Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sharia Law is an Odd Sort of Campaign Promise

The other day a colleague found herself in the position of having to defend herself to members of a committee she belongs to after having been called “a bad Democrat” by the Chair of the Democratic party in her town for her voting practice on that committee.  “I was just so angry,” she told me, “and I don’t know why it bothered me so much, or why I thought it was imperative that I defend my ‘honor.’  I had nothing to apologize for; my committee certainly did not think less of me and understood the stand I took, but boy, the notion that a bunch of people representing my party had decided that because of something they didn’t agree with they were going to declare me as 'no good . . '   well, it still pisses me off.”

I started thinking about this, this way that some groups can decide who’s a “good” or “bad” member, and how members willingly buy into this on a large scale, as I was writing the next-to-last post about Dar Islam and its advocacy of an “Islamist State.”  And how the original intent of this group has been perverted and twisted to serve the specific will of a few power-hungry politicians who have no real interest in sticking to the letter of Sharia Law but who understand the Pavlovian-like response that most people have to being called an unworthy member of a group that has given them, in the past, some measure of identity and comfort.

If you asked the average Acehnese citizen if they want the Sharia police breathing down their necks, or if they want this new Sharia 2.0 implemented, or if they felt that they themselves were good and devout Muslims, they would say heck no to the stoning, the veil mandates, and the countless prohibitions of anything that remotely resembles art or fun, and they would say yes I am a devout and pious Muslim.  Even the Aceh punks, who were arrested a few months ago for wearing Ramones-like clothes, playing music, dancing and sporting very snazzy Mohawks, regularly attended Mosque and stated that they were extremely good Muslims.  (; )

Former provincial governor Irwandi was in the position of losing either way when he was presented with the Sharia resolution.  He didn’t sign it, but he did not come out against it either. He couldn’t win-- the ulema (religious community) has everyone repeating the same. . . well . . .  catechism, if you will: “if you’re against Sharia law, you’re against Islam” and nobody wants to be accused of that. (Zaini, the current governor, signed it.)

For some reasons these challenges (actually just name-calling, like “You’re a bad Democrat”) are surprisingly effective in producing knee-jerk reactions that usually take the form of showing the accuser just how [progressive, pious, loyal, conservative, vegetarian, etc etc etc] we really are—including those of us who normally couldn’t care less what “they” think of us.

The push for Sharia law by de Tiro’s group in 1942 was the one way he knew of that would (non-violently, he hoped) separate the Aceh constitution from the Indonesian constitution.  If Aceh and Dar Islam could get Sharia recognized as the law of Aceh then it would be independent with no ties constitutionally to Indonesia/Jakarta.  Instant independence.  The freedom was economic and social as much as it was religious.  In 1970 Jakarta was appropriating most of the profits from petroleum extraction in Aceh.  Dar Islam, revived again,  wanted the profits to stay where they were.

Currently the ex-GAM/Partai Aceh politicians are pushing Jakarta further and further to see how far they can goad the administration. The Sharia police may be causing quite a kerfluffle around the province right now, but it’s my opinion that if Jakarta really saw some inherent danger in what was going on as far as excessive trampling of human rights, they’d come in and squash this “resolution” like a bug.  (Not because of any worship of human rights, but because of the perception that Aceh was in fact making and enforcing its own edicts when it has no legal power to do so.)  The first foreigner who gets arrested for not wearing a veil . . . the first non-citizen to be caned . . . and the Sharia police get sent back to the barracks without supper.  It’s just not enough of an issue right now for Jakarta.  Sharia law is NOT the legal purview of Aceh, no matter what it says.  Aceh is autonomous, not independent. 

But waving the Sharia banner gives these candidates the sheen of being “pro independence” which speaks to average citizens who remember the conflict.  Problem is, their leaders do not. The ex-GAM leaders have no idea what went on during the majority of the 30-year conflict—they were all in exile in Sweden or Malaysia.  Hasan de Tiro was exiled in Sweden for 30 years , Governor Zaini and his vice governor were in exile for the majority of the conflict , de Tiro’s second in command was also exiled, Nur Djali, the former head of BRA (the ministry for ex-combatants), was also out of Aceh.  The list goes on.

All these combatant leaders had no idea what was really happening on the ground—no feeling for what regular people (or regular foot soldiers) were going through because they were only in touch with their higher ranking members.  If they had been in the field they would have had more of a sense of fairness when the dust settled and the MoU was signed.  It was nothing for them to let 19,000 of their 22,000 members twist in the wind in the hinterlands, without job prospects, without pensions, without government positions . . . because (and this is the kind view) they just did not have any idea of how much these people gave up to continue the revolution on their behalf.

And it was bad enough that they didn’t know what their own people needed and wanted, they didn’t have a clue about what was happening in Jakarta.  In Jakarta, as in other large political communities, it’s a marker’s business.  These ex-GAM “leaders” did not understand the effects that political will in Jakarta would or could have on Aceh.  They came back with nothing to trade, no markers to call in.  No one owed them any favors, and in a very short time they owed many.

Remember, former governor Irwandi was seen as a “traitor” because he was not interested in the “Sharia Law or bust” method of getting the best deal for Aceh.  Unlike his colleagues, he did have some contact with Acehnese during the conflict, and was exiled in Malaysia only briefly (after spending some time in prison in Aceh until he escaped when the 2004 tsunami hit).  But he had a better idea of how politics operated in Jakarta, so he knew what might work better.  But this moderate approach was seen (or spun) as a “sellout” and a capitulation.

But even with his minor understanding of the workings of Jakarta’s political machinery, Irwandi could not fully understand how to set up a mechanism to appropriately compensate or reintegrate the majority of ex-combatants into the fabric of Aceh’s economy and social structure. Jakarta sent millions  per month in economic appropriations and allocations to Aceh, under the condition that what was not spent was returned to Jakarta.  One of Irwandi’s campaign promises was to compensate ex-combatants—and in fact the BRA was set up to do just that, with a $40 million budget.  Hardly any of it was appropriated, the rest was spent incorrectly, and the remainder, plus the monthly Aceh stipend, was returned to Jakarta.  No one in that group of Irwandi and all his favorite high-ranking GAM people, for all their rhetoric, could figure out how to set up the appropriate apparatus to compensate these men or provide social services—they just didn’t have real-world experience.  And it was far too much to steal, even for them . . . so back it went, and BRA folded, a well-funded but abject failure. 

Now this is pure Sara-based theory, backed up by absolutely nothing.  I want to make that very clear.
I believe that this whole mess ties in to Probowa and his desire to have Aceh in his pocket in order to win the presidential election.
Why?  Beside the fact that he’s a vicious maniac with no scruples?
He will promise Partai Aceh, “if you vote for me and I get in, I will promote Sharia law and you will be able to do what you want to do.”
This would be a form of independence in principle . . . but since what PA wants is true independence, and Sharia is only the vehicle and not the destination, this may backfire.
For one thing, what is to keep Probowa from going back on his word? 
And how will “true” Sharia affect Aceh’s economic resources that Jakarta is so fond of appropriating?  Speaking of which, what self-serving politician in his right mind is going to grant independence to its one true cash cow? [Think of now-independent Kosovo and its diamond mines that are still controlled by Serbia.]

At the end of the day Aceh will still not be independent, and it will have bought itself a repressive system that nobody, not even the clergy, truly wants. Ratcheting up this issue just to gain political points only makes regular citizens suffer.

As long as I’m on a roll I think I will dip a toe into the pool of Sharia Law as Crummy Administrator tomorrow, with some help from historians and law professors Sami Zubaida, Ebrahim Afsah, and Chilbi Mallat.

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