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Hard-line Muslim Protest Against Christian Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama Ends in Violence

The saga began in October, when Ahok dismissed his political opponents who had cited a Quranic verse that warns against Muslims supporting non-believers

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Muslim protesters march during a demonstration in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 4, 2016. Tens of thousands of hard-line Muslims converged Friday on the center of the Indonesian capital to demand the arrest of its minority-Christian governor for alleged blasphemy. VOA
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A massive demonstration in Jakarta against the governor turned violent Friday night when protesters burned police cars and officers responded with tear gas and water cannons. Police say at least one person was killed and seven wounded in the violence.

The scenes capped off a dramatic day that brought more than 50,000 hard-line Muslim protesters onto the streets to voice their ire at the city’s Chinese-Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who has been accused of blasphemy.

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Tensions were high across the capital throughout the day, exacerbated by reports that Islamic State members in Syria had posted messages on social media calling for their followers to carry out attacks during the protest.

The marchers — led by the radical Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) — arrived from across the archipelago to voice their opposition to Basuki, known as “Ahok”, who is seeking re-election as Jakarta’s governor, in February.

Some chanted “death to Ahok” while others stamped on placards of his image, but violence was averted during the day.

Tensions rose as night fell and tear gas was fired after demonstrators began throwing plastic bottles at their officers early in the evening.

The saga began in October, when Ahok dismissed his political opponents who had cited a Quranic verse that warns against Muslims supporting non-believers.

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The embattled governor said that Jakartans had “been lied to” by the verse in question and remarked, “If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell … no worries. That’s your personal right.”

Ahok has since apologized and said he never intended to cause offense, but it has done little to placate members of the FPI, who have frequently rallied against him during his tenure as governor. Many among their numbers are enraged that a majority Muslim city is administered by a Christian.

While the outrage of Indonesia’s hard Islamic right has dominated Indonesia’s headlines in the run up to today’s much-hyped protest, voices from the moderate majority have sought to calm tensions.

Both of Indonesia’s largest moderate organizations: Muhammadiyah, and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — whose memberships number in the tens of millions — told their supporters not to attend the rally, although they did not prohibit it.

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Speaking to VOA, Asbit Panatagara, an NU activist, stressed that his organization is “committed to pluralism” and that the reaction to Ahok was overblown. Other moderate leaders have sought to underscore the ideal of a moderate, multicultural Indonesia.

Those who share this vision will be heartened by Ahok’s enduring popularity. The governor’s public intolerance for time-wasting bureaucrats has won him widespread support. His successes in improving public transport and flood defenses have also helped to boost his approval ratings to 69%, according to some local polls.

“I think for everyday Jakartans religious background is not really a big issue [in picking a governor],” Rendi Witular, editor of the Jakarta Post.

“What they believe is in the performance of the candidate himself, their credentials, and their vision, instead of religious sentiment.

“But there are several fringe radical groups who want to force this issue.”

Critics say that the central government, led by President Joko Widodo, has not done enough to face down these radical groups and that hatred and bigotry is being allowed to grow.

Sidney Jones, a longtime analyst of Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Southeast Asia, earlier this month blamed “spineless political leaders” for allowing extremism to foment.

“No one dares draw a line and recognize religiously-inspired incitement for what it is, let alone condemn it or take measures to stop it,” she said.

Jones also fears that growing conservatism in Indonesia’s political discourse is creating the conditions for resurgent Islamic terror.

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA