FPI notorious for violence against religious minorities

The Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders' Front, is an Islamic organisation in Indonesia known for religious intolerance.

It was founded by Islamic scholar Habib Rizieq Shihab in 1998 - at the height of the racial unrest and violence against minority ethnic Chinese living in Jakarta then.

During those early years, the FPI allegedly had the backing of local police and military leaders. Many of them were never held accountable for the violent actions of the group.

These days, it remains notorious for acts of vigilantism and violence against religious minorities.

In 2014, it demonstrated against the appointment of Chinese-Christian politician Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as acting governor of Jakarta. It argued that a non-Muslim should not lead the capital of a predominantly Muslim country.

A key mission of the group is to implement Islamic law in Indonesia, but an International Crisis Group Report in 2008 referred to the FPI as "an urban thug organisation".

Indeed, it has a long history of terrorising society in the name of Islam, as well as carrying out random crackdowns on nightspots and vice dens.

In his book, The Politics Of Protection Rackets In Post-New Order Indonesia, author Ian Douglas Wilson wrote that FPI raids are "carefully calculated" to overlook bars and clubs owned by the group's associates.

Before the mass street protests against Mr Basuki over allegations of blasphemy last year, the FPI had engaged in several instances of violence against non-Muslims, as well as Muslims who did not embrace its hardline doctrine.

These incidents included an attack on some 200 Christians, moderate Muslims and other minorities, who were rallying for religious tolerance at the National Monument in Jakarta in 2008.

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'FPI notorious for violence against religious minorities'. Print Edition | Subscribe