Indonesia’s move towards banning Hizbut Tahrir

The Indonesian government recently stated they will move towards banning Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto announced the decision on Monday during a ministerial meeting examining mass movements and organizations in the country amid concern about the growing public presence of radical Islamist groups (of which HTI are but one of many).

I have noticed a few reports that the government has actually banned the organised. These reports are false. While the government can initiate the banning process, the decision is up to the courts (given recent protest actions, can you imagine the protests movements that will erupt around this move? They have already announced a huge protest in response).

Here’s what Wiranto told reporters:

“The President has instructed us to review all mass organizations to identify those with values that contradict Pancasila or the unity of the state. […] As a legally operating organization, the HTI has no positive role in achieving the national goal,” 

“HTI has also promoted values that contradict Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution. The activities of the group have also collided with the public, thus poses a threat to the unity of the republic [of Indonesia]. For this reason, the government has decided to ban the HTI,” he said.

Why HTI?

On one hand, the move seems excessive and contradictory, considering senior members of the police, military and government maintain close relations to other hardline Islamist groups who appear at odds with the values of the Pancasila and the Indonesian state. Yet there has been concerns that HT have been secret backers/organizers for IS in the past. At least in Tunisia (I cannot find a link to the article but will provide one later). Hizbut Tahirir however have publicly insisted that “the alleged caliphate pronounced by ISIS is Islamically illegitimate.”

So banning HTI in the context of countering radical ideologies and groups is one thing, but banning it for being against the Pancasila ideology is another. And why HTI, when there are a wide range of Islamist organisations advocating anti Pancasila ideologies, and promoting the implementation of Khalifa?

And if HTI aren’t the only ones advocating for Islamisation, why the focus on them for a ban, and why do they stand out in the wider context of organised Islamism* in Indonesia?

HTI rally, image from Tribune News
HTI rally, image from Tribune News


Masdar Hilmy’s study of Islamism and democracy in Indonesia found that Islamist presence, discourse and social manifestations in post-New Order Indonesia are as “wide ranging as Islamism itself.” [1] As Hilmy explains, in relation to democracy, Indonesian Islamism falls into two identifiable streams of thought:

“The first … is represented by groups that operate outside the formal political system. These groups reject democracy and do not participate in formal party politics, but are politically active, if only informally. This [is] a utopian variant of Islamism [in Indonesia] … At a rhetorical level, their reason for not immersing themselves in the political party system has to do with the struggle to maintain the purity of their faith in fulfilling the holy duty of “commanding good and forbidding wrong.” [2]

At a practical level however, the attitude of the state towards each group has a lot to do with strategic choices.

The Front Pembela Islam (FPI) and the Forum Jihad Islam (FJI) are placed into this category by Hilmy, as well as other Islamist groups like Hibut Tahrir (HTI) and Majelis Mujahideen Indonesia (Indonesian Mujahideen Council – MMI).

A second category comprises those that operate from within the system to achieve political change. These groups accept procedural democracy and are described as meliorist variants of Islamism. Hilmy’s study identifies these groups as being primarily represented by the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (Prosperous Justice Party – PKS), an Indonesian political party.[3]

For the groups associated with both categories, the idea of power is of primary importance, as is the idea that Islam should be actualized in the public sphere. However, the way these groups go about this is very different, and the strategic choices violent ormas like the FPI and FUI have made reflect their social, economic and political objectives more than their rhetorical objective to maintain the purity of the faith of Islam.

Other issues

In the past, calls for the banning of other Islamist groups have been met with two general responses from the Indonesian state: A) this would be unconstitutional (and reminiscent of New Order authoritarianism), and B) that hard-line Islamists in Indonesia should be able to continue to channel their “symbolic” voice through “legitimate” and “constructive” public agendas so that they are not drawn to terrorist organisations.[4] Why have these attitudes towards the group suddenly changed?

Internationally, other countries that have banned HT include Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, most of the rest of the Middle East except for the UAE, Lebanon and Yemen. It is also banned in Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and central Asian dictatorships). That would put Indonesia in some fairly undemocratic company.

I doubt that a ban of  HTI would be useful. Like past calls for the banning of the organisation in Australia, it might just represent a political smokescreen intending to distract from other issues – like government figures cavorting with other hardline, and violent, groups during their election campaigns.

Unlike the FPI (and the FUI and many others), HTI have not engaged in widespread acts of violence. They appeal to a relatively small section of the population who reject democracy and the Pancasila. But do they actually pose a threat to the state? Could the banning of HTI force them underground leaving them vulnerable to targeting by terrorist organisations?


*Islamist is a problematic term, yes, but insofar as HTI and others are advocating for the Islamisation of society (or even the khalifa-isation – is that even a word?), the term will have to do for now.

1] Masdar Hilmy, Islamism and Democracy in Indonesia: Piety and Pragmatism (Singapore, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010), 153.

2] Ibid.

3] Ibid 83.

4] Panggabean et al., Policing Religious Conflicts in Indonesia, 58. See also Damayanti, Ninin.“Kita butuh preman,” Tempo News, February 21, 2009, accessed September 2, 2016


From Vigilantism to Terrorism?

On Friday April 4, Anti Terror Unit Detasemen Khusus 88 Antiteror (Densus 88) arrested three terror suspects in Lamongan, Jawa Timur. One of the suspects allegedly possessed a Front Pembela Islam (FPI) uniform and literature.

I have been asked on a few occasions about the implications of militia and vigilante violence for counter terrorism. Reports that suggest an alleged terror suspect arrested in these raids was part of the FPI, reviving discussions in Indonesia about the issue of possible cross-pollination between terrorist and militia groups. I address it briefly in this post.

There are very distinct differences between Indonesia’s violent Muslim militia groups and terrorist organisations. Although violent ormas (militia) do represent a form of Islamic militantism, their violence does not target the state. This is what differentiates it from the violence of terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyya and IS.

Yet members of violent ormas still have the potential to cross-over to more extreme forms of violence. As Heiduk has pointed out, it is possible that violent ormas (militia) could be radicalized and drawn to jihadist terrorism.[1] It is also possible that terrorist ideologies and tactics could merge, formally or informally, with the agendas of violent ormas as “a new variant in Indonesia’s spectrum of radical Islamists”.[2] As Carnegie suggests:

The ‘grey area’ between the radicalism [of groups like the Front Pembela Islam (FPI)] and outright terrorist activity … provide fertile conditions for incubating a transformation of intolerance and radical thinking into more home-grown forms of violence and terror.”[3]

A study by the Setara Institute has also suggested that membership of violent ormas has the potential to create pathways to radicalization,[4] providing an ideological ‘conveyor belt’ for those with the potential to become terrorists.[5] The International Crisis Group (ICG) also noted the potential for future threats to emerge if violent ormas were radicalized, citing an example in West Java where a group had begun to use different weaponry, moving from using “sticks and stones in the name of upholding morality and curbing ‘deviance’ to using bombs and guns.”[6]Yet the analyses provided by ICG also acknowledge that Indonesia’s Islamist preman and violent ormas differ inherently from terrorist organizations, primarily because of their very different aims.

Groups associated with transnational organizations such as utopian Salafis, radical internationalists, and those such as Jemaah Islamiyya and IS believe in the implementation of a global Islamic Caliphate focusing on “internationalist and revolutionary aims.”[7] Islamist ormas or preman groups like the FPI  are locally based, nationalist in orientation, and certainly “not interested in implementing an Islamic caliphate,”[8] or challenging the Indonesian state (sometimes they act in concert with the police in morality operations).

Instead, these groups are more concerned with establishing greater power at the street-level.[9] In light of this, groups such as the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender’s Front – FPI)  remain “out of the boxes” commonly used in post 9/11 analyses of contemporary Islamist movements. [10] But because of the tendency of militia to use violence to achieve their political goals, it must be recognised that their members could be vulnerable to recruitment to terrorist organisations and movements.

Andrew Zammit and I will talk more about this issue on our podcast Sub Rosa next week. 

[1] Felix Heiduk, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Radical Islam in Post-Suharto Indonesia,” International Journal of Conflict and violence 6, no. 1 (2012), 37.

[2] Ibid

[3] Paul James Carnegie, “Is Militant Islamism a Busted Flush in Indonesia?,” Journal of Terrorism Research 4, no. 2 (September 24, 2013), accessed April 28, 2016, doi:10.15664/jtr.563, 19.[4] Setara Institute. “Organisasi Radikal di Jawa Tengah & Yogyakarta: Relasi dan Transformasi” (Jakarta: Setara Institute, 2015), p. 38

[5] International Crisis Group (ICG), “Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon.” Asia Briefing N°132 Jakarta/Brussels (26 January, 2012), accessed 2 May, 2016,…/indonesia-vigilantism-terrorism-cirebon, 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ismail Hasani, The Faces of Islam ‘Defenders’ (Jakarta: The Setara Institute, 2010), 20.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Richard Robinson, “Political Economy and the Explanation of Islamic Politics in the Contemporary World,” in Between Dissent and Power: The transformation of Islamic Politics in the Middle East and Asia, ed. Khoo Boo Teik, Yoshihiro Nakanishi and Vedi Hadiz (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 22.

