Saturday, May 31, 2014

Koran recitation as campaign strategy: Abbot and Costello run for President

Re: the latest Jakarta Post article on the campaign shenanigans of the war criminal and the political ragdoll:  Wati tells me “I endorse 100% of this article.  That's my biggest headache--we have only 2 to choose from, and both presidential candidates are equally bad. Perhaps I should consult a psychic who can advise me how to cast my vote. . . ."

Election or ‘Muslim Idol’ contest?
Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Opinion | Fri, May 30 2014, 9:55 AM

It has long been the norm that politicians use Islam as electoral bait. But never has it been so intense as in this year’s election, which resembles an idol contest to find the best Muslim president.

The media reports that the candidates were challenged to engage in a Koran recital duel has left me flabbergasted.

I am not sure whether the challenge was serious or just being sarcastic, but all these rumors about Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto not being Muslim enough to lead the country are getting ridiculous and should be stopped.

It was Mufidah Kalla, Jokowi’s running mate Jusuf Kalla’s wife, who told reporters that Jokowi and her husband were fed up with all the negative campaigning thrown against them. “Pak JK [Jusuf Kalla] said, if Jokowi keeps getting accused of [being a non-Muslim], he will hold a Koran recital contest between Jokowi and Prabowo,” she said on the sidelines of an event that was organized by a group known as the Green Hijabers (women in Muslim headscarves) to declare support for the Jokowi-Kalla pair.

It is more upsetting that the Muslim leaders, who are also divided over the election, are taking this political farce so seriously.

Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, who obtained his PhD from UCLA in the US, for instance, recently claimed that he once tested Jokowi by allowing him to lead a zuhur prayer. He said he briefly lost focus on his own prayers since he had to ensure that Jokowi got it all right. “Allhamdulillah, everything was correct. There was nothing wrong with [his prayers],” he said.

Din might have meant well to reassure anxious voters, but, seriously, knowing how to pray in a correct manner should never be in a presidential resume.

Whether or not a president will succeed has nothing to do with how correct or how often they pray. It is downright irrelevant.

Prabowo is lucky to have gained the support of all the Islamic parties: the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the United Development Party (PPP). All he has to do is wear a peci and pray solemnly and observantly at the mosque to get the nod from Muslim voters, just as he did a few days and even hours before registering his candidacy.

Pictures of him praying next to the nation’s political bigwigs including PPP leader Suryadharma Ali, now a graft suspect, can easily be found on the Internet. Regardless of whether Prabowo and Suryadharma are really devout Muslims, what they did is political kitsch at its most banal.

And this is not going to end anytime soon.

With the Islamic fasting month starting two weeks before voting day on July 9, the issue of religiosity will only intensify. During Ramadhan, most Indonesian Muslims try hard to look more devout and observant, and they listen to what the preachers say. Neither camp will waste the chance to bedevil each other from the pulpits.

It is hard to fathom who is really to blame for this. Voters, I think, have become more rational and secular in the past few years. Poll results have confirmed that trend. But why then is this happening?

I point my finger at a handful of small-minded Muslims and politicians who have never tired of playing this issue to advance their respective causes.

They are currently engaged in fear mongering through social media, which is the most effective tool for spreading rumors and creating mass hysteria.

Fear is an effective psychological instrument to sway voters during elections. Both camps have been capitalizing on this. Sadly, as of today, there is perhaps nothing more unsettling to many Indonesian voters than knowing that one of the presidential candidates is the enemy of Islam.

It is such a shame that this is still happening now. For this is arguably the most interesting presidential election ever with both candidates having hard-core, die-hard supporters. Debates on social media about the pros and cons of the two contenders are so vibrant and intense that people are unfriending friends and even leaving Facebook because of it.

It is also worth mentioning that Jokowi and Prabowo are very close to non-Muslims. Jokowi’s current deputy in Jakarta and former deputy in Surakarta are Christians. Prabowo’s mother and brother are also Christians.

They should be the first to publicly denounce negative campaigns attacking candidates’ beliefs and should not play along with them by trying to present themselves as better Muslims.

The two, I believe, have strong enough electoral power to do that. They could put this folly to rest if they wanted to.

It is true that Muslims account for the largest share of the electorate in the country but there is nothing to gain from perpetuating the idea that someone needs to prove he is good Muslim to become a president.

This is an election, not a “Muslim Idol” contest. 

I know—let’s vote them both off the island! 
Oops—wrong show.

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