Indonesia’s Moderate Islam Forum and the BJP

On Friday, August 26, 2022, The Print published an article regarding a summit (R20) planned by the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, hoping to “quell the ideas of radical Islam and extremism and promote moderatism.” Language like this already rings alarm bells, considering the notorious Prevent and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)’s strategy of delineating arbitrary markers of radicalization that entraps Muslims under what becomes effectively a police state. The nail in the coffin, so to speak, is the presence of a central committee member, Ram Madhav, a BJP politician who once served as General Secretary of the party and is a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP is India’s ruling party, and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an architect of the 2002 Gujarat massacre of Muslims.

The RSS, a Hindu fascist movement, is a supporter of the summit. The BJP sits within the RSS umbrella organization — Bharath Syal, in a previous article, discusses the development of the RSS and the fascist ideologies rampant in Indian politics, and increasingly in society. In fact, Bal Thackeray, the founder of Shiv Sena, an outfit that once allied with BJP and continues to perpetuate flourishing Hindu nationalism, made an explicit analogy to Nazi Germany in a 1993 interview: “There is nothing wrong if Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany…if you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word ‘Jew’ and put in the word ‘Muslim,’ that is what I believe in.”

The RSS-BJP outfit itself relies on historical revisionism and lies to spread outrage at a supposed threat to Hindus, particularly by Muslims, viewing them as bastardized Arabs who must entertain glorification of the Hindu Nation if they are to be restored to equal footing. Recently, Ram Madhav stated his belief in a myth of Islamic colonialism of the region, arguing that “once Indian Muslims ‘accept’ that their roots predate the Islamic invasions of the country and forsake the ‘iconoclastic’ mediaeval history of Islam, Hindus will also stop talking about the “destruction that happened hundreds of years ago”, and that they need to give up the concepts of kafir, ummah, and jihad. Earlier this year, he also endorsed the hijab ban in Karnataka.

Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, warns of an impending genocide in India. The last few years have been strife with ongoing witch hunts against Muslims stripping them of their livelihood, their religion, and their lives. That anyone explicitly in support of the BJP, no less an active high-ranking member of the party, is not only welcomed but serving as an architect of such a summit is foul at best. It is a disgrace to any standard of morality that Hindu nationalism enjoys such respectability, and extremism of an Islamic flavor — with no definition, just an arbitrary invocation of “reconciliation and forgiveness” and “recontextualization of obsolete and problematic teachings of religion.” Additionally, obsolete and problematic by what standards? Is the RSS really going to be involved in a project policing Islamic morality? What moral standing do they have?

Next, we can turn to consider CVE, although in a different context and society, the paradigm has failed in its efforts. CVE did not address radicalization from other communities, like that of the KKK, instead assuming Muslim radicalization is the largest threat, and that only Muslims are capable of carrying out such violence. In failing to focus on the reality of daily violence, the role of the nation-state and historical context, a CVE-like solution betrays an understanding of Islam to be uniquely capable of sowing destruction. This understanding not only requires logically revisiting conceptions of jihad, but selective reformation of legal methodology, jurisprudence, and an Islamic framework altogether. Ustadh Mobeen Vaid provides a robust background and details issues with the CVE paradigm in an article here, among which is that advocates of the program “frequently make explicit use of this method, arguing that the West in general, and America in particular, has a responsibility to endorse — both overtly and covertly — interpretations of Islam that coincide with contemporary liberal and Western socio-cultural norms.”

The UK-formed Prevent strategy is similarly fraught, with one report from the advocacy organization CAGE concluding, “PREVENT is no longer about terrorism and violence’, but is instead ‘about ideology, beliefs and values” and that “opposition to fundamental British values” can “encapsulate all Muslims” — simply by virtue of being Muslim. Failure is not surprising given that there is no empirical evidence that these programs work, and they also assign individual responsibility to the complex consequences of domestic policies and foreign affairs that are by and large neither created nor supported by us. We are victims of violence as well.

That fact that the organizers and Indonesian government are holding hands with such Indian representatives and government leaders in a farce of “reconciliation and forgiveness” is disrespectful not only to the non-Muslims (including Hindus) who are invested in efforts that do not fall to prey such vile recourse, but to Indian Muslims that are living under severe threat of violence, torture and detention. This harms the credibility of Indonesian Muslim organizations engaged on an international stage. As one Indonesian writer notes,

The global far-right movement has increasingly broad networks across Europe, Asia, and the United States, and its members are more than willing to politicise religion to exclude religious minorities, particularly Muslims. Engaging with far-right leaders like Madhav and Orbán is already leading to ‘moderate Islam’ being used to justify regressive policies in other countries without any tangible benefits for Indonesian Muslims.

Unless these organizations and leaders are willing to demand, under no platitudes, accountability of the RSS-BJP’s crimes, there is no benefit they could possibly bring to a summit supposedly about democracy, and calls to not “politicize Islam, and to marginalize those who would exploit Islam in such a way as to harm others.” 

What is this summit if not “politicizing Islam” as a tool for furthering false dreams of pluralism and reconciliation with those who support such vile ideologies, and the strengthening of a falsely informed ‘Islam’? How is this not exploitation of Islam? The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), one of the organizers, and the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, one of the summit’s supporters, should take heed and critically examine the remarkable failure of this counterterrorism model in light of violent, ultra-nationalist involvement.

Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

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