Rise of identity politics causing split in Indonesia, says researcher

Alissa Wahid says this growing Muslim group feels they are the rightful owners of the world and non-Muslims are the enemy.


KUALA LUMPUR: An Indonesian researcher today warned that the country was seeing a rise in identity politics, causing a split between Muslims and others.

Alissa Wahid, from Gusdurian Institute, Indonesia, said religious extremism is taking place with Muslims feeling they are the rightful owners of the world.

“And non-Muslims are the enemy,” she told FMT.

Due to this perspective, she said the Muslims felt they should stop having any relationship with non-Muslims.

“They are using identity politics. That is the first thing they do to give the group an identity,” she added.

She said the group promoted the use of hijab for women, beards for the men and encouraged polygamy.

This group, which is growing in size, does not attend talks held by ulama as they feel they are not preaching the pure version of Islam, she added.

Earlier, Alissa gave a talk at the regional conference entitled, “State of Democracy in Southeast Asia: Achievements, Challenges, Prospects”.

Alissa is one of the children of former religious leader Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, who served as president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001.

Alissa said Indonesia had been faring much better in terms of democracy than some Southeast Asian countries.

“But we cannot compare the situation now with that which existed before. We need to strengthen democracy in Indonesia again.

“There is identity politics. Political candidates are chosen based on their religious background.”

She said it has reached the point of threats where people were disowned by the community if they voted for candidates of a different religion.

Alissa noted that since last year, religious tensions have been high, with communities refusing to carry out burial rights if someone votes for candidates of a different religion.

She said with presidential elections approaching in 2019, she was worried that identity politics was gaining momentum in Indonesia.

One of the reasons for this was due to the election of the governor or mayor by members of the public, she added.

“Before, they were elected by members of parliament. Now, they are elected by the masses.”

In Indonesia, it is more a case of religious tensions rather than communal tension, she added.

For instance, a Christian girl was not allowed entry into a public school as the majority of the students were Muslims.

Only when the father raised the issue with authorities was the girl finally allowed into the school.

Another example was the rise of gated communities based on communities of the same religion.

Such practices served only to bring about inequality in human rights, Alissa said.

“Even though not very dominant, this movement is on the rise.”

She said civil rights groups in Indonesia are strengthening their work by creating awareness on civic education and on creating responsible citizens.

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