The Platform

Kepolisian Negara Republik Indonesia

Recently, a Jakarta court rejected Hizb ut-Tahrir’s appeal following its official disbandment last year. According to the government, Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned because the organisation’s values contradict the country’s constitution.

Despite its early entry and clandestine movement in Indonesia in the 1980s, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities were not apparent until Suharto relaxed restrictions on Islamic groups in the 1990s.

Indonesia’s lax laws were then used by Hizb ut-Tahrir to gain publicity and to propagate their belief in the establishment of a caliphate. Its most prominent activities included organising the Al-Khilafah Al-Islamiyah conference in 2000 which gathered hundreds of members and sympathizers and held marches during the general election in 2004 to propagate the group’s views to carefully select a candidate willing to implement Sharia law.

On a daily basis, the organisation’s activities focus on promoting the idea of establishing a caliphate and the importance of adhering to Sharia through various platforms including organising conferences, seminars, or distributing pamphlets in public. In addition, the organisation also has a strong online presence.

The group attracted the attention of the public by responding to issues as in the case of supposed blasphemy by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the former governor of Jakarta, in 2016.

Although Hizb ut-Tahrir’s ideology may be perceived as dangerous, the government’s approach seems unworkable. The organisation has never violated the law. It is important to note that Hizb ut-Tahrir upholds the idea that establishing an Islamic caliphate can only be done through peaceful means. It condemns any acts of violence and has denounced the Islamic State.

Therefore, the claim that the organisation is very dangerous and likely to encourage people to perpetrate terrorist attacks appears to be fear-mongering. When the government is not properly informed about certain groups’ activities, its policies might focus on the wrong targets.

At the same time, there is no assurance that the government’s approach will be effective. As a matter of fact, Hizb ut-Tahrir had already proclaimed that the government’s disbandment will not stop their activities to promote the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

Moreover, this misplaced policy will worsen a problem that the government aims to eradicate in the first place. It is likely that the government’s decision to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir will encourage resentment towards the government among its sympathizers.

What instead should be done is to oppose Hizb ut-Tahrir with a soft approach. Instead of taking a hard approach, the government needs to carry out socialisation efforts about what is wrong with the worldviews propagated by Hizb ut-Tahrir.

While organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir carry out their campaigns through various civil society groups, the mainstream media, the Internet, academic institutions, and places of worship, the government’s counter efforts must also be carried out in the same way. For example, it could promote the idea that the country’s own ideologies are the most suitable to be applied through mass media or by incorporating certain subjects in the national curriculum to be taught at schools or universities.

Whatever approach the government adopts in the future, what is clear is that not addressing the issue properly will only result in more conflict and will fuel more anger among these groups. This will ultimately be another test for the government and a reflection of its ability to deal with radicalism in its own backyard.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a journalist and academician from Indonesia. He is currently a lecturer at Universitas Islam Indonesia and a research associate at Jakarta-based Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF). Muhammad holds a B.A. in International Affairs from Qatar University, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D in Politics from the University of Manchester in the UK. As an academic, his research focuses on China/Indonesia-Middle East relations. Meanwhile, as a journalist, he works on Indonesian politics and disability issues.