Left, right, left, right, center-right, center-left, center-center?

July 16, 2008 at 10:47 pm (Islam, Politics)

I was just watching the ‘Debat’ (debate) program on TVOne earlier (isn’t that station coming along nicely? There’s a real rival to metro there I think) about Syariat Islam in Indonesia. There were some interesting points made, and I got a few more things out of the debate which more or less still serve to confirm my suspicions about both sides involved.

Once again (as I’ve mentioned previously with media debates on things like this), the media has gone out of its way to pick two sides completely opposed to one another, with the first section being the Crescent Star Party (PBB) vs. The National Awakening Party (PKB), and the second part with Crescent Star backing up against the Liberal Islam Network (JIL). PBB here was meant to represent ‘Islam’ (or psychotic Islam, depending on which side of the ideological divide you fall), while PKB/JIL was meant to represent the ‘nationalist’ (or fluffy wonderful tolerance/liberalism once again depending) side. What makes this of particular interest is that the PBB itself is fairly insignificant in the parliament (and has even had to disband and reform because it did not pass the electoral threshold in the last election), so why was it chosen over a more established ‘Islamic’ party such as the United Development Party (PPP) or even arguably the future largest Islamic party in Indonesia, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS)? I can accept PPP not being of interest because they don’t have much to say about syariat Islam anymore (in fact its kind of difficult to discern if they are really a relevant party of any stripe anymore), and the only reason I can think of why PKS wasn’t invited is because the party itself seems to be going through the motions of whether it supports syariat Islam or not. Then again maybe both were called and they couldn’t participate.

Another thing I noticed was that both sides were landing punches, but were mostly too blinded by their own respective ideologies to be consistent in any way. The PKB/JIL side carried on about how terrible syariat Islam based bylaws in places like Tangerang have been, yet as was rightly pointed out by the PBB side these laws have not been brought in by Islamic parties but rather by nationalist parties or regional heads associated with nationalist parties (uh oh). Then again PKB/JIL pointed out quite rightly that Islamic parties certainly weren’t going out of their way to oppose these laws (uh oh again). Meanwhile for all the PKB/JIL carrying on about how there shouldn’t be local regulations based on particular religions, there was little to no response regarding how Bali completely shuts down for nyepi, causing great inconvenience to anyone who happens to be a non-Hindu (turn on the lights and they’ll be more than happy to hurl a stone at you to get you to turn it back off). On the one hand PBB couldn’t admit that syariat Islam had failed in certain regions (or even that there were failed attempts at versions of syariat Islam), while on the other hand PKB/JIL were so concerned with drilling syariat Islam for all it was worth, they skipped over facts (the nationalist connection in local syariat Islam bylaws) as well as the fact that other religious communities sometimes have local regulations of their own (Hindus in Bali).

The thing which ended up being the final straw for me though was when the JIl representative (didn’t catch the name at the bottom of the screen, but I’m fairly sure it was Luthfie Assyaukanie) said that his ‘advice’ to Islamic parties was that they had to become like parties in the West. In the West they would be (at the moment) be classed as ‘right’ or ‘far right’ parties, and if they wanted to have any relevance in politics they needed to ‘move to the center’ and at least become center right. There were two things which immediately bothered me about this.

The first was even if Islamic parties were to move to the ‘center-right’, I’m not completely sure that Luthfie and co would recognise this as being the case, considering just how far left of the spectrum they themselves are. The example I’ve seen of this myself is the PKS who, despite still being solidly on the ‘right’, have definately started to take steps towards the center. You need only look at how different the party is today to when it first started out in 1999 (Mathias Diederich from Germany has done studies on the PKS before and shows it up quite nicely). Though you certainly wouldn’t hear anything like this from JIL or Luthfie, as for all they’re concerned the PKS hasn’t changed a bit, and even if there is any talk of change this is only a conspiratorial smokescreen to hide the party’s ‘true’ intentions of ‘Talibanizing’ Indonesia (mwa ha ha). In sum, for JIL and Luthfie, anything to the right of they themselves is still too far to the right.

The second was the (seeming) lack of knowledge about politics in Western countries at the moment. One would think that people like Luthfie and JIL who have a lot of contact with the West, both in terms of the fact that many have studied in Western countries in the sense that their organisation shares a similar philosophical approach to politics, would know that one of the basic political trends in these countries at the moment is that of support for conservative (or ‘right’) parties. In fact people like JIL, perhaps as much as they would like to think otherwise, would struggle to have their views taken seriously just as much in Western societies at the moment as they do in Indonesia (though perhaps without threats of direct violence against them) because Western societies are becoming increasingly conservative themselves. One need only see in Australia how one of the main factors behind the change in government in the last election was that the Australian people found an alternative government that was still more or less presenting itself as conservative. In a similar vein, we can look at the current U.S. election and see how such a big deal is being made of both Senators McCain and Obama having to appear sufficiently ‘conservative’ with regards to foreign policy in particular, lest they be seen as ‘anti-American’. Italy and France currently have conservative leaning governments as well, and the UK Labour party has itself only managed to stay in power so long because it has presented itself as being sufficiently conservative so as not to lose ground to the Tories. I doubt that JIL would be pleased if Islamic parties were to become ‘center right’ parties like those currently doing well in Western countries. Rather Luthfie and JIL seem to be referring to some ‘ideal’ state of affairs (that is to say, one which is in total agreement with their own philosophy and view on politics) which they say exists in the West when it actually doesn’t.

It probably seems I’m coming down a bit hard on JIL and movements like it in Indonesia (again) and going soft on Islamic revivalist movements and parties (again also). This though is largely because I expect the latter to be conservative and tossers (at times), because thats what they do. I certainly don’t expect similar blinkered views (the only difference being looking through ‘left-wing’ blinkers rather than ‘right-wing’ blinkers) from people who have had a solid higher education and have been exposed to mature, (mostly) functioning democracies.

This debate I was watching only served to once again reaffirm what I’m seeing time and time again from the loudest elements of Indonesian Islamic society (both ‘right’ and ‘left’): that neither are interested in providing real solutions to issues (such as the issue of syariat Islam in general and formalization of it in the form of bylaws) and that both are only interested in promoting their own ideological stance even if this means ignoring facts or any kind of real middle ground.

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