“To that group, [I say] if you don’t like me, don’t sacrifice the people. Don’t let them become victims,” he said on March 18, shortly after police discovered a fourth bomb sent to the house of a prominent music mogul.
To some, the president appeared presumptuous for assuming that he was the target, but Mufti Makaarim, executive director of the Institute for Defense, Security and Peace Studies, thinks that there is more to the remark than meets the eye.
“He knows that there are some people who benefit from religious violence and acts of terrorism. He senses that there are a few retired generals who would love to see him lose legitimacy to run this country,” he said. “For me the speech was clear. As vague and intriguing as it may seem to the rest of the nation, he was addressing military retirees.”
Connecting the Dots
Two other incidents that took place shortly after that speech seemed to crystallize what Yudhoyono meant.
On March 20, a little-known Islamic political analyst named Wachiduddin received thunderous applause from an audience of 500 veiled women and bearded men at a talk show organized by Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a hard-line group that seeks the formation of an Islamic caliphate.
Wachiduddin on that day said that it was important for hard-line Muslim activists to establish ties with warmongers and military officials. Excerpts and video recordings of the show have been circulating online since.
“Gaining support from ahlul quwwah [bearers of military might] in a revolution is a method exemplified by the great prophet, Muhammad,” he said. “The prophet and his disciples once convened with ahlul quwwahs throughout Mecca, asking them to convert to Islam and join his holy struggle.”
Muhammad eventually gained the support of Sa’ad bin Muaz, a prominent seventh-century warlord from Medina, Saudi Arabia, the self-proclaimed expert added. “Muslim activists [in Indonesia] must visit these generals. We must convince them that Islam is the only system blessed by Allah. Generals must become the 21st century Sa’ad bin Muaz,” Wachiduddin said.
On March 22, two days after the speech, Al Jazeera reported that “senior retired generals” were supporting the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and other hard-liners to incite religious violence and overthrow Yudhoyono.
The report included an interview with retired Army Chief Gen. Tyasno Sudarto, a staunch government critic who acknowledged his support for the groups that he said aimed to topple Yudhoyono in a “revolution.”
Besides Tyasno, there are more military men backing the hard-liners, according to Chep Hernawan, head of the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis). In an interview with the Jakarta Globe, he identified them as retired Maj. Gen. Muchdi Purwoprandjono, former commander of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus); retired Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zen, former commander of the Army’s Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad); and retired Gen. Fahrul Razi, a former deputy chief of staff.
Chep said several meetings had already taken place since January between the ex-generals and conservative Muslim leaders to discuss their plans.
“We’re united by the Ahmadiyah issue, since these retired generals have also lost faith in how the president is managing the country. They are Muslims too and know very well that Yudhoyono’s hesitance in banning Ahmadiyah could spark public anger, particularly from Muslims,” Chep said.
He was referring to the minority sect deemed deviant by mainstream Muslims that has faced increasing persecution over the years, including from the state.
Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) secretary general Muhammad Al Khaththath had also acknowledged its movement to seek the dissolution of the sect was supported by retired generals but refused to divulge details into what sort of arrangements the hard-liners had with the generals.
A source inside the military retiree circle told the Jakarta Globe that the hard-liners had benefited financially as well as politically from the relationship.
“These generals always finance pesantrens [Islamic religious boarding school] and madrasahs [Islamic schools] owned by hard-line figures. Their houses are always visited by hard-line groups and some return with plenty of donations,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
“In return they pledge allegiance and consider these generals as their patrons. [Hard-liners] are often exploited for a certain political gain.”
But the source said that the retired generals had a more sinister plot. “The other retirees are calling their actions ‘Awan Merah’ [Red Cloud], short for ‘Aksi Purnawirawan Militer Berdarah’ [Bloody Actions of Military Retirees],” he told the Globe.
“Their aim was to create another religious conflict like the ones in Ambon [North Maluku] or Poso [Central Sulawesi]. But this time, they want it to be close to the capital. It is likely that their target would be Kuningan or Parung.”
Around 2,000 followers of the Ahmadiyah faith live in Manis Lor village in Kuningan district, West Java, making it the largest Ahmadi community in Indonesia. An attack on the community occurs almost every year.
Parung, a small town about halfway between Jakarta and Bogor, is home to an Ahmadiyah center. It was last attacked in 2008.
“Other retirees are not too sure about their strategies. Toppling a president is not that easy,” the source said. “But what these generals have in common is that they all hate SBY, they’re devout Muslims or what some would describe as ‘green generals,’ they have close ties with hard-liners and in the past they had their hands dirty in cases of religious violence.”
Mufti of the IDSPS said the retired generals were discontented with Yudhoyono because he had failed to provide enough political positions for members of his former corps.
Only two retired generals sit in Yudhoyono’s administration: State Secretary Sudi Silalahi and Deputy Defense Minister Sjafrie Sjamsuddin.
