10/31/2016, 13.19
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Jakarta Muslims defend Christian governor against Islamic radicals

by Mathias Hariyadi

Radical groups plan a march for 4 November against the city’s Christian governor, accused of blasphemy. In fact, the real goal is to divide the country and weaken moderate movements. Extremist groups, possibly linked to the Islamic State, plan to infiltrate protest.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – A protest march organised by Islamic fundamentalists "is not meant to criticise the governor of Jakarta but to destroy our movement, the biggest moderate Muslim group in the country,” warned Kiai Hajj Said Agil Sirodj, president of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an organisation with some 40 million members, ahead of mass protests planned for 4 November in central Jakarta.

Some radical groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), accuse Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, to have defamed Islam in words he said on 9 October.

As soon as the controversy broke out, the latter apologised to the Muslim community and “moderate” groups forgave him.

On 15 October, thousands of radical Muslims took to the streets in Jakarta to demand the governor’s ban from the 2017 elections. Ahok is an ethnic Chinese and a Christian.

For the NU, this week’s protest is not genuine because extremist groups – perhaps linked to the Islamic State – plan to infiltrate it to destabilise the country by exploiting latent radicalism.

For Agil Sirodj, the real question "is not the election of the governor of Jakarta. It is more complicated and broader than that [. . .]. The main objective is no longer Ahok. He is the means radicals want to use to destroy moderate Islam in the country."

No one knows exactly how many people will participate in the march on 4 November, but thousands of protesters are expected. NU leaders have warned the group’s members to remain on their guard and not to be dragged into protests that do not concern them.

In Jakarta, police and the army are in standby mode ready in case the demonstration turns violent.

Also in the capital, ethnic Chinese-Indonesians are deeply concerned, fearful of a resurgence of the racist sentiments that led to incidents in 14-15 May 1998. On that occasion, anti-Chinese violence broke out all over the city with attacks, rapes and killings.

“As the nation’s guardian,” said Army General Gatot Nurmantyo in a statement, “the army shall never tolerate any movement or action aimed at dividing the country through provocative and racist attitudes that stir bad sentiments from one party to another".

President Joko Widodo himself spoke out to defuse tensions. "Democracy respects the civil rights of protesters,” he said, “but it leaves no room for violence and vandalism.”

“I gave direct orders to the national police and military forces to be alert and do their duty in a professional manner to avoid any kind of incident."

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