What will happen next after the mass rallies against non-active Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in Jakarta and other cities? Let’s first be clear about a few things. First, the Christian governor of Chinese descent did not intend to insult Islam or the Quran — and he has apologized for sounding offensive.
It is hardly possible that someone holding a double minority identity and running for an election in Indonesia would intentionally taunt a sacred symbol of the religion embraced by the majority of the voters — unless he secretly wanted to lose.
At best, he can be said to have harshly accused “people” who have “used” a Quranic verse for “lying” to potential voters. And by “people” it does not necessarily mean ulema — as the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has interpreted and as such declared his statement a form of blasphemy — but people without any definitive identification.
So, what kind of blasphemy did Ahok commit? The clear answer for this question is that it is unclear. A different interpretation of the Quran must not be and is not blasphemy.
Accusations or criticism against people (whether Muslims or ulema) are not the same as insulting Islam and its sacred symbols, unless ulema are literally considered a sacred embodiment of Islam, which is absurd and would put our often-prided democracy in danger.
One of the MUI leaders said on a TV show that Ahok’s allegedly blasphemous statement implied that the Quran had become a “tool for lying”.
Well, this statement implies, instead, that a lot of Muslims, which could include some figures in the MUI itself, have committed blasphemy because they have made statements using the Quran to spread hatred toward people of different beliefs and to justify violence.
With no clear basis of evidence except from some people whose feelings have been offended, prosecuting Ahok under the law on religious defamation and Article 156a of the Criminal Code (KUHP) — which is most likely — is, therefore, highly problematic.
Instead, some of the leaders of the rally can be prosecuted under the article that comes immediately before the KUHP Article 156a for racist speech that clearly urges violence.
Some leaders of the groups that organized the rally in Jakarta are widely known to be sharper tongued and deliver hate speech much more often than Ahok does. A sadly ironic reality is: How can these people be somehow immune?
Now, the question is: How will this costly, unproductive conflict be put to an end? The ideal option in my opinion is that it is solved by a peaceful, dialogic process through a non-litigation approach.
The state facilitates the process — which has actually been regulated under the 2012 law on conflict resolution — and the protestors accept Ahok’s apology.
Not only does this need almost no cost, it would also restore our unity, democracy and, no less important, the often-portrayed tolerance of Indonesian Islam.
Let us not forget that the Quran, which the protesters wanted to defend, not only talks about verse Al-Maidah 51 and punishment; it also encourages Muslims to be forgiving and merciful, not least toward a person who has apologized.
Let us not forget also that the two largest Muslim organizations in the country, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, did not support the anti-Ahok rally, and an MUI branch even prohibited the usage of its logo in the rally.
This should mean the state has legitimacy — it does, and it has big support behind it — to deal with the conflict in such a way.
The only thing it needs is its willingness to exert its power, not to be dictated to and to lose against the pressure of some Muslim groups that do not represent the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims.
To be more realistic, however, the protestors insist not only that Ahok be prosecuted but also jailed — a “verdict” was issued at the rally’s “trial”, while Ahok himself has yet to be officially declared a suspect.
This means not only the non-litigation approach is less likely to happen but also, if later Ahok is declared free from blasphemy, it is likely that those Muslim groups will be outraged again and solve the conflict in anarchic or vigilant ways.
An analysis that Ahok is merely an intermediate target while the ultimate goal is the Jokowi administration cannot be discounted.
Nevertheless, whatever the outcome of the trial later, it is likely to cost religious polarization, which is prone to conflict on a larger scale.
What happened in the Ambon riots shortly after the reform in 1999 was triggered by a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim at a bus terminal, and it escalated very quickly into a huge intercommunal conflict because polarization along religious lines had existed for years due to the sectarian policies of the New Order regime.
To minimize the impact, therefore, wise and careful moves are expected from leaders of Muslim organizations who may become a reference for consultation during Ahok’s prosecution (a counter-rally may be an idea to consider for showing who has the real, bigger force).
To disprove some suspicions, the two rivals of Ahok in the Jakarta election are hoped to confirm that they have nothing to do with — or, if necessary, will not benefit from — Ahok being charged with blasphemy.
More importantly, considering the expenses this nation would face, the state has to look for creative political action to make sure that our diversity is not destroyed by an election in one of our 34 provinces.
— This article was originally published in the Jakarta Post, 9/11/2016