Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Emotive Politics: Islamic Organizations and Religious Mobilization in Indonesia

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Emotive Politics: Islamic Organizations and Religious Mobilization in Indonesia

Article excerpt

Islam appears to be on the rise in Indonesian politics. From local to national elections, more and more candidates--regardless of party affiliation--increasingly invoke Islamic attributes, demonstrate piety and reach out to religious leaders. Politicians mobilize along religious identity to appeal to Muslim voters. For many observers, the defeat of the incumbent governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election epitomized this phenomena. (1) Prior to the election, a series of religious mass rallies occurred in which protesters demanded that Ahok, a ChineseIndonesian Christian, be arrested and put on trial for blasphemy. Parallel to these protests, preachers delivered sermons in mosques and in social media informing people that it was sinful to elect non-Muslim leaders. Outside the electoral sphere, policy-making is also imbued with an Islamic agenda. At the local level, shariainspired regulations are increasingly being enacted (2) and appear to meet with popular approval. (3) At the national level, legislative bills with a conservative tone are gaining support from members of parliament across the political spectrum. (4)

Why are Islamic narratives increasingly prevalent in Indonesian politics? Extant accounts of Muslim democracies, especially those in the Middle East, usually cite the electoral success of Islamist parties as a causal factor. (5) Multiparty competition allows Islamist movements to be institutionalized as Islamist parties that appeal to Muslim voters. However, this explanation is at odds with the case of Indonesia, as votes for Islamist parties have been declining over the past few years. To explain this puzzle, this article seeks answers beyond formal institutions of the state and argues that the key agent is Islamic mass organizations (ormas Islam) which have become influential power brokers in democratic Indonesia. The influence of Islamic organizations as the key mobilizer is highly relevant when political outcomes are largely determined by participatory forces such as local elections (especially for the executive branch) and sharia-influenced policies. This article defines Islamic organizations as interest groups that declare Islam as their ideological platform. While this article focuses on formal organizations, it also recognizes that they also build informal social networks.

Islamist organizations matter because they have at least three advantages compared to other political actors: moral authority, organizational capacity and political patronage. First, Islamist groups are endowed with the moral authority that comes through their use of theological doctrine; they stimulate reasoning that frames Islam as both an identity and a political ideology, with the two aspects intimately connected. It is through the reproduction of Muslims' quotidian experiences that an Islamic creed infuses piety with political meaning. Second, compared to Islamist parties, major Islamic organizations are more successful in penetrating society. They have organizational capacity at the grassroots level, derived from decades of social outreach in "non-political" settings during the New Order era (1966-98). Third, these moral and social bases provide them with access to a network of political patronage. Their linkages with elites provide Islamist groups with access to state power, through both formal and informal institutions, while simultaneously retaining popular influence.

How do Islamic organizations mobilize people? This article highlights the crucial yet overlooked mechanism of emotive appeals --defined as a strategy to win political support by eliciting emotional responses from the intended recipients. (6) Islamic groups, by claiming authoritative knowledge of religion, exploit emotional aspects of piety to define the rights and the wrongs of political choices, such as "it is sinful to elect a non-Muslim as leader" or "we are afraid that LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people and adultery destroy public morality". …

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