What the Mainstream Media Probably Won’t Tell You about the Protests against Ahok

In politics, everybody is free to choose his friends and allies – Lalu Prasad Yadav

Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, better known as Ahok, is currently under investigation by the authorities following allegations of blasphemy. The authorities began to investigate the case after a rally on 4 November 2016 that the mainstream media reported as being conducted by radical Muslim and/or intolerance groups. This rally, which was first rally in Jakarta to protest against Ahok, was attended by approximately 2 million people from all over Indonesia, although early estimates from the authorities were that there were at most 50 thousand people in attendance. The biggest group of participants for the rally came from the members of the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI – Front Pembela Islam), who numbering approximately 200 thousand people. However, the rally was not only attended by FPI members. From the scattered reports from the mainstream and small media, we know that moderate and peaceful Muslim groups such as Majelis Adz Dzikra and Daarut Tauhid also sent hundreds or thousands of participants to the rally. It was also supported by more than twenty five moderate Islamic groups, such as Daarul Quran Indonesia and Dewan Masjid Indonesia Jakarta. Even some Indonesian celebrities took part in the rally, including Neno Warisman, David Chalik, Ahmad Dhani, Peggy Melati Sukma, and Jaya Suprana. That such a diverse crowd went to this protest gives us a picture how the rally was against Ahok and not Christianity.

Some people, like Noor Huda Ismail, argue that the atmosphere of Jakarta towards the election for governor in 2017 is just a small part of a larger fight between the three big players in Indonesian politics: Megawati, SBY and Prabowo.[1] Hence, the issue of acts of blasphemy committed by Ahok is just the tip of the iceberg concerning the complexity of political intrigues between the big players. However, to say Ahok’s case is only provoked by political competition would be wrong.

What brings Ahok to this point is himself. While most mainstream media, not to mention foreign mass media, try to skew the narrative of what is happening in Indonesia on Ahok’s case concerning the accusation of blasphemy as I refer later for the sake of Islamophobia industry, other antecedent facts should also be added to the incident where Ahok is later accused for blasphemy.

Ahok has been accumulating problems for himself in Indonesian politics. Did you know that he often openly attacks his political opponents and critics and when he speaks he frequently uses the rude word such as “taik” (shit)? Have you heard that his policy on Jakarta Bay reclamation project, which causes social and economic problems for poor people, has been under investigation by the Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia since 2014 but without any resolution? Have you heard that the reclamation project in Jakarta Bay and the relocation of poor people in Bukit Duri is being questioned by Mahfud MD as against the law, criticised for marginalising urban poor people by some national journalists like Wisnu Nugroho, and portrayed in, which is now banned for public watching in Jakarta, a documentary movie “Jakarta Unfair”? Did you know that the exaggerated claim that Ahok is the one of the frontiers in corruption eradication and humane urban planning policies in Indonesian politics has also been debunked? Have you heard how Catholic activists like Romo (Father) Sandyawan Sumardi  and national Chinese humanist activists like Jaya Suprana are against Ahok for his behaviours and policies? Have you ever heard about the controversies surrounding the land procurement for Sumber Waras hospital done by the Jakarta’s government under Ahok? What about the dispute over BMW Park? Have you also read a satire written by senior Indonesian journalist, Rusdi Mathari, about the feud between Khoe Seng Seng[2] and Ahok entitled “Balada Bacot Ahok”? Did you know that Ahok also created tension with the native Jakartanese, the Betawi people? Have you also heard about gentrification in Jakarta and the problems caused by the eviction of poor people in some parts of Jakarta?

Ahok was not attacked by protesters in the rally held on 4 November 2016 simply because he is a Christian. That is, if I may say, maybe half-truth for some protesters as there were some hate speech against Ahok’s religion and ethnicity reported also. But if you take a close look on Jakarta’s politics, the hate speech against Ahok was articulated long before the blaphemy case started. It actually began with Ahok’s policy where he arrogantly[3] evicted people in Luar Batang and Pasar Ikan areas for the sake of controversial reclamation project in Jakarta Bay.[4][5] Jakarta has had a Non-Muslim governor before and some parts of Indonesia have been ruled by non-Muslim governors.[6] It is not true if there is a claim that Ahok is [or would be] the first non-Muslim governor in Jakarta and or in Indonesia which creates this chaotic situation. There was a Jakarta’s governor named Henk Ngantung, a Chatolic.[7] Ahok was protested and fought because he is believed to make jokes about others’ beliefs, which is considered inappropriate in Indonesian politics (or not elegant in any country’s politics), as one of many contributing matrix.

