Morality Racketeering: Vigilantism and Populist Islamic Militancy in Indonesia
Unlike Islamist groups ostensibly concerned with the overturning or radical transformation of the state, or Islamic political parties seeking to wrest power via elections, Islamic vigilante groups in Indonesia such as the Defenders of Islam Front, or Front Pembela Islam (FPI) have pursued a socially conservative ‘anti-vice’ and ‘anti-apostasy’ agenda against the perceived liberal excesses, ‘licentiousness’ and moral corruption of contemporary Indonesian society, which are seen as threatening the cohesiveness and integrity of the wider Islamic community.1 This mission, framed by the Quranic edict of amar makruf nahi mungkar, usually translated as ‘enjoining good and forbidding evil’, has been operationalized via violent attacks on ‘dens of iniquity’ (tempat maksiat) and religious minorities, street protests and mobilizations, together with attempts at ‘capturing’ and wresting control of local neighbourhoods from competing predatory and violence-wielding groupṣ2 Organizationally it has developed a nation wide branch system, with the central leadership based in the central Jakarta district of Pertamburan. Street level action has been combined at the local and national leadership levels by alliance building and patronage with political elites, which has enabled them to continue since 1998 with little in the way of sustained legal sanction and with an increasing capacity to exert leverage over local government and the police.3
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