When Islamic hardliners attacked a church under construction in Jakarta’s eastern suburb of Bekasi a few days ago, police arrived in force and were eventually forced to fire teargas to disperse the mob. Not long ago, they would have stood idly by and done nothing. Police links to groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which have been used in the past as a proxy stand-over force to extract protection money from businesses, go back to the pre-democracy period under former dictator Suharto when Islam was otherwise repressed. The difference now is police chief General Tito Karnavian, former head of the elite Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit and widely viewed as an incorruptible professional. Hand-picked by President Joko Widodo last July, Karnavian will serve until 2023, a longer period in the job than any of his predecessors.
A Muslim himself, Karnavian has often warned against what he calls creeping Islamic extremism, which targets religious minorities and is used by terrorist groups as ideological justification for bombings and other violent acts.
“Unfortunately, democracy is being misused by certain groups to limit other people’s freedoms. Take for instance those with Wahabi thinking,” his spokesman noted earlier this year, referring to Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative strand of Islam.