We need to look back on Ahok’s case to get a thorough understanding of the sentiments mounting because of Ahok’s behaviour in public and his government policies. On 26 September 2016, he visited Pulau Seribu to promote the provincial government’s program on fish nurseries. At the event, he said: “Kalau bapak ibu gak bisa pilih saya karena dibohongi pakek surat Al Maidah 51, macem-macem itu. Kalau bapak ibu merasa gak milih neh karena saya takut neraka, dibodohin gitu, ya gak apa-apa.” (If you cannot choose me because you are being manipulated by some people who use one verse in the Quran Al Maidah: 51, and other stuff about not giving your vote to me. If you feel that you cannot vote for me because you are afraid of hell if you decide to vote me, being manipulated by this verse, it is okay then).  He was not just endorsing himself for the next gubernatorial election in 2017, but criticising the use of one particular verse in the Quran which is used internally within some Muslim groups to direct them to only choose their fellow believers as their leaders. And it was not Ahok’s first time to criticize, and make fun to what most Muslims believe about the verse.

The verse mentioned by Ahok, Al Maidah: 51, has been used by some Muslim groups for decades to determine how they choose their leaders generally, whilst other Muslim groups interpret this verse contextually based on the situation when the verse was revealed to the prophet Muhammad (pbuh), hence they believe that it can only be applied by Muslims when there is a conflict only between religions. Other Muslim groups interpret it progressively and believe the verse is no longer relevant considering the spirit of democracy and or pluralism. These three interpretations live side by side in the Indonesian democracy as personal preference, as it is every citizen’s right to hold onto what they believe, just like anyone else in different parts of the world.

” … so most Christian political parties are run by Christians with Christian candidates. The CDP aims to glorify God through politics by standing candidates of faith. As Christians, it is imperative that when we vote we do so according to our biblical beliefs. We must grasp the fact that our government cannot save us. Only God can. The church continues to make a mistake if it thinks it is the job of secular politicians to defend, to advance, and to guard biblical truths and Christian values. Where we have a voice and can elect our leaders, we should exercise that right by voting for those whose views most closely parallel our Bible-based beliefs” (Greg Bondar & Brad Chilcott, 10 June 2016, “Should A Christian vote for a Christian party?” Bible Society Australia).

“Romney, while far from perfect, has got to win this election if we are going to have any hope of preserving biblical morality or the American dream. I never look for the best Christian to be President – I look for the one who best reflects a strong moral character, and who is most likely to preserve my rights as a Christian and freedom-loving American.” (Rebecca Hagelin [US Evangelist], 11 September 2012. “Can A Christian Vote for Non-Christian Candidate?” The Patriot Post)

“As a bishop it’s my obligation in fact, to urge the faithful to carry out their civic duty in accord with their Catholic faith. … You could never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone. … Where there is unjust discrimination –for instance, where you say that a fellow human being, because of the color of his skin, is not a part of the same race as someone, say, who is a Caucasian, that is a kind of discrimination which is unjust and immoral, … there is a discrimination which is perfectly just and good, and that is the discrimination between what is right and what is wrong. Between what is according to our human nature and what is contrary to our human nature. So the Catholic Church, in teaching that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are intrinsically evil, are against nature itself, is simply announcing the truth, helping people to discriminate right from wrong in terms of their own activities.” (Archbishop Raymond Burke [Catholic], 28 October 2010, “Cardinal-designate Burke speaks about obligation to vote for truth.” Catholic News Agency)

“In an increasing number of cases, elections feature two major party candidates, neither of whom is in total agreement with the Church. Some say it is ‘throwing away your vote’ to choose an independent or third-party candidate whose position is consistent with Catholic teachings. But our obligation as Catholics is to vote for the person who reflects Catholic teaching.(American Life League Voter Guide [Catholic])

When Ahok consistently attacks the first interpretation believed by some Muslims in Indonesia should be considered as harsh. This is not to mention where he once also boastfully promoted himself in a sensitive term such as “proud kafir.” Ahok could have intensified his campaign to Muslims, a majority in Jakarta, who did not hold the first interpretation of the verse but instead he kept harshly attacking some groups of Muslims that believe the first interpretation of the verse. Ahok, and Ahok himself, not his campaign team, made open and harsh attack to this interpretation.

