Hard-line Muslims, including from the Islamic Defenders Front attend a rally in Jakarta in this on Oct. 14, 2016 photo to protest against Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, the city's then Protestant governor, who is now in jail over a controversial blasphemy case. (ucanews.com photo)
Anies Rasyid Baswedan, Jakarta's governor-elect, has called on Indonesia's militant Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) to protect religious and cultural diversity.
But critics, who point to the group's reputation for religious intolerance and hate crimes, have met the suggestion with scorn.
Speaking at the FPI's 19th anniversary celebration on Aug. 19, Baswedan, who will be inaugurated as the capital's governor in October, urged the organization to improve its image. The group is popularly known by the acronym FPI, from the Indonesian: Front Pembela Islam.
"From now on, the FPI must prove itself as one of the organizations that serve as guardians of the country's diversity," Baswedan said.
He also called on the group to help tackle inequity and social injustice.
Baswedan is a former academic and political analyst as well as a former minister for education and culture.
However, activists and minority groups said he is now effectively giving the FPI the 'red carpet' treatment by embracing them.
FPI was a major supporter of Baswedan during his election campaign against his leading rival, Chinese Christian Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.
Ahok was subsequently convicted of blasphemy for having complained that voters were being falsely told it was against the Quran to vote for non-Muslims.
During the campaign, the FPI held a series of anti-Ahok rallies.
There have been claims that Baswedan secretly gave an undertaking to militant Islamic groups he would work for the implementation of Shariah in Jakarta if he won the election.
The FPI has previously attacked businesses for allegedly being involved in vice, such as prostitution, or selling alcohol to Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
Baswedan's victory has been seen by critics as at least partly due to his fanning of anti-Chinese sentiment.
Yendra Budiandra, spokesman of Ahmadiyah — a moderate minority Islamic group branded heretical by some mainstream Sunni Muslims — said Baswedan should fight religious intolerance.
"We can not take care of diversity with groups that undermine diversity," he said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of a religious freedom organization, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said it was futile to expect FPI to protect religious and cultural rights.
"Ideologically, what the FPI promotes is to uphold a sovereign state that implements Shariah law, an ideology that is contrary to the ideals of diversity, pluralism, as well as against Pancasila," Naipospos told ucanews.com on Aug. 24, referring to the national philosophy that enshrines respect for diversity.
Naipospos said that although the FPI could not be categorized as a terrorist group, its members often engaged in acts of intimidation such as damaging non-Islamic places of worship.
The FPI was established in 1998 and now claims membership of about 6 million nationwide.
About 85 percent of Indonesia's population of 240 million are Muslims, of which the majority are Sunni, some of whom are against the presence of the Shia and Ahmadiyah sects.
Reverend Palti Panjaitan, chairman of a religious rights group, said Baswedan should uphold the law including in relation to activities of the FPI.
Any failure to do so would mean Baswedan was putting his political interests ahead of his responsibilities as governor, he added.
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