11/04/2020, 12.37
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Ulema Indonesians back the boycott of French products

by Mathias Hariyadi

MUI leaders want to send a "strong message" to Macron, whom they describe as "arrogant". Street protests break out in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. However, the campaign does not seem to have great effects. French imports are already small, and the boycott penalises more local merchants. The Nahdlatul Ulama calls for dialogue to overcome opposing extremisms.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Radical groups in Indonesia have expressed support for an international campaign in some parts of the Islamic world to boycott products and imported goods from France.

The initiative reflects tensions between France and Turkey in a politically exploited clash between "champions" of freedom of thought and satire against the "defenders" of the Muslim faith.

In Indonesia, the Council of Indonesian ulema (MUI) is leading the anti-French boycott. In the past, the organisation was involved in controversial initiatives such as the attack on Catholic schools or the street-side sale of food and drink during Ramadan.

"We must send a strong message to arrogant President Macron, the French leader,” said a MUI leader.

For Islamic leaders, to stop their initiative, French president must apologise and end the publication of the Mohammed cartoons.

On 2 November, a thousand Islamic extremists demonstrated, albeit peacefully, in front of the French embassy in Jakarta.

Other street protests against Paris took place in Yogyakarta where people shouted slogans and called for a boycott.

In reality, the campaign against French products vigorously re-booted by some radical Muslim groups in the world’s most populous Muslim nation does not seem destined to have a great impact.

In fact, French-Indonesian trade is far lower than that of other Western nations, like Germany, the United States, or Italy.

In total, Indonesia imports 25 French goods and products, ranging from some luxury goods and electrical appliances to cosmetics, and spare parts for cars and airplanes. However, these are largely expensive and luxury items, which do not interest mass distribution.

A recent CNBC report suggests the total trade between the two countries was US$ 1.68 billion in 2018 and US$ 1.8 billion in 2019. This is far lower than Germany or Italy, which are important trading partners for Indonesia.

The main French import is spare parts for Indonesian airliners that operate French-made Airbuses, accounting for 45 per cent of total French exports to Indonesia.

Indeed, retailers – especially small local merchants – are the most exposed to an initiative that is wrong in both means and character.

This explains why more moderate Muslim groups are not focusing on a boycott campaign whose effect remains very limited, but prefer instead to boost the image of Indonesia as a "tolerant and hospitable" nation focusing on the principles that underpin Islam.

Yahya Cholil Staquf, a leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest moderate Muslim movement, wants to see new vigour put into dialogue and exchange against the extremes, namely religious fundamentalism and relativism.

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