Indonesia has moved to disband the decades-old hardline group Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).
In a speech on May 8, retired general Wiranto, now a government minster, listed three grounds: that HTI had not assumed a positive role in the country’s efforts to achieve national goals; that its activities contradict the country’s principles and constitution; and that it had caused conflict in society, which may threaten security.
Wiranto said the group’s aim of establishing a caliphate was a threat to the nation state of Indonesia and that it would be disbanded legally.
Rejecting the plan, the officially registered organisation maintained that for 20 years it has mainly proselytised and preached about Islam, which is not against the law.
HTI is the Indonesian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international, pan-Islamic, political organisation established in Palestine in 1953, aiming to unify all Muslim countries under an elected ruler, or caliph.
It began its activities in the 1980s, by proselytising and recruiting members at campuses.
In 2007, at a large meeting organised by HTI in Jakarta, tens of thousands expressed support for the caliphate.
In 2016, Indonesian police found that Bahrun Naim, the alleged planner of the Jakarta bombing that year, had previously studied with Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Aside from Indonesia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in 16 other countries, 14 of them Muslim states.
The disbandment announcement came only two days before outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam.
HTI, like many hardline groups, had supported the blasphemy charges.
Some Islamic organisations welcomed the move to disband HTI as a step toward curbing hardliners.
Even the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, whose ruling went against Purnama in court, agreed that HTI should be banned.
The move against HTI would seem like a blow for hardliners, but Purnama’s imprisonment still signals the growing presence of Islamist influence in the court.
And other violent intolerant groups – such as the Islamic Defenders Front and National Movement of MUI Fatwa Defenders, the main supporters of the blasphemy charges – have not been banned.
Some speculate the Islamic Defenders Front still enjoys support from some elements in the military. Its leader Rizieq Shihab, himself under investigation for contradicting the nation’s founding principles, now hides in Malaysia.
One of the dilemmas of democracy is that its protection of individual rights and emphasis on pluralism let fundamentalist groups exist freely, even when such groups advocate undemocratic values. But in the end the survival of a diverse nation such as Indonesia depends on the preservation of its initial consensus to respect and protect such diversity from intolerant elements.
As the polarisation between hardline and moderate Muslims grows, it is crucial for the government to stay firm in upholding these core values. ■
Deasy Simandjuntak is Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. This piece first appeared on the website of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute