Fire Sale: Muslim Voters and the Chinese Bogeyman

Jakarta’s politics never ceased to amaze me. Just when I thought the religion card couldn’t have been used more coarsely, Instagram delivered a surprise earlier this week. And to think I actually logged into Instagram to avoid the highly-political Twitter.

It started with a group of hijab-wearing women posting the hashtag #MuslimvoteMuslim that went viral. When I did a quick search, the hashtag didn’t conclusively show allegiance for Gubernatorial candidate No. 1 or No. 3, but it’s very clear showing no support for Gubernatorial candidate No. 2, the incumbent who happens to be a Christian. Within the same day a riposte appeared on the same social media platform, a #Muslimsvotesmart hashtag that was promoted by also hijab-wearing women and, interestingly, Arab-Indonesians who wear no hijabs.

As I’ve written here before, I’m no fan of Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. I have misgivings about certain aspects of his policies, and I believe for a public officer he runs his mouth too freely it constantly sparks unnecessary conflicts. Yet I am very, very much against drawing the voting line based on religion because, to me, it goes directly against our country’s “Unity in Diversity” motto. The Constitution clearly recognizes equality for people of all religions, ethnicities, tribes and races—we all pay taxes, we all can vote, and we all can be voted for. Murmurs of sectarian preference have always been around, but to put it openly in public like this, to me, is scary. Why?

To me, #MuslimvoteMuslim supporters are saying that no matter of merits and qualifications non-Muslims aren’t good enough to lead Muslims in civil matters, which show how they fundamentally fail to distinguish between choosing someone to lead a mosque or manage a province. To me, #MuslimvoteMuslim is a slippery slope to saying no to electing a non-Muslim to be mayor, police chief, association chair(wo)man, office manager, and one day, class president in an elementary school. To me, #MuslimvoteMuslim and its possible variations like “Melayu vote Melayu”, “Javanese vote Javanese”, or “Tionghoa vote Tionghoa” (no, I’m not blind to non-Muslims or Chinese-descendants voting for Ahok precisely because of his race and religion) is against the inherent idea of Indonesia. To me, #MuslimvoteMuslim is using religion to exercise one’s constitutional right to vote while denying another’s right to be voted for based on constitution, hence is as much a slap to human rights as Trump’s blocking of Muslim refugees in the US that, ironically, most Muslims in Indonesia are loudly protesting about.

On the other hand, the #Muslimsvotesmart campaign, while I realize was born as a reaction and noble in intent, also poses a problem. The problem is, again, putting one’s religion as the factor voters have to be conscious about. It’s difficult to remind people not to vote based on a candidate’s religion when the voters are simultaneously reminded of their own religion. Just as the campaign it purported to counter, the #Muslimsvotesmart campaign fell swiftly into the religion card.

Yet, what if the hottest card is not religion? As I heavily-hearted left Instagram to reenter Twitter, I stumbled into a new survey. Run over 1,016 Muslim Jakarta voters by Nathanael Gratias, a US-based Indonesian pursuing Ph.D in Politics, the survey showed that while respondents were fully aware that not only Ahok was a Christian but also that some clergies had forbade Muslims to vote for non-Muslims, those didn’t factor in voting decision as pivotal as when respondents were reminded that Ahok was of ethnic Tionghoa. In this survey, it’s the ethnicity that matters, not faith.

Apparently, doesn’t matter that History 101 taught in Indonesian schools cited anthropology sources proving that ancestors of people now united under the Republic of Indonesia came from Yunnan in southern China tens of thousands years ago, or that the “newer” immigration flows from China have gone on for centuries– some citizens of Indonesia’s capital that was only formed in 1945 still think of Chinese descendants as aliens. Something foreign, best to be suspected or feared altogether. Worse than Trump who uses relatively recent Islamic extremists to ban refugees from Muslim-majority countries, and more like the views Hitler held of Jews who’d been living in Europe since Middle Age. Legal, but unequal. The bogeyman people quietly tell kids to stay away from.

I think it’d be interesting if the survey could be modified to include majority of non-Muslims Jakarta voters to see if the same tendency showed. If yes, then there’s a bigger problem. It means 71 years of being unified under the same republic gives not much more than the same seal on ID. This is even scarier as ethnicity is a very slippery slope to splitting hairs on “nativity”; soon Dayaks could again refuse Madurese they deemed “immigrants”, Bajau folks kicked out of Tarakan or Labuan Bajo, Balinese rejecting every other native groups making a living in their rich province, and the adventurous Padang tribe not allowed to move and open another Padang restaurant in any other province.

How fragile the fabric underneath Indonesia, it remains. How undisturbed the political powers of this grim reality that they wittingly played both the religion and race cards for the country’s capital’s Gubernatorial election. How nonchalantly the Muslim voters and Chinese bogeyman have been manipulated, for a stake that is not only a Governor’s seat but a sense of national identity. Regardless who wins comes February 15th, the fire sale has cheapened us all.

As published: 

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