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Identity Politics and Anies Baswedan

When the former Indonesian minister of culture and education, Anies Baswedan, won the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election, various entities, both in Indonesia and beyond, considered his victory as a sign of the ascendance of radical Islam in the country. Anies is seen as a proponent of hard-line Islam and there are musings that Indonesian society should be worried as an Islamist leader is now dominating the capital. Such accusations are indeed baseless and only creating a scarecrow that “identity politics” should not have a place in the country. In this case, that Islam is not compatible with the country’s constitution and should not be influencing mainstream Indonesian politics and policymaking.

This, however, is actually not a new thing in the Indonesian political landscape. It is an old propaganda that has always been voiced when there is a rise of Islamic politics. To me, this is funny and dubious. Looking at certain facts about Baswedan and his deputy, these accusations are in reality far from the truth.

Pursuing an undergraduate major in economics at Indonesia’s top university, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Baswedan was once active in the Islamic Student Association (HMI). Afterwards, he continued to pursue his Masters and Ph.D at Northern Illinois University in the United States.

Returning to Indonesia, he became the research director at the Indonesian Institute and eventually became the rector of Universitas Paramadina, a university founded by a moderate Muslim figure, Nurcholish Madjid. He also founded an education movement, “Indonesia Mengajar,” which aims to send some young Indonesians to remote areas of the country to teach. There is no sign that his thinking is influenced by radical Islam or any related ideology.

Baswedan supported the current president, Joko Widodo, during the 2014 presidential election and later was invited to take the post of culture and education minister. He never participated in any political Islamic groups or religious-based movements.

As for his deputy Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, he is one of the country’s wealthiest young businessmen. Growing up as a cosmopolitan kid, he completed his primary and secondary education at Christian and Catholic schools. After that, he went to the U.S to pursue undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Before becoming a fulltime businessman, he was once a banker and lived in Canada and Singapore.

Soon after the global crisis ended, he decided to delve into business world. He partnered with his classmates during high school and college in the U.S., from different ethnics and religious backgrounds. Like Baswedan, Uno never took part in Islamic-based movements or organisations. He was once the chairman of young Indonesian businessman association (HIPMI) and is still active in the organization. Uno became involved in Indonesian politics when he was appointed as the vice chairman of Gerindra party.

Both Baswedan and Uno are typical members of the young Indonesian generations of well-educated families. Baswedan’s parents were both university lecturers. Mien Uno, Uno’s mother, is also a teacher, while his father was a professional in mining industry. These parents instilled moderate Islamic life to their children. But today, after winning the gubernatorial elections, their sons are stamped as hard-line Islamists.

It does not make sense. Even Yenny Wahid, the daughter of the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, said recently to the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that the recent gubernatorial election is not a victory for radical groups. The two individuals were brought up in moderate Muslim families, educated in the West, and never took part in any politically religious organisations. Baswedan and Uno were nominated by the Gerindra party and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). It is undeniable that many Muslim figures generally anchored in favor of Baswedan. For a long time, many of these figures have been moving to slow the pace of the previous Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known colloquially as Ahok. They even repeatedly came up with potential names, but these were not of Baswedan or even Uno.

They also asked Ahok’s party to not nominate Ahok stating that they would support anyone but Ahok. Many Islamic groups and figures have long showed their rejection against Ahok due to his uncontrollable anger. That sentiment grew even further after Ahok’s perceived desecration of the Holy Qur’an. It is true that groups that are often viewed as radical such as the Islamic Front Defense (FPI) also rejected Ahok. But they are only small in number in comparison to other mainstream Muslim organisations such as Muhammadiyah or Nadhatul Ulama (NU) and the Muslim population in general. This was clearly demonstrated with an exit poll which found that approximately 60% of Muslims rejected Ahok. The survey also demonstrates that Baswedan’s supporters came from different religious backgrounds.

The accusation that a hard-line Islamist government is rising in the Indonesian capital is undoubtedly unfounded. People who know the backgrounds of Baswedan and his deputy well would also not think so. No matter what, Baswedan has won the election. It is only him and his deputy who can put to right the widespread accusation. The two hold the responsibility to prove not only that they are contrary to what being slandered against them, but also that they are capable of creating a better Jakarta.