Growing Intolerance in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta, self-declared “City of Tolerance” in 2011, has been facing a growing intolerance over the last few years. And in this city famously known as the city of students and cultures, intoleranct acts recently get more frequent.

The Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute reported that in 2011-2015 there have been thirteen cases of violation of religious and expression freedom in Yogyakarta Special Region. Some research centers have declared Yogyakarta among the most intolerant provinces in the last two years, running second after the deeply conservative West Java province.

This year alone, with five months have passed, I note four cases: the dismissal of public talk with a Shii scholar in State Islamic University (UIN) of Yogyakarta, the forcible suspension of Al-Fatah pesantren for waria (the world’s only transgender Islamic boarding school), the attack to Lady Fast (music event focused on female empowerment) and, the most recent, forcible dispersal of World Press Day celebration held by the the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI). If hate speech counts as intolerant acts, add to this note the big banners spread around Yogyakarta major streets containing hate speech against LGBT, some of which were accompanied by physical threats.

How to explain this phenomenon? Apart from local Islamic hardline groups, the municipal authorities are certainly blameworthy. More blameworthy, even.

The pattern with which the Islamic hardliners operate is easy to identify. They may use different names and banners, such as the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), the Islamic People Forum (FUI), or the Indonesian Anti-Communist Forum (FAKI), yet the members are overlapping; the leading figures are the same. Most of them affiliate to an underbow of an Islamic party. They usually anounce when they are about to do dismissal operation either though messaging service platforms or social media posts. Some of their leaders are not difficult to be found on Facebook.

This shows how confident they are; confident that they are in the right path and free to operate, and that none, including the police, will fail them. And their enemy is easy to expect as it is basically limited to three groups, i.e. communists, Shiites, and LGBT people.

The way they disperse events is sometimes not based on clear evidence but rather a suspicion or a mere accusation that the related events are promoting communism, Shiism, or LGBT. This limitation to the three groups may explain that they are pragmatically playing with issues typical to the building of “Islamist” identity in the recent Indonesia. Pragmatic because if they are idealistic with strict Islamic values, the (in)famous Yogyakarta red-light district (i.e. Pasar Kembang) would be among their main targets to dismiss. Yet they don’t do it.

This behavior should also bring about suspicion if they are really Islamic—despite their name—in the strict, ‘Salafist’ sense of the word. From what I saw when the FUI did campaign against LGBT at Tugu Yogyakarta, they behave in manners—at least in the eyes of Indonesian conservative Muslims—identical to preman (Indonesian for gang): many of them are smokers and some have tattoo on their body and earring on ears. This behavior is contrary to what many perceive about a devout Muslim. And at that campaign at Tugu Yogyarta, the police let them free and instead suppressed the pro-democracy groups doing demonstration supporting LGBT rights not far from the place at the same time; the police detained them not to march to the Tugu on the excuse of avoiding unrest.

This kind of excuse is typical to the police when dealing with those hardliners. The very excuse of “avoiding conflict” was stated by the police in the World Press Day celebaration dispersal, as they did in many other cases. More paradoxical is that at the event the police said to the organizers, “We have to preserve this city of tolerance by avoiding conflict,” implying that the event in and of itself, in the eyes of the police, is triggering conflict, not the hardliners.

The logic of the police is that “peace” (in the sense of no conflict) is better than unrest caused by letting the events go ahead. The police is claiming to hold “security”, which implies that it prioritizes “security” over guaranteeing civil and political rights—which is actually an unjust security because the hardliners are secure and even immune while the organizers of the events are not secure from the hard-liners’ threats. In other words, the police is maintaining “public order” by blaiming the victims, which in turn fuels justification for the hard-liners to do the same actions again and again.

As evident from the police’s logic, no wonder if there is an impression that the police is weaker than the hardliners. Or, it is highly likely that the hardliners have an ally within the police, which is why they have impunity when they are launching attacks and destroying property.

This certainly suggests a big problem within the police. More than that, the municipal authorities are silent. We do not hear any comment, let alone a firm action, from the recent mayor of Yogyakarta Haryadi Suyuti (the declaration of City of Tolerance was in the time of the previous mayor, Herry Zudianto.) The Sultan of Yogyakarta was once reported to have said that Yogyakarta people should be tolerant toward LGBT but ended up doing nothing.

This is how the system recently works in Yogyakarta, where freedom and rights are curtailed in the name of “public order”. Also, from examining the system, it can be said that sometimes the problem is not intolerant beliefs per se; the problem is on the law enforcement, the logic of police, and the silence of the authorities. Even if there are hardliners, they cannot manifest their intolerant beliefs into actions as long as the authorities can guarantee rights and law enforcement.

That’s it. Another thing noteworthy is that this growing intolerance may have to do with the Yogyakarta mayoral election next year—it is quite common in Indonesia, intolerant actions often increase in this kind of context. An alarming note is that, as seen from his pictures on banners around Yogyakarta major streets, one of those hardliners’ leaders is now planning to run as a candidate in the election.


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