There have been debates in recent months on whether or not controversial hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) should be disbanded, but one high-ranking government official has been unequivocal in his condemnation of the group with pointed words of criticism that, ostensibly, could've put someone of lesser standing in hot water.
Yesterday, Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko was invited for a talk on national defense at Universitas Indonesia. The highlight of the event was when someone in the audience asked him if religion could affect the stability of a nation.
"Yes. Now, many claim that their religion is most correct. They can definitively say that they'll go to heaven, while others will go to hell," Moeldoko answered, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.
The former military general added that religious issues could greatly affect the country's stability, urging religious minorities and majorities to set aside their differences in the name of harmony.
Moeldoko, himself a Muslim, then used FPI as an example of an intolerant group.
"Why must there be FPI? What is being defended? Sorry, I am going to speak frankly. Who is invading Islam? Why defend it? Why does God need defending? Why? He needs no defense," he said.
"They shouldn't be allowed, let's get real. Many are like them now. Don't deceive God. God knows all."
It's hardly a secret that Moeldoko isn't a fan of the FPI. Earlier this year, when asked if the government would aid in the homecoming of FPI's founder and leader Rizieq Shihab – who fled Indonesia in 2017 and has been living in self-exile in Saudi Arabia to escape charges related to pornography, and more – the chief of staff said, "He left on his own, didn't he? Why are there requests to accommodate him back home? We didn't oust him, did we? Of course not."
FPI has been in a state of legal limbo since June after its civil society organization permit expired. The hardliner group's existence has been thrown into serious doubt after President Joko Widodo himself hinted in July that their dissolution was imminent.
FPI and other ultraconservative Islamic groups strongly backed the opposition, led by then-presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, in April's election against President Jokowi. After Prabowo's defeat, their alliance was all but shattered as the Gerindra chairman made peace with Jokowi.
On Moeldoko's latest statement, FPI General Secretary Munarman pointed out that the group regularly gives humanitarian aid.
Supporters of FPI frequently point to the militant group's propensity for providing humanitarian aid to natural disaster victims and argue they were among the first to aid in relief efforts after the 2004 Aceh tsunami (we'd note that other organizations with questionable ethics, such as the Japanese Yakuza, also engage in similar disaster relief efforts).
However, critics of the hardline Islamist group maintain that FPI, above all, threatens religious tolerance in Indonesia through their radical actions such as carrying out violent vigilante raids on minorities, threatening Lady Gaga into canceling her Jakarta concert and leading the protest movement against former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama that led to his imprisonment – the last of which saw the group gain far greater clout and political influence in recent years.
Were FPI to ultimately be disbanded by the government, it wouldn't be the first time a hardline Islamist organization was dissolved under President Joko Widodo's administration. In 2017, the president's administration unilaterally banned the radical group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), arguing that doing so was necessary to maintain the country's security and pluralist ideologies – particularly as HTI's aim was to establish an Islamic caliphate and the organization had been linked to numerous terrorist attacks throughout Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2016 bomb attack in Jakarta.