[10] Mark Woodward et al., “The Islamic Defenders Front: Demonization, Violence and the State in Indonesia,” Contemporary Islam 8, no. 2 (December 28, 2013), doi:10.1007/s11562-013-0288-1, 9.

Thoughts on CVE and Foreign Aid

Image: Devex 

Foreign aid has undergone several shifts in recent years. As someone involved with the development sector in Pakistan and Indonesia for the past decade, I have noticed the gradual ‘securitisation’ of development programs. Although governments have always used international aid and development to further their state’s interests in the context of geopolitical rivalries, the presence of security language and programing in international aid (in particular – countering violent extremism – CVE) is changing the development landscape.

As new forms of internationalised violence emerge, there has indeed been a justified need for greater focus on security threats within foreign aid. The need to address the emergence of violent extremism has seen the blurring of the worlds of international development and international security, as international aid programs increasingly look to address development and security at the same time. This will change the international development sector and will result in greater collaboration between security and development specialists.

But CVE remains a controversial and highly contested field.

Two problems recur in the literature on CVE: First, there is a lack of research supporting CVE policy – a field that “struggles in its efforts to explain terrorism or to provide findings of genuine … value.”[1] Second, there is a lack of empirical evidence that CVE has worked and, more alarmingly, there is some evidence that in some cases it has actually caused harm.

On March 1 2017, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a new framework, Development Approaches to Countering Violent Extremism: Policy Framework and Guidance Note, to “guide the delivery of development assistance to counter violent extremism in developing countries, bolstering existing Australian Government efforts.” It acknowledges that there is no agreed international definition of what violent extremism is, and that it is “a complex phenomenon,” the form of which differs “across and within countries.” Much of the new approach involves the giving of grants to civil society organisations, mirroring the domestic CVE approach.

One of the potential problems with a generalised, grant-giving approach to CVE (in Indonesia) however is that there is still “no consensus in the broader [Indonesian] Muslim community about what constitutes extremism,” and there still remains a disconnect between state intelligence agencies, and civil society groups engaging in CVE initiatives [2]. As IPAC point out, the design of prevention programs may benefit from “more systematic study of the case dossiers of the almost 800 individuals indicted on terrorism charges since 2002,” and greater focus on how proposed programs might to respond to contemporary problems, for example, the recruitment and return of Indonesian ISIS recruits from Syria. As limited evaluations of successful CVE interventions indicate, this field requires specialist knowledge of CVE.[3]

There have been a range of successful CVE initiatives in Pakistan, however ‘violent extremism’ in the country continues to surge. Furthermore, when CVE is approached as an adjunct to CT activity, there is the issue of state security forces using inappropriate force in response to terrorism and security threats. On the one hand, CVE is promoted to reduce conflict and insurgency in conflict affected, non Western societies; on the other hand, security forces in these societies have been known to use CT as a method of suppressing opposition. In the context of Pakistan, CVE has been flouted as a method which the society could “overcome the challenge of growing extremism, [with programs that] comprise of individual- focused de-radicalisation, and environment-focused counter-radicalisation strategies.”[4] But how can we decide which communities to to target, and how effective can such programs be when it is already widely acknowledged that CVE is a clumsy and contradictory field? Even if the research community could agree on what a successful CVE program looks like — and more research needs to be done in this area — there is a real concern that the CVE is being promoted as too broad a CT activity without there being any clear evidence of its efficacy. Furthermore, when there is a change of government, what will happen to these initiatives? For there to be any long-term measurable impact there needs to be continuity. This has been a problem for the Australian Government in recent years. As Terrence Wood et al point out, post-2013 changes to Australian aid having “wide-ranginimpacts and have led to deteriorating overall aid quality” so far.[5] 

It is too early to make definitive comments about the direction of the aid program. However it appears that in substantive terms, aid is being framed as security risk management, yet the aid budget continues to decrease.[6] It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next five years.


