The Straits Times says

Jakarta's weapon against subversion

Indonesia's decision to disband the Muslim hardline group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) is a welcome admission of the threat which extremist groups pose to the plural society and the unitary politics of South-east Asia's largest nation. HTI opposes Indonesia's social plurality by calling for hardline Islamic law in a religiously diverse nation. And it transgresses the boundaries of unitary politics by wanting to bring all Muslims into a caliphate. That would put the country's Muslims outside the sovereign sway of the Indonesian nation-state.

Regrettably, the organisation has been allowed to operate with brazen impunity for decades, and has garnered tens of thousands of followers in the process. To prevent a fundamental challenge to the state ideology of Pancasila and the erosion of state authority, the administration of President Joko Widodo has no choice but to take firm action against HTI. The means chosen by Jakarta is the issuance of a regulation in lieu of law, better known by its acronym Perppu. This will allow for the dissolution of a civil society organisation if it is found to have committed offences, one of which is opposition to Pancasila.

This is an important issue because it is Pancasila that has seen Indonesia through challenges mounted by communism and insurgent religiosity. The pluralism and tolerance that lie at the heart of Pancasila underpin Indonesia's character as a sovereign unitary republic. Any challenge to Pancasila, therefore, must be taken seriously, whether it comes from the political left - as was the case in the 1960s - or from the religious right, as is the case now.

As expected, the Perppu has sparked concerns over potential violations of the right to assemble because it grants the government the power to disband mass groups without due process. However, the decision is not antithetical to civil society but, on the contrary, seeks to protect it from the subversive politics of HTI which aims to suppress pluralism. Perversely, HTI claims the rights of freedom of association and expression, which will be denied to all by the caliphate it envisages. HTI has the temerity to assert that the Perppu is not respecting the Constitution, when it showed scant respect for electoral processes by contributing to the polarising and divisive conduct exhibited with little restraint during the Jakarta governorship election earlier this year.

The law must prevail against the lawless who use religion to cloak their political goals. The advocation of secession and internal religious subversion must be countered decisively. Of course, Indonesia must strike its own balance between the necessary freedoms of civil society and the protective ambit of the state, which guards one and all. In so doing, Jakarta ought to assure people it will not use the Perppu to stifle legitimate dissent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta's weapon against subversion'. Print Edition | Subscribe