They pursue an Islamisation of society and the state not through revolution however by gradualist ways like proselytisation, training, social companies, advocacy, and political participation. They will enthusiastically drum up illiberal sectarian sentiments (which they genuinely maintain) when it advantages them, however stay able to tone it down when their survival is at stake. For this group of non-jihadist Islamists, the aim is to win energy first, then work on the religio-political reform later.

In 2024 as in 2019, direct engagement in electoral politics is an element and parcel of this technique. On 27 September 2023, Anies and Muhaimin visited the FPI chief Rizieq Shihab, as if to safe his blessing, simply earlier than they formally registered their candidacy. Once Anies’ candidacy was confirmed, he recruited Yusuf Martak, an in depth confidant of Rizieq, as one of many co-chairs of his success workforce.

Islamists have made it clear that they aren’t giving a clean cheque to Anies. In trade for his or her help, they required Anies and Muhaimin to signal a 13-point “Integrity Pact” which, amongst different issues, affirmed the candidates’ dedication to again the Islamist agenda of combatting secularism, communism, and non secular blasphemy (for them, a code phrase for the perceived development within the energy and “arrogance” of Indonesia’s Christian minority). The settlement additionally stipulated that Anies and Muhaimin would implement public morality primarily based on Islamic norms and enhance abnormal folks’s financial circumstances by stopping a purported influx of mainland Chinese employees.

Following the identical system as in 2019, in November 2023 FPI and its associates organised a Conference of Religious Scholars (Ijtima Ulama) in an effort to give their alternative of candidate the stamp of spiritual authority. The 2023 Ijtima resulted in a non secular advice by “Grand Imam” Rizieq Shihab to vote for Anies and his operating mate Muhaimin. The thought is to leverage the grassroots community of FPI and the Brotherhood of 212 Alumni (Persaudaraan Alumni 212, or PA212) to organise marketing campaign actions and the distribution of marketing campaign supplies in help of Anies. As of late 2023, the resurrected FPI boasted branches in 23 out of 38 provinces, whereas formal PA212 constructions have been established in all districts within the 10 most populous provinces; each sped up their enlargement of native branches with a view to mobilising voters for the 2024 election. That mentioned, it’s unclear what number of members both organisation really has—native FPI activists usually double up as PA212 executives.

Although the “Integrity Pact” between FPI and the Anies marketing campaign and the Ijtima Ulama’s endorsement of Anies exhibit among the sectarian and xenophobic tone that characterised Islamist activism within the 2019 election, my on-the-ground statement of FPI-linked marketing campaign occasions suggests they’ve cooled down their divisive non secular narratives for 2024.

A typical marketing campaign in Central Java, as an illustration, would entice between 50 to a couple hundred folks, although the quantity could be increased in FPI strongholds comparable to Banten and Greater Jakarta. Many such marketing campaign occasions that I noticed have been easy (held in mosques, Islamic pesantren boarding colleges, or different free venues) and principally funded by volunteers and donations from native candidates in search of to win the sympathy of Islamist constituencies. Attendees at these occasions obtain free T-shirts, posters, mugs and different merchandise, however I’ve not witnessed any trade of financial presents (as has been reported in different candidates’ campaigns). This is no surprise given Anies has reported the lowest amount of campaign funds among the many three presidential candidates.

What was extra hanging to me was the relative lack of spiritual zeal and apocalyptic narratives that have been ubiquitous in 2019. Speaking at a pro-Anies volunteers assembly in Solo on 9 January, the secretary common of PA212 Uus Solihuddin informed the volunteers to de-emphasise lofty ideology and focus extra on concrete programmatic insurance policies. Whereas within the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election Islamist leaders relied on intimidation and fear-mongering to coerce Muslims to vote for Anies (comparable to threatening to not carry out funeral prayers for lately deceased Muslims who supported “infidel” candidates), Islamists at the moment are rigorously avoiding any statements that may be construed as smear marketing campaign, misinformation or sectarian incitement. As PA212’s secretary-general instructed the assembled volunteers,

Stay away from black campaigns! Focus on selling the imaginative and prescient and mission of Amin (Anies and Muhaimin), make it viral through the use of plain, simply accessible language. Don’t discuss lofty concepts. Just discuss low-cost groceries (sembako). Because let’s face it, most Indonesian persons are not at that [intellectual] stage but. Engage the folks by saying issues like: would you like higher healthcare? Do you need low-cost electrical energy? Do you desire a driver’s license that applies for a lifetime—no must renew it each 5 years? Then you’ll be able to reinforce the message by telling them that these are the suggestions of our ulama who’ve signed an settlement with Anies.