Another thing is, he has been creating racist public discourse and wild comments over time.

Ahok on Human Rights (24 July 2015): “Saya ingin 10 juta orang hidup, bila 2 ribu orang menentang saya dan membahayakan 10 juta orang, saya bunuh di depan Anda. … Supaya kamu tahu, saya punya pandangan. Itu saya. Saya nggak mau kompromi. Saya bunuh di depan Anda 2 ribu, depan TV, semua itu. Korbankan 2 ribu di atas 10 juta.” If I want 10 million people to live, while there were 2 thousand people against me and might threaten these 10 million people, I would kill these people in front of you all. … Just to show you, that is my principle. That’s me. I don’t want to compromise. I would kill in front of you those 2 thousand people, [even if it would be broadcasted] on TV, all. I would sacrifice 2 thousand over 10 million (Danu Damarjati, 22 August 2015, “Ham versi Ahok untuk Melindungi Rakyat Banyak”, detikNews)

Ahok on his Religion: “Sekali lagi saya bukan orang Kristen! Saya orang Indonesia yang beriman pada Kristus” I am not a Christian! I am just an Indonesian who believes in Christ (Sukma Alam, 24 April 2014, “Ahok: Sekali lagi, saya bukan orang Kristen!” Merdeka.com)

Ahok on God: “Saya mah nggak peduli. Kalo Tuhan ngaco juga gua lawan. Makanya Tuhan gak boleh ngaco. Kalo ngaco pasti bukan Tuhan. Sederhana bagi saya.” I don’t care. If God also makes mess, I would stand against God. That is why God cannot make mess. If He does so, wouldn’t He be God. It’s that simple (Edi Sumardi (ed.), 19 March 2016, “Rekaman Ahok berang, sebut kalo Tuhan ngaco juga gua lawan karena ini,” Tribun Timur)

Ahok on Protesters: “Kalau mereka anarkis, saya katakan akan saya lawan … Yang akan saya lakukan, saya bakar hidup-hidup mereka. Kalau [tindakan saya itu] melanggar HAM, masih ada proses pengadilan.” If they act violent behavior, I will fight them … What I will do, I will burn them alive. If it violates Human Rights, I can defend myself in the court (Dharmawan Sutanto, 14 October 2014, “Ahok ingin pinjam pistol buat tembak demonstran anarkis,” Merdeka). In another occasion, he said: “Water canon itu diisi bensin sekali-kali biar kebakaran. Ya kalau rusuh disemprot bensin kira-kira ia berteriak tobat [e]nggak?” Those water canons need to be filled with gasoline to burn those protesters. If they commit violence, just spray them with [gasoline to burn them] so they can stop (Putri Artika R. 25 September 2014. “Ahok usul water canon diisi bensin buat hadapi pendemo bayaran,” Merdeka).

Ahok on Christianity and Salvation: “Ajaran Kristen itu agak konyol, … kalau Islam itu lebih realistis” The teaching of Christianity [on salvation] is bit silly, … whilst Islamic teaching [on salvation] is more realistic (Seputar Nusantara (uploader), 16 November 2015, “Gubernur Ahok: Ajaran Kristen konyol dan menyesatkan, Islam lebih realistis,” YouTube)

Ahok on Sharia Law and The Punishment for Corruptors: “Cantumin aja hukum syariah berlaku aja kalau mau. Yang korupsi, asal pake hukum pembuktian terbalik ya, dipenggal, digantung, dicincang dua belas bila perlu.” You can declare that Sharia law is used in this country if you want to. Those corruptors, as long as shifting burden of proof is applied, must be decapitated, hanged, and then mutilated to twelve pieces if necessary (Jokowi Ahok (uploader),[8]20 December 2013, “Ahok: Saya setuju hukum Syariah Islam (Ahok: Penggal, Gantung, dan Potong Kepala Koruptor)

Recently it was reported that on 2 December 2016 there was another rally to protest that Ahok be seated before the law for the accusation of blasphemy. The rally was held peacefully, just like the one that happened on 4 November 2016. We all need to know that some incidents on the rally on 4 November 2016 were exaggerated by some members of the mass media. We need to know that the small riots following the rally on that day were not started by the protesters, as confirmed later on by BBC Indonesia.[9] They were started by the intruders and criminals who were using the rally to cover their intention to make chaos and/or commit burglary. From the report by BBC Indonesia about the 4 November 2016 protest, the violence to journalists on duty must also be seen by the previous incidents where journalists from some local mass media are believed to report any Muslim issue in negative tone, as it happened again in peaceful rally on 2 December 2016.[10]


A PHOTO WHERE ONE PROTESTER DECLARES WHAT THE RALLY ON 2 DECEMBER 2016 IS ALL ABOUT, AND WHAT IS NOT. Ahok is a Chinese … that’s not my concern.  Ahok is a Christian … that’s also not my concern.  Ahok is running for Jakarta’s Gubernatorial election … that’s also not my concern.  Ahok disrespects Ulema … that’s my concern.  Ahok insults Quran …. that’s surely my concern.

The protest held on 2 December 2016, which was attended by millions of Muslims, was peaceful and occurred without incident. However, it seems that some mass media instead focus on another issue that misses the essence of the rally, framing the rally more about hardline arrogant Muslims who are against a Christian Chinese governor and have coup d’état intentions. The essence of the proven peaceful rally, where the protesters want Ahok to be taken to the court for his joke on the interpretation held by some Muslim groups to endorse himself in an event has no place for political campaign and where he is considered violating the ethics in Indonesian politics to stay away from what others’ beliefs, has been lost behind those highlighted issues.

The accusation of the coup d’état plan of some mostly nationalist politicians – not Islamist politicians is on focus (well, actually one of them were taken by the authority because of insulting Jokowi and has nothing to do with coup d’etat while the other, who have no masses, were still under investigation on coup d’etat accusation). Ahok has been positioned in the mainstream media as a target simply because he is a Christian and the other accumulating contributing factors for the movement against him have been ignored. See these following examples:

It is clear that Ahok’s opponents are more opposed to his ethnicity and religion than to his policies. (Thomas Latschan, 18 November 2016, “Why Indonesian Islamists are Targeting Jakarta’s Christian Governor,” Deutsche Welle)

This is why resentment of Ahok specifically comes from the fact that, first, he is an Indonesian of Chinese descent, and second he is a Christian. (Lailatul Fitriyah, 15 October 2016, “Indonesian Muslim’s Religious Arrogance,” The Jakarta Post)

The rally on 2 December is reported to be conducted by radical and intolerant Indonesian Muslims, described by some journalists as conservative Muslims, while again, it is possible to see in the photos of Indonesian people’s Facebook accounts that moderate modern Muslim groups such as Muhammadiyah and some of Nadlothul Ulama’s members supported the rally (even PWNU Jakarta) and that Indonesian moderate right wing nationalists (if I may use this term), doctors and professionals, and celebrities also joined the rally. The protest was attended and supported by people from a variety of social backgrounds, even Chinese and Christian people also gathered also on that day for the rally against Ahok. However, in the mass media you will probably only see pictures of some the so-called radical Muslim leaders appearing in the rally, with the main narrative consistently voiced about the Indonesian Muslim protest against Ahok that it occurred just because he is Christian, or Chinese Christian.

It is also important to note that the number of the protesters is downsized to only, as some mass media reported, “tens of thousands.” The downsizing number of protesters has also manipulated the depiction of people power related to the protest. We all should know that the number is bigger as you can check on many Indonesian Facebook accounts for the photos and do the calculation using Google Earth (for example, MF Kasim estimates that the rally was attended by between 2 to 7 million people).[11]

In the time where Islamophobia industry is on the rise, the report about the protests against Ahok by Indonesian Muslims cannot escape from words such as: Christian Ahok, violent protest, hate speech rally, and or radical / intolerant / conservative Muslims.

