Friday, May 12, 2017

Just another year of living dangerously

Indonesian Islamist leader says ethnic Chinese wealth is next target

The leader of a powerful Indonesian Islamist organization [Bachtiar Nasir - PV] that led the push to jail Jakarta's Christian governor has laid out plans for a new, racially charged campaign targeting economic inequality and foreign investment.

. . . .

"Our next job is economic sovereignty, economic inequality," said Nasir, an influential figure who chairs the National Movement to Safeguard the Fatwas of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (GNPF-MUI). 

"The state should ensure that it does not sell Indonesia to foreigners, especially China."

His group organized protests by hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Jakarta late last year over a comment about the Koran made by the capital's governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian.

Purnama was found guilty this week of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison, raising concerns that belligerent hardline Islamists are a growing threat to racial and religious harmony in this secular state.

. . . .

Former President Suharto blocked Chinese Indonesians from many public posts and denied them cultural expression, forcing them to drop their Chinese names. 

Marginalized politically and socially, many turned to business and became wealthy.

The ethnic wealth gap has long fed resentment among poorer "pribumi", Indonesia's mostly ethnic-Malay indigenous people. 

During riots that led to the fall of Suharto in 1998, ethnic-Chinese and Chinese-owned businesses were targeted, and about 1,000 people were killed in the violence.

There has been no blood-letting on that scale since then, but tensions have remained. 

President Joko Widodo was the subject of a smear campaign on the campaign trail in 2014 that falsely claimed he was a Chinese descendant and a Christian.

Bonnie Triyana, a historian who has chronicled Chinese Indonesian experiences, said Nasir was "scapegoating" the Chinese.

"It's very dangerous for our nation. It's playing with fire," said Triyana, who is an indigenous Indonesian. 

"They are spreading bad information to convince people that their role is to save the nation."

In the interview, Nasir said "ethnic sentiment cannot be denied" when it comes to inequality, and the economic power of Chinese Indonesians needs to be addressed.

"The key is justice, and taking sides," he said. 

"Justice can be applied if there is a preferential option for indigenous Indonesians from a regulation aspect and in terms of access to capital."

Neighboring Malaysia, also a Muslim-majority nation with a wealthy Chinese minority, has long followed affirmative action policies that grant native Malays privileges, including job reservations in the civil service and discounts on property.

. . . .

Greg Fealy, an expert on Indonesian Islamic groups from the Australian National University, said GNPF-MUI is developing a national agenda following the Jakarta governor's conviction.

"They are trying to harness that movement to link the Islamist agenda with inequality. It is, in effect, targeting Chinese non-Muslims," he said. 

"This is all part of a pitched battle in the run-up to 2019."

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