“The aim is to topple Yudhoyono through de-legitimization of his rule, to show that civilian-controlled government is failing and that we should go back to military rule,” he told the Globe. “That has happened during the administrations of [former presidents] [B.J.] Habibie and Gus Dur [Abdurrahman Wahid].”
Muchdi, the retired major general, has confirmed that he has close relationships with hard-line Muslim figures. “I have friends from almost every Muslim organization and yes, some of them are radicals,” he told the Globe.
He was cautious, however, about revealing the extent of those ties with radicals. “All I can say is that these [hard-liners] don’t have a political vehicle to channel their aspirations. They just want their voices heard by the government,” he said.
“I don’t agree with violence and every Muslim organization that I have talked to feels the same way. There is not a single political party that can facilitate their needs, that is why some rogue elements within the organizations feel frustrated and do [violent] things.”
Muchdi, the former head of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) who was controversially acquitted in 2009 of the murder of rights activist Munir Said Thalib, has also been cited as a senior adviser of FUI publication Suara Islam and of Media Dakwah, a publication tied to the Indonesian Islam Propagation Council (DDII).
Although he is open about opposing the existence of the Ahmadiyah, he denied playing a part in religious violence.
“After the cases in Cikeusik [Banten] and Temanggung happened, text messages began circulating saying that me and Tyasno Sudarto were behind the melees,” he said, referring to a mob attack on Ahmadis in Banten that left three sect members dead and the violent riot in the West Java town after a blasphemy trial.
“To me, rumors like that happen almost on a daily basis. Some issues we have to fight back but some I chose to ignore. I don’t know why, but people see me as a hard-line Muslim myself.”
A long time critic of Yudhoyono, Tyasno has been participating in various rallies and activities to oust the president. His disapproval for his former classmate in the military academy had led him to form an unlikely bond with radical Muslims, secular nationalists and other groups frustrated with the sitting administration.
In March 2010, Tyasno joined hard-line Muslim activists in an event organized by HTI to denounce the growing economic influence of the United States in Indonesia.
The retired Army chief did little to hide his alliance with hard-line groups during the interview with Al Jazeera.
“We work together to enlighten each other. Our angle is different. They fight in the name of Islam, we use national politics. But we have a common goal, which is change. We want to save our country, not destroy it. The revolution should be peaceful, not anarchist or bloody,” he said.
Al Jazeera cited a Web site that detailed a proposed cabinet line-up for the so-called Islamic government — which included Tyasno — drafted by FUI’s Al Khaththath, himself a member of the HTI and former chairman.
Like Muchdi, Kivlan denied sponsoring religious violence and suggested Muslim groups channel their resentment toward the Ahmadiyah in a court of law.
“For me, the solution is simple. Launch a legal action [against the sect]. The same with Ahmadiyah, if they feel intimidated, report it. Don’t take this problem to the street … let the court decide. Only then will all problems be solved,” he told reporters after his name circulated as a mastermind of attacks against members of the sect.
But despite the denials, it is hard not to question how hardliners have continued to enjoy impunity without the presence of political support from powerful figures.
In February, hard-line groups began demanding that Yudhoyono step down unless he issued a decree banning the Ahmadiyah, just days after the president announced plans to disband organizations that used violence to further their goals.
“The fact that the government is reluctant to dissolve hard-line groups suggests that these organizations have support from powerful people. He wouldn’t even touch HTI, which is clearly trying to establish an Islamic state and replace our national ideology. That’s treason,” human rights activist and noted military critic Usman Hamid told the Globe.
In 1965, the military began establishing close ties with Muslim groups in order to fight communists. It is widely estimated that close to a million people were killed in an ensuing witch hunt for Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) supporters.
During the Suharto regime, the military maintained the relationships, including with former elements of the Darul Islam and the Islamic Troops of Indonesia (TII), which launched a widespread rebellion during the Sukarno era in a failed attempt to establish a theocracy.
The military allegedly capitalized on the relationships during the final days of Suharto’s 32-year regime by inciting hatred toward the Chinese ethnic minority through rumors that they had caused the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. A widespread riot occurred in May 1998, targeting Chinese businesses and homes.
After the fall of Suharto, the ethnic violence spread throughout the islands of Java, Borneo, Sulawesi and the Malukus.
Witnesses detected a similar pattern in the seemingly separate conflicts and reported the presence of unidentified men provoking an attack on other religious groups. “What we are seeing today is a re-establishment of old ties. There is a good chance that similar conflicts would occur again,” Usman said.
In a recent interview with the Globe, Mahmudi Haryono, alias Yusuf, a former terrorism convict who once participated in religious violence in Poso, said that the best possible way to disrupt national stability in Indonesia would be to incite another violent religious conflict.
“There are thousands of us who ‘graduated’ from Moro, Poso and Ambon. This is a time of peace so most of us just carry on with our daily lives. But when there is another conflict, they would leave their job and everything they have and fight. A lot of people that I know feel that way,” he said.
“I realized, even back then, that the jihadist movement has been exploited by political power to destabilize the government. But blind faith and the notion that Muslims are under attack can prompt radical Muslims to do just about anything.”