By Pradipta Lakshmi for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta
Thousands have joined a Facebook page that pokes fun at the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Meant to build tolerance, it has attracted threats.
Tired of vigilante, hardline Muslim groups, a group of young Indonesians has found away to poke fun at them while promoting tolerance and peace online.
“Anda Bertanya Habib Rizieq Menjawab” (You Ask, Habib Rizieq Answers) is a satirical Facebook page that has attracted some 7,065 followers since it was launched last August by an unidentified Facebook user.
Now it is run by five professionals, aged 26 to 29, who aim for parody, not blasphemy.
“We have rules created among us,” said Donny, one of the five, who declined to give his last name for security reasons. “We emphasise to all administrators as well as followers that this page is not created to insult any religions, including Islam.”
The page is a response to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and similar groups which have been accused of using violence and intimidation to enforce conservative Muslim views. Such “fanaticism” hampers progress and disrupts social harmony, Donny believes.
“There have been some formal movements (against FPI) which didn’t seem to work, so we are trying a new approach using humor and parody, and so far, we like what we have been doing,” he told Khabar via Facebook messaging.
The page situates FPI’s chairman Rizieq Shihab, popularly known as Habib Rizieq, as the “owner” of the account. On a regular basis, “Habib Rizieq” posts status updates, photos and caricatures, as well as serious-minded “lectures,” a series of explanations on topics related to Islam and other interfaith issues.
Mixed with a steady stream of jokes and visual satire are messages intended to promote tolerance and interfaith harmony. An online greeting card wishing viewers a holy Ramadan reads: “Religion is personal. Humanity is global. Belief is Universal”.
Abdul Mu’ti, a secretary of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, believes existence of the page is positive.
“There are two things implied here. First, people do not favor the actions committed by FPI; and to show that they dislike it, they do unique things, including using humor. Things like this strengthen other already existing actions or movements (against FPI),” he said.
“Secondly, this can show that FPI is not something that has to be worried about. They do exist, but they are not something extraordinary.”
He expressed hope that young people will improve tolerance among various ethnic and religious groups in Indonesia.
In the correspondence with Khabar, Donny admitted that the page has received criticism and even threats from followers whom he suspects are “supporters of FPI”.
“One of the threats said, ‘I swear to God I will behead you once I can find out who you are’,” Donny said. “Am I worried or scared? Yes, and I think that’s human. But that won’t stop us doing what we’re doing.”
For security reasons, he said, members and administrators tend to keep their identities and contact details a secret.
Donny hopes the page will gain more followers to help spread the message for a peaceful and tolerant Indonesia.
“We are hoping that with more followers from all walks of life, the FPI and hardliners in general will realise there are a lot of people out there who are against their brutal actions done in the name of religion. And through what we do, we would also like to show them that their actions and behavior have made them a laughing stock.”
Arum Indriasari, 39, is a Muslim follower who finds the page fun, and a rest from tiring activities.
“I joined the page about one and a half months ago just for fun and because I thought it was funny. The fact that the page contains humor and jokes is what I like, although I don’t think it can result in any significant changes,” Arum told Khabar.
To stop violence and intolerance, “we need real action, commitment and firm attitude. Jokes can’t accommodate that,” she said.
Maybe in the future, “Anda Bertanya Habib Rizieq Menjawab” can reach hard-liners and open some dialogue to increase tolerance, Arum said.