“Indonesia: 200,000 protest Christian governor of Jakarta,” Kathy Quiano & James Griffiths, 2 December 2016, CNN

“Jakarta’s Christian Governor to face blasphemy trial over Islam insult claim: Case against Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama seen as test of Indonesia’s commitment to religious tolerance and pluralism,” Kate Lamb, 16 November 2016, The Guardian

Painting with the same brush to anti-Ahok protesters as a bunch of radical or intolerant Muslims is beneficial because it strengthens the established narrative on Muslims and or political Islam. We can learn this issue and relate it from how Iraq War was started through mass media framing.[12][13][14] The covering of how [conservative] Muslims are not compatible with the idea of tolerance in pluralistic society and modernity must be maintained. Thus, Ahok has to be the innocent one whilst the resistance against Ahok done by Muslims needs to be labeled as the evil one. It may also be beneficial, I may argue, in creating public consent for any policy directed towards Muslims in any country where it pours big money, either for foreign war policy or local surveillance and intervention policy on Muslim communities.[15][16][17]

Dipa Nugraha

The Chairman of Muhammadiyah Special Branch of Australia and New Zealand 2015 – 2017

(Muhammadiyah is the second largest Moderate  and Mainstream Muslim Organization in Indonesia)

A PhD Candidate in Cultural and Literary Studies – Monash University


[1] Megawati is the leader of PDIP (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan – Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle). She is also the fifth president of Indonesia. Her party supports Ahok in Jakarta’s gubernatorial election held next year. SBY, or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is the sixth president of Indonesia. He is the chairman of Democratic Party of Indonesia. His son, Agus Yudhoyono, is running for the next year’s gubernatorial election of Jakarta. Prabowo Subianto, chairman of Gerindra party who lost to Joko Widodo from PDIP in the previous presidential election with very small margin, has Anies Baswedan to support in the next campaign in Jakarta gubernatorial election. In the Jakarta gubernatorial election next year, Ahok, Agus and Anies are the only three names to compete.

[2] You can read also on Sindo Weekly (April 2016) about this feud, “Ahok Juga Manusia.”

[3] Salsabila Qurrataa’yun. 18 May 2016. “Warga Luar Batang Anggap Ahok seperti Anak Kecil”. OkeZone News.

[4] Ahmad Sakirin. 3 May 2016. Warga Luar Batang Demo di Balaikota, Demonstran: Tangkap Ahok.” Arah

[5] May 2016. “Pendemo Warga DKI Jakarta Membawa Spanduk Ganyang China. “ Babiat

[6] Karta Raharja Ucu. 16 September 2016. “Abah Alwi: Henk Ngantung Gubernur Non-Muslim, Tapi tak Kasar”. Republika

[7] 11 August 2012. “Henk Ngantung, Gubernur DKI Non-Muslim yang Mampu Merangkul Semua Pihak,” Suara Pembaruan

[8] This YouTuber is pro-Ahok

[9] Watch also the explanation on the riot happened after the rally on 4 November 2016 given by the police.

[10] The negative perception towards how mass media portrays Islam happens also in other countries, e.g. in the UK.

[11] Smaller number is given by Reza Lesmana where he calculates  the protesters were approximately 426 thousands people.

[12] Stephen D. Reese & Seth C. Lewis. 2009. “Framing the War on Terror: The Internalization of Policy in the US Press,” Journalism, Vol. 10(6): 777–797.

[13] See also, Michael Parenti. 2002. “Monopoly Media Manipulation,” Mediterranean Quarterly 2002, Volume 13, Number 2: 56-66.

[14] See also, Edward Said. 2 August 2003. “A Window on the World,” The Guardian.

[15] Arun Kundnani. 29 March 2014. “No NSA reform can fix the American Islamophobic complex.” The Guardian.

[16] Diana Ralph. 2006. “Islamophobia and the War On Terror: The Continuing Pretext for U.S. Imperial Conquest,” in Paul Zarembka (ed.) The Hidden History of 9-11-2001 (Research in Political Economy, Volume 23), pp.261-298.

[17] I plan to add some comment on the words “Jihad” & “Mujahid (or Jihadi[st])” used in the rally against Ahok for later revision-addition (or cancel it?). These words are also interesting in the narrative of Islamophobic industry and how they become “a highlighted potential issue in any Islamic movement” and “have always to be related with Islamic State or referenced to terror and violence.”

Another issue on “hate speech” as equal to “uncivilized” and “violence” is also interesting when it comes to Muslims (cf. Randa Abdel-Fattah, 12 Januari 2015, “The privelege to insult,” ABC – Opinion).