[1] Andrew Silke, “The Devil You Know: Continuing Problems with Research on Terrorism”, Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 4 (2001), pp. 13.


[2] Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Countering Violent Extremism in Indonesia: Need for a Rethink, 30 June 2014 IPAC Report No.11, 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Abdul Basit, Countering Violent Extremism: Evaluating Pakistan’s Counter-Radicalization and De-radicalization Initiatives, IPRI Journal XV, no. 2 (Summer 2015): 44-68, 44.

[5] Gauging Change in Australian Aid

[6] Varghese, P (2016) 2016 Australasian AiConference Speech. viewed 19/11/201<>

Sub Rosa Episode 3: understanding terrorism in Indonesia, with Noor Huda Ismail

Episode 3 of our podcast

Sub Rosa

Noor Huda headshotFor this episode, Andrew spoke to Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian author, film-maker, activist, and PhD candidate.

Huda set up several non-government rehabilitation programs for terrorists released from jail in Indonesia, to help prevent them from becoming involved in violent extremism again. He’s now based in Australia, studying the involvement of Indonesians with the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq.

The episode begins by discussing Noor Huda’s journey into this world. We talk about his teenage years in a boarding school in a central Java that was run by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Baku Bashir. Sungkar and Bashir were members of an Indonesian jihadist movement called Darul Islam and would become the co-founders of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Several students in this school were recruited into JI, trained in Afghanistan, and later carried out bombings in Indonesia in the early 2000s. But Huda’s life went in a very different…

View original post 99 more words

Indonesia’s Aspirationals


Jakarta’s slums and the place of residence of many of Jakarta’s poor working class. Photo

Those that live in Jakarta will have noticed the occasional snobbery and anti-egalitarianism of some of the middle class and orang kaya baru crowd (the new rich, who aren’t actually “rich” at all). As Indonesia’s middle class emerged in the 1990s, some hoped that the issues of the redistribution of wealth in society would become a point of interest for the class. It clearly hasn’t. In fact the markers of inequality are ironically more distinct than ever.

I sometimes chat with the pembantu (housemaids) of the apartment complex where I live in Jakarta as I get breakfast on my way out into Jakarta’s mind boggling traffic in the morning (made worse daily by the increasing numbers of sedans on the raod). They gather in the sun to nurse the babies of their middle-class employees downstairs while their boss sits idly nearby playing with their smartphone, probably tweeting about politics, poverty, environmentalism or democracy.

I asked one of the young pembantu what she thought about the upcoming last week, to which she replied “I voted for the party my boss asked me to vote for because I don’t undestand”, at which I choked a little on my gorengan and replied with a polite but loaded “good”. Another said her boss said it wasn’t important for her to vote and that they needed her to stay at home to look after their (overpampered brat of a) child.

People pay their pembantu between $50 and $200 a month here. They are a symbol of status and as having made it as a middle-class Indonesian. They are live in maids, who usually live a converted laundry-like room at the back of the house or on the floor of the ‘loungeroom’ of the box-like apartments Jakarta’s middle class increasingly favour.

The apartment complex where I live is chock full of middle class Indonesians who perceive themselves to have made it, simply because they live in an ‘apartment’ which is actually more like a broom closet. But hey., they can say they live in an apartment with a pembantu to trail behind the while they wander aimlessly around the mall downstairs.

Meet Indonesia’s aspirational middle class. Indonesia is big, but it’s growing economy is bigger. Indonesia is the world’s 16th largest economy (Australia is 12th), and the transition of millions of Indonesians out of poverty into a middle or ‘consuming class’ is a big part of that growth story.

But, the reality is, this emerging middle class is actually still very poor. But this class cherish the class markers that distinguish them from their “lower class” fellow Indonesians.

The so-called consuming class commentators are getting so excited about is comprised of households with earnings of just US$7500 per year at purchasing power parity rates. But that’s still enough to afford a broom closet apartment and a live in maid (God knows where these poor girls sleep. Sometimes they go home to the slum areas of Jakarta each night by the rivers or under the highway toll bridges).

The world is cheering on Indonesia’s emerging middle class as the potential flagbearers of Indonesia’s democracy, but this society still has a long way to go with it’s dated notions of elitism and the illusions of prosperity propped up by an atrocious lack of economic equality and a class of working poor living on less than $2 a day.

Kate Grealy-Riadi @kategrealyriadi