Mohamad Radytio - Indonesia
In the last few years, there are increasing electoral victories for parties throughout the Muslim world that state Islamic values as one of their founding principle. From Morocco to Malaysia, Islamist-endorsed candidates have been getting fair share of victories that falsely being framed as the part of increasing brand of populism. One of the prejudiced write-ups appeared in a Council on Foreign Relation (CFR)’s brief by Joshua Kurlantzick.
There, he claimed that the rise of Islamists in Indonesia and Malaysia is an example of weakening of democracy and predicted severe consequences for these states because what he perceived as their tendency to undermine the rule of law and took advantage of what he sees as a largely disenfranchised electorates. He also claimed that nothing in the Islamists’ action can convince the United States that they can be a reliable partner. Notwithstanding several incidents, those notions are either self-serving or an attempt to create self-fulfilling prophecy.
In reality, what is being promoted by these Islamists have little to no similarity with populism, but even then it should be noticed that neither Indonesian nor Malaysian Islamists are promoting reckless spending or bogus financial promises. By claiming that Islamists took advantage of social inequality and what was being claimed as financial support to these group from Saudi Arabia (which actually consider political Islamists as its enemy), thus implying that Islamists voters in both Indonesia and Malaysia are being tricked because they are not well educated, Mr. Kurlantzick has taken a patronizing attitude that is common among extremists he claimed he sought to prevent from coming to power through democratic means.
Increasing number of support for Islamist candidates, when compared with election turnout in both countries over the years that not only changed little but sometimes suffered decline proved that there is a shift in voter preference as a result of long-time debate and freedom of thinking instead of mere indoctrination or intimidation. In Malaysia, for example, the fact that Parti Amanah Negara(PAN), a splinter of Islamist Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) is well-received by their Chinese and liberal Malay Pakatan Harapan (MPH) counterparts refutes this claim, as PAN is able to attracts Islamist supports from PAS in Kelantan, the so-called poverty heartland of Malaysia.
The opposite is also happening, with PAS is able to retain the support among the wealthy and educated Selangor voters. While there were few minor incidents of intimidation recorded, overall this is not a real picture of the Islamists, who helped propping up the opposition governments in Selangor and Penang, led by ethnic Chinese Lim Kit Siang. In fact, the current vitriolic animosity between the two camps is actually caused by the Chinese and liberal group at the first place, who refused to play their part of the deal and tried to dictate the Islamists in the first place.
This has also been proven in recent Jakarta gubernatorial election which is mentioned by Mr. Kurlantzick in his article. In metropolitan Jakarta, most of Islamist-endorsed candidate’s supporters have more than high school degree, as opposed to the supporters of Ahok whose majority of supporters having lower than college degree. This findings by LSI, Polmark, and various other survey agencies proved that voter’s decision was based on educated thinking. Even if they took religion in their consideration, unless it would be implied that these voters are “not smart” simply because they put their religious values in their decision-making process.
Even further in Indonesia, pollsters and researchers alike found that the majority of those who being disenfranchised by the state system, namely those who drop-out of education system, have smaller income and those who live in rural areas are voting for Ahok’s boss, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and political parties that now supporting him. This is despite - contrary to what is written by Mr. kurlantzick- Indonesia is currently suffering from high inflation with decreasing overall state subsidy and increasing imports that disenfranchised many low-to-middle-income people, with most of people who care about this having their voice drowned in the media. This political situation is what actually being fought by Presidential contender Prabowo and like-minded people, many of whom –the likes of Ratna Sarumpaet and Prof. Rizal Ramli- are left-wing activists.
Furthermore, these Islamists are not just fighting against the injustice or what is being deliberated by Mr. Kurlantzick as intolerance, but also the real Islamist extremists who advocate for abandoning the democratic process for the sake of other ideologies such as undemocratic Islamic theocracy, Kingship or even “jihad qital” or those who use weapons to achieve what they view as the “just cause”, the Islamist extremist’s version of U.S. “War on Terror”.
While in the past few supporters of these Islamist groups used violent protests to further what they consider as the “just cause”, even these isolated incidents are rare nowadays. Take the Islamic Defender Front (FPI), for example, when Islamists entered in the democratic process and started winning elections, the frequency of ruckus committed by them also started decreasing. In 2007, there were news about FPI raids in many parts of Indonesia now, such incidents are almost unheard, especially since their “cause” of poverty, legal disenfranchisement and severe violation of Islamic sanctity has been taken care of by their peers in either legislative or executive positions.
While the terror group Islamic State or ISIL known to recruit tens of thousands of foreign fighters into its rank, an NBER study by the economists Efraim Benmelech and Esteban Klor shows that only small percentages of them were coming from Muslim countries with significant Islamist electoral victories in the countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. The rest were coming from countries such as Tunisia and Russia that would be fit with Mr. Kurlantzick’s view of “restrained Islamist electoral influence”. Even, as shown in the study, when compared with Indonesia and Malaysia, there were much more ISIL fighters came from France and Germany, two countries that well fit in the “reliable U.S. partner” narrative.
Thus, political Islamists are the main Muslim democratic defenders, the Barrier-in-Chief against the very extremists Mr. Kurlantzick sought to put in the same corner as with the Islamists.
Lastly, considering that the U.S. itself has long been supporting radical extremists such as Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it is my place to convey to Mr. Kurlantzick that the era where the U.S. can impose its value and interests upon others is over.
Gone is the era where the “can you be our reliable partner?” mantra is more than enough to make foreign political entities in the free world kowtowed to U.S. demands. By ignoring the reality that Islamists in Muslim democracies are actually helping Muslims understand that they can become a democrat without abandoning their Islamic values. It seems Mr. Kurlantzick plays into the hand of ISIL-minded Muslims and their indiscernible backers in the West.
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