The warning round “black campaigns” displays Islamists’ worry of persecution and arrest, a important issue that explains the shift away from sectarian narratives. (Alfian Tanjung, one other Islamist cleric who was current on the assembly in Solo described right here, had been imprisoned from 2017 to 2020 after being convicted of felony defamation for calling Jokowi and PDI–P “lackeys” of the Indonesian Communist Party/PKI).

SAFEnet, an NGO that advocates for freedom of on-line expression, reported in 2022 that the arrest of opposition activists below Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transactions Law (UU ITE) has elevated by 26%; most have been expenses with defaming  state officers and establishments. Islamists are arguably the most targeted category of all opposition activists. The incontrovertible fact that Rizieq Shihab is on parole till June 2024, following his launch from jail in July 2022, is a dwelling reminder of the good dangers they’re going through: as one activist put it, “any tiny mistake could send Habib Rizieq back to prison, that’s why we need to be careful.”

Yusuf Martak equally informed a gaggle of pro-Anies volunteers in Klaten and Solo that they need to emphasise his concrete achievements in combating social ills in Jakarta, comparable to closing down a significant brothel and a restaurant chain that gave free promotional beers to anybody named Muhammad. It was prompt that selling his accomplishments in public morality and infrastructure improvement can be more practical and fewer dangerous than invoking overtly Islamist jargon (e.g. “infidels”, “shari’a”) which might be intently related to radicalism.

Maintaining reasonable help

Last however not least, Islamists felt compelled to tone down their non secular zeal in an effort to appease the reasonable, traditionalist Muslim base of Anies’ operating mate, Muhaimin Iskandar.

The costs of repressing Islamists

The banning of FPI or some other “anti-Pancasila” group just isn’t a shortcut to ending deep-seated discrimination in opposition to minorities.

Islamists have been initially disillusioned by the appointment of Muhaimin as Anies’ operating mate due to his pluralist (NU) background, his implication in historic corruption instances, and his attendance at a 2023 Coldplay live performance in Jakarta that was protested by FPI on the grounds that the band has proven help for LGBT folks. Yet as soon as Rizieq Shihab issued the instruction for the FPI rank and file to help Anies, they fell into line.

Many inside Muhaimin’s NU milieu perceive Anies as a “Wahhabi”—a reference to the ultrapuritan model of Sunni Islam related to Saudi Arabia, which has turn out to be a slur amongst Muslim moderates in Indonesia—as a result of his modernist background and shut relationship with the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera/PKS). This is within the context of an inside rift inside NU: the organisation’s chairman Yahya Cholil Staquf and most of its nationwide board have sided with Prabowo, whereas influential NU kyai (traditionalist non secular leaders), together with NU’s former chair Said Aqil Siradj, have backed Muhaimin and his get together PKB. In East Java, plenty of kyai from Yahya’s camp exhorted their followers to not vote for Anies, saying that he secretly conspired with the banned transnational organisation Hizbut Tahrir and FPI to switch the Indonesian republic with a caliphate.

To allay these suspicions, FPI and the 212 activists have included references to “the preservation of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia (NKRI) and Pancasila” of their Integrity Pact with Anies. In truth, FPI and PA212 have adopted a pattern set lately by authorities businesses and NU establishments of starting their formal gatherings by singing the nationwide anthem.

Anies shaking arms together with his supporter, former NU chair Said Aqil Siraj at a commemoration of the birthday of NU cleric KH Bisri Syansuri, Muhaimin Iskandar’s nice grandfather, Jombang, 12 January 2024 (Photo: creator)

Islamists are additionally calibrating their campaigning with a view to the potential of reconciling with Prabowo Subianto, with some main figures in FPI and PA212 already planning to shift allegiance to Prabowo ought to Anies fail to enter the second spherical. As one senior activist from FPI put it:

We at the moment are campaigning for Anies, sure. But we shouldn’t assault the opposite facet overzealously. I don’t suppose it’s proper to throw a smear marketing campaign at Prabowo. After all, he and [his party] Gerindra have completed rather a lot for us. Anies promised us a lot of issues, however in the long run he gave extra money and positions to NU. Despite Prabowo’s betrayal, it was Gerindra politicians who defended us, gave us authorized help when our members bought criminalised. Gerindra advocated for the KM50 trigger [the police shootings of 6 FPI members in 2020] in parliament. So we shouldn’t offend Prabowo an excessive amount of, he’s our greatest choice if there’s a second spherical.

Palestine and Rohingya supply restricted scope for polarisation

Anti-Rohingya incitement has intensified on social media since late 2023. One video that went viral on Tiktok purported to point out how Rohingya asylum seekers in Aceh threw away meals that had been donated to them by native villagers. Another alleged that Rohingya asylum seekers in Malaysia had demanded land, warning viewers that they could wish to take over native folks’s land in Aceh too. This on-line incitement culminated in an incident through which tons of of college college students in Aceh raided a refugee shelter and compelled the Rohingya to go away. Rights activists and social media specialists contended that the online hate speech was too systematic to be natural; the newspaper Koran Tempo quoted a source who acknowledged that some parts inside state safety forces employed the scholar mob in an effort to sow disaster.

Some Islamist teams consider {that a} backlash in opposition to Rohingya asylum seekers has been engineered to discredit Islamists, who had lengthy performed humanitarian fundraising for Rohingya victims of ethnic cleaning in Myanmar. The on-line content material that has framed Rohingya as lesser Muslims with sinful habits was subsequently like a slap within the face to Islamists.

While it stays mysterious how the anti-Rohingya marketing campaign happened, or who was behind it, the difficulty has turn out to be a degree of rivalry between the presidential candidates. Anies has struck a sympathetic notice, saying that Indonesians have a humanitarian duty to help Rohingya Muslims who’ve come asking for cover. Prabowo, however, has asserted that it’s unfair to impose such a burden on Indonesia, and that the United Nations must be accountable. Ganjar Pranowo, in the meantime, has given a vague comment that neither accepts nor rejects the asylum seekers.

Some pro-Anies Telegram channels have unfold a counter-narrative that the Acehnese scholar chief who coordinated the assault on Rohingya was a youth member of Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra get together, and that Prabowo has sanctioned the discrimination in opposition to one of many world’s most persecuted Muslim minorities. The Rohingya subject has not flared up considerably, with the federal government swiftly offering another shelter for these displaced by group protests in Aceh.

The Palestine subject has in the meantime turn out to be fertile floor not just for Islamists’ electoral campaigning but in addition for his or her long-term enlargement and recruitment. The subject can be a “safe” one, as a result of the federal government is extra tolerant of Islamist mobilisation on overseas conflicts—particularly given Indonesia’s official help for Palestinian freedom—than native ones. In December 2023, for the primary time in 5 years the federal government allowed FPI to carry the 212 Reunion Rally at Jakarta’s Monas sq., on the situation that it was targeted on Palestine.

Some Islamist sources informed me that when their pro-Anies occasions have been prohibited by PDI-P district and village heads in rural West Java, as an illustration, they bought across the restrictions by conducting a Palestine solidarity roadshow. They mentioned that even some PDI–P strongholds may settle for them and have been keen to donate cash if the clerics targeted on the plight of Palestine and providing non secular counselling to the villagers. Many lay PDI-P sympathisers volunteered their cellphone numbers to Islamist clerics after being informed that they may get free on-line counselling and limitless provides of “holy water”, solely to search out themselves bombarded with Anies marketing campaign supplies by WhatsApp. The Palestine subject stays vital for Islamist revival past the election, having huge enchantment that cuts throughout partisan cleavage, and it supplies Islamists with ample alternatives for fundraising and outreach to new audiences.

In Indonesia’s outer islands, nevertheless, the Israel–Palestine battle carries extra divisive potential. On 25 November 2023, violent clashes broke out between the Muslim Solidarity Front (Barisan Solidaritas Muslim) and a Christian group named Manguni Brigade in Bitung, North Sulawesi. BSM was holding a pro-Palestine rally on the road once they ran right into a convoy of Makatana Minahasa Christians who have been additionally on their solution to a cultural parade. Some of the Christians carried Israeli flags, which triggering an altercation with BSM that devolved right into a brawl that killed one individual and injured two others.

In video footage that circulated on social media, a number of folks from Manguni Brigade wearing conventional warfare apparel have been seen chasing BSM members; plenty of native Muslims joined one other battle that broke out within the metropolis centre later that evening. The video footage additionally confirmed the Manguni Brigade burning Palestinian flags and destroying an ambulance that belonged to BSM. Islamist on-line channels shortly unfold the movies and talked about jihad in opposition to the “Christian Zionists”. Rizieq Shihab additionally issued an announcement demanding that the federal government punish the Zionist supporters who attacked Muslims in Bitung.

While the native battle was swiftly managed by native authorities, its results have lingered and bled into the election. Pro-FPI social media accounts circulated photos of the Manguni Brigade chief sporting a Prabowo T-shirt; in a single image, he was seen posing with Jokowi with the caption within the model shared by Islamists remarking that “this is the reason Manguni Makasiouw isn’t banned after causing riot in Bitung, likely protected by Jokowi”. Another video confirmed an enormous Israeli flag being waved at a PDI–P rally for Ganjar Pranowo. In Central and West Java, some Islamist activists have been getting ready to deploy their Laskar (safety or paramilitary organisations) to protect polling stations in opposition to intimidation and fraud they allege is being deliberate by the “pr o-Zionist red thugs” (preman merah, a reference to PDI-P’s get together colors).

Islamist on-line propaganda on Laskar Manguni (Source: Telegram channel monitored by the creator)

Despite Islamists’ makes an attempt to make use of the Rohingya and Palestine points to activate the latent sectarian tensions in Indonesian society, the controversy round these points don’t neatly slice the citizens alongside the Islamist vs pluralist traces. In the case of Israel–Palestine battle, Indonesians no matter their non secular inclinations are overwhelmingly pro-Palestine. The subject just isn’t as divisive as within the West. The anti-Rohingya subject has to some extent taken on a political flip, with Anies’ Islamist supporters advocating the rights of Rohingya refugees, whereas Prabowo has solid them as a possible risk to Indonesians’ financial pursuits. As Prabowo said whereas visiting Aceh on 24 November 2023: “now let’s say we want to help the Rohingya. How can we help, our own people are short of food. Around 20% of our children are malnourished.”

These two points are subsequently unlikely to trigger deepening polarisation. However, the Palestine subject notably supplies a fertile floor for Islamists to revive and increase their enchantment (not least as a result of the federal government tolerates Islamist propaganda on overseas quite than home affairs), therefore its usefulness will outlast the election.

Anies–Muhaimin marketing campaign merchandise, that includes the title of “co-captain” Yusuf Murtak (Photo: creator)


My statement of the election marketing campaign in city and rural Java reveals a a lot calmer image than the earlier presidential race. Unlike in 2019, folks didn’t complain as a lot about an emotionally draining election, marked by id politics, that affected their private relationships with household and pals.

Islamist teams themselves have determined to “cool down” divisive marketing campaign narratives for numerous strategic causes—with out essentially abandoning their long-term ideological agenda. This has partly to do with the significance of not alienating the reasonable traditionalist Muslims, particularly in East Java, that type an vital a part of the Anies–Muhaimin ticket’s electoral coalition. The stigmatisation of radicalism has additionally contributed to Islamists’ strategic avoidance of ideological messaging. Indeed, Jokowi’s anti-radicalism coverage and counter-polarisation efforts by NU and other pluralist groups have pushed Islamists to the perimeter, not less than in the meanwhile. Moreover, Islamists have seen that Jokowi’s social help applications have contributed to his excessive approval rankings, fostering a perception that Indonesian folks care extra about their financial wellbeing than ideology—therefore the Islamists’ pivot to bread and butter points when campaigning for Anies.

Finally, the decreasing depth of ethnoreligious rigidity and partisanship means that post-election riots like those seen in May 2019 are unlikely. However, the violent Christian–Islamist conflict in Bitung reminds us that there’s potential for remoted native conflicts between supporters of various candidates within the lead as much as the election and its aftermath.

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