The Intercept has an article on what is going on in Indonesia.
On the surface, the massive street protests surrounding the April 19 gubernatorial election have arisen from opposition to Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok. As a result of pressure from the well-funded, well-organized demonstrations that have drawn hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — to Jakarta’s streets, Gov. Ahok is currently standing trial for religious blasphemy because of an offhand comment about a verse in the Quran. On Thursday, the day after he hears the results of the very close governor’s election, he is due back in court for his blasphemy trial.
Yet in repeated, detailed conversations with me, key protest figures and officials who track them have dismissed the movement against Ahok and the charges against him as a mere pretext for a larger objective: sidelining the country’s president, Jokowi, and helping the army avoid consequences for its mass killings of civilians — such as the 1965 massacres that were endorsed by the U.S. government, which armed and backed the Indonesian military.
Serving as the main face and public voice of the generals’ political thrust has been a group of what Indonesians call preman — officially sponsored street thugs — in this case, the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI (Front Pembela Islam). Originally established by the security forces — the aparat — in 1998 as an Islamist front group to assault dissidents, the FPI has been implicated in violent extortion, especially of bars and sex clubs, as well as murders and attacks on mosques and churches. During the mass protests against the governor, FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab has openly called for Ahok to be “hanged” and “butchered.”
Indonesia is easily the largest and most important country that most Americans know little or nothing about. I don’t claim to know a lot about it, but I have been there, lived not too far away from there and interacted with people from there. My personal interactions with Indonesians have been very positive. More than once intrepid female Indonesian tourists have stopped me on the street and asked to take photos with me. This inevitably leads to small talk, which always seems to involve asking my martial status and how many children I have in the first minute. On the flip side, I remember an Indonesian woman asking me once to please not sit next to her on a ferry. I tried not to be offended but it was the last seat available. Eventually I managed to change seats with another female passenger, and that solved the problem. So in my personal experiences I have found Indonesian people very personable, peaceful, friendly and tolerant. Which makes the country’s history of ethnic and religious strife a bit hard to reconcile in my head. I have also known Indonesians of Chinese descent who left the country during the ethnic strife in the 90s, but they won’t talk about it much. And I’m aware of the awful things that happened in the 60s, possibly with U.S. government involvement, although I didn’t learn anything about it in school. It is sad if that sort of thing is happening again.