Jakarta – Police will have to do a better job in explaining why they have arrested 23 people these last two weeks in connection with the Khilafatul Muslimin, a hitherto a little-known group that the authorities say aspires to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.
So far, the main grounds for their arrests, including its founding leader 81-year Abdul Qadir Hasan Baraka, is that the group follows a brand of Islam that police say run counter to the state ideology Pancasila, in violation of the law on mass organizations.
Other details police provided are claims that may not stand in a court of law. For example, police say they arrested the group's leaders for holding a motorcycle convoy to spread their message, that the teachings are giving a lie to Pancasila and that the group has produced a school curriculum that is already taught in nearly 30 schools in the country.
One problem as police are building their case, at least from what we hear so far, is that Khilafatul Muslimin does not have a history of violence to be considered a danger to national security. Founder Abdul Qadir may have committed a series of violence, including the bombing of the Borobudur temple in Central Java in 1985, but he has done his time in prison. You cannot hold his past against him unless he commits a new violent crime.
The real issue here is clearly the ideology the group follows. Police are trying to put the leaders in jail and eventually outlaw the organization, in the name of protecting Pancasila.
Two dangers emerge from this. One is that the police and the government are monopolizing the interpretation of Pancasila, and theirs is a narrow version of the otherwise open ideology. The second is that they, rather than the Khilafatul Muslimin, are the ones setting Pancasila against Islam, putting the nation on a dangerous course.
We have seen it all before. For over three decades, Soeharto used Pancasila as a weapon to kill and jail his critics. One of his early victims was his predecessor Sukarno, who came up with Pancasila in 1945. With the help of the military, Soeharto remained in power for a long time by invoking his narrow interpretation of Pancasila against all other ideologies.
The Khilafatul Muslimin could follow the fate of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and Islam Defenders Front (FPI), who were banned in 2018 and 2020, respectively, for invoking an ideology different from Pancasila. There may be a strong case for jailing some FPI leaders for inciting violence, but there were legitimate questions about banning an organization based on their ideology and whether it is effective or counterproductive.
The aspiration for an Islamic state is a reality in Indonesia, and in a democratic post-Soeharto Indonesia, some political parties ran on an Islamist platform to accommodate this. If you start banning aspirations, they will only go underground, which is more dangerous.
You fight fire with fire and fight ideology with ideology.
Fighting ideology using the arms of the law shows a lack of confidence in Pancasila, that it must be forced upon everyone. There are already plans to reintroduce Pancasila indoctrination and make it a compulsory subject in school, from elementary to tertiary education.
Before we know it, Pancasila can become a convenient and powerful weapon to suppress dissent, our freedom and democracy.