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Indonesian extremists use communism as political tool

Communist threat has seen waves of violence in past 50 years, now it is being wielded in the name of radical Islam
Indonesian extremists use communism as political tool

Indonesian Muslims gather in Jakarta's National Monument Park for a rally against Jakarta's Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, on Dec. 2, 2016. Hardline Muslims are expected to rally again on Sept 29 to protest against a perceived revival of communism in Indonesia. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

Published: September 29, 2017 05:14 AM GMT
Updated: September 29, 2017 05:19 AM GMT

An estimated 50,000 Muslim hardliners were expected to rally in Jakarta on Sept. 29 to protest against a revival of the long-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI, Indonesian acronym), with many calling the protest a politically driven movement.

The rally to be held outside parliament comes the day before the 52nd commemoration of the country’s communist purge, which led to the killing of more than 500,000 people after seven army generals were murdered.

Nearly 20,000 security officers will guard the rally, which is believed by many as a way to build on the success following the "212" protest that successfully sent then Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian, to jail.

The "212" protest refers to Dec. 2 last year when thousands of Muslim hardliners demanded Purnama, known as Ahok, be arrested for blasphemy. He was later sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Quran.

"The rally is a warning against people. We want to remind them of how powerful PKI was. PKI is a latent menace," Aminuddin, the rally’s spokesman, told ucanews.com on Sept. 27.

Last week, a seminar held at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation’s headquarters to discuss events during the communist purge was broken up by Muslim groups.

"The event was a concrete form of the PKI’s latent menace," he said.

However, Yaqut Qolil Qoumas, chairman of GP Ansor — the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama or the largest Islamic organization, called the PKI revival issue illogical and believed that it is being used by Muslim hardliners as a political tool.

"We still remember how the '212' rally attacked Ahok. Now they create fears among people with this issue," he said. "There is no other agenda but to seize power."

Bedjo Untung, a victim of the communist purge, claimed that the Muslims hardliners’ endgame is "taking down President Joko Widodo" who was attacked by smear campaigns during the 2014 presidential election accusing him of being a child of a PKI member.

"We know the president wants to clobber PKI," he said.

For Indonesia’s Chinese community, the anti-communism issue has led decades of suffering.

"We have suffered the stigma of being the cause of the communist purge," said Edward Shu, a Chinese businessman.

After the communist purge in 1965, Chinese community were caught up in a wave of anti-communism that resulted in one of the darkest periods in the nation’s history as up to two million Chinese were killed by both authorities and lynch mobs. In 1967, then president, Soeharto, issued a decree prohibiting Chinese New Year celebrations.

According to Asvi Warman Adam, a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the upcoming regional elections are behind the rising issue of PKI’s revival.

In June 2018, at least 17 provinces, 39 municipalities and 115 districts will hold regional elections, including Bali province.

"Communism, which is related to religion, is a very interesting issue," he said.

In fact, some radical groups were successful in backing Anies Baswedan, a Muslim, to take a commanding lead over Ahok in the Jakarta election earlier this year.

"Now they use the anti-communism issue to attack President Widodo," he said.

In May 2019, the country will hold its five yearly presidential election.

"They stress that PKI is a demon. When they say that the president is a child of a PKI member, the conclusion is clear: president is a demon," he said.

He also believed that political parties are behind the radical groups. "So this is all a political game," he said.

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