Fire in Jakarta
City politics and the rise of conservative Islam
A poor-quality, thirty-second YouTube video shows Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, the former governor of Jakarta, delivering a speech on one of the small tropical islands off the north coast of the city in September 2016. He stands inside a community center in a short-sleeve beige uniform, with a name card on a retractable cord fixed to his breast pocket. Members of his cabinet, all men in similar uniforms, sit behind him in kids’ chairs incongruous with their station but fitting for the informal event: the governor dropping by for a chat with his constituents. In his usual frank style, Purnama explains that working people in the area are being ripped off by local elites, and fishermen are barely scraping by. His plan is to make this right, he says, and the people present need only look to his two years governing the city to find proof of his success.
Then he makes the comment that will lead to his downfall. “So if you choose not to vote for me because of the lies of 5:51 and things like that,” he says casually, “you’re afraid of going to hell or whatever, that’s your right.” The sarcastic remark is a reference to Sura 51 of the Koran, often interpreted to forbid Muslims from taking Christians or Jews as allies. Indonesia is 87 percent Muslim, and Purnama is Christian. He is also ethnically Chinese, a minority in Indonesia with a long history of facing oppression and violence.
It was an error of a magnitude he could not have foreseen. The video quickly spread: it was copied, edited, distributed, and widely posted. Many of the posts received more than a half million views in a few days. Duplicate videos distilled Purnama’s hour-long speech to the single line, “the lies of 5:51 and things like that,” repeating it over and over, sometimes with caption text running across the bottom. A few days after the speech, Amirsyah Tambunan, the Deputy Secretary General of the Indonesian Ulema Council, which purports to guide the moral behavior of Indonesia’s 200 million Muslims, said on television that to blaspheme the Koran ought to be punished by “death, crucifixion, or at least hand amputation and expulsion.” In Purnama’s case, he’d settle for the state court’s existing blasphemy laws, which can lead to years of imprisonment.
In the following weeks, the broad, leafy avenues that circle Jakarta’s national monument — a giant travertine obelisk with a golden flame at the top, which commemorates Indonesia’s independence struggle — were crammed with hundreds of thousands of men in brilliant white outfits and turbans. Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, leader of the ultra-right-wing political organization Islamic Defenders Front, stood on a truck in the middle of the crowd. “Jail Ahok!” he shouted through a microphone. Fists and banners shot up as the call echoed through the crowd. The courts summoned Purnama to stand trial on charges of blasphemy. When his testimony was live-cast, he wept and asked forgiveness; he meant no offense, he said. A gubernatorial election was called during the trial and Purnama was permitted to run against Anies Baswedan, a Muslim who drew the support of Islamist groups across the country. Purnama was found guilty and sentenced to three years in jail. He lost the election to Baswedan by a huge margin, even though he was, until that point, one of the country’s most popular politicians.
Islam has begun to redefine the highest ranks of Jakarta, one of the world’s largest cities in a country with more Muslims than any other. But Islamist conservatism is also springing up from the grassroots. A video showed up on YouTube in May 2017 of kids shooting automatic weapons and burning their passports, encouraging their brothers and sisters in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia to join them in the struggle for the caliphate. Later that month, three people were killed by a bomb explosion in East Jakarta, which the police suspect was planned by a conservative Muslim. In West Java, statues commemorating national heroes were razed for idolatry. The Indonesian military deployed troops in June to guard the border between Indonesia and the Philippine province of Malawar, where president Rodrigo Duterte had recently imposed martial law and deployed military forces against the Islamic militants trying to take over the city. In July, an ISIS flag was hung outside a police station in Jakarta with a handwritten note: THE WAR HAS BEGUN.
In winter 2016, banners outside mosques claimed that lesbians and gays weren’t welcome because they disturbed the Javanese spirit. A recent survey by the Kuala Lumpur–based Institute for the Study of Islam and Society found that almost 80 percent of religious teachers in schools support conservative Islam and are sympathetic to groups like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (roughly, Party of Liberation Indonesia), the Indonesian chapter of the conservative international Islamic political organization. More than half of all high school students in West Java were sympathetic with the establishment of a caliphate-based state. In the last presidential election, in 2014, the Islamist opposition concocted a Trump-style birther controversy, claiming president-elect Joko Widodo was actually a Christian. Had he not demonstrated his documents, his wildly popular candidacy would have been crushed. Rumors that Widodo was actually Chinese began to swirl. In response, Widodo went on pilgrimage to Mecca. He won the election.
At the G20 meeting in July 2017, Widodo gave a speech about taking seriously the spread of conservative Islam to potentially volatile regions like Southeast Asia. Back home, he reiterated through the media and his entourage of talking heads that Indonesian-style Islam is pluralist, liberal, and tolerant. Religious leaders from the major Islamic groups concurred and held press conferences about mutual respect with representatives from Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian communities. Meanwhile, Purnama was carted off to prison for blasphemy. The governorship of Jakarta — the country’s capital and largest city — was passed on to Baswedan. Prabowo Subianto, the oligarch politician whose PR team dreamed up the story about Widodo being a Christian, staged a media event where he publicly thanked the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, for supporting Baswedan’s candidacy and “saving Indonesian democracy.”
The Indonesian government’s tension with conservative Islam escalated soon afterward, when Widodo decreed a ban on any organization that did not conform to the constitution, or what Indonesians sometimes refer to as the “state ideology.”1 This put militant organizations such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in a league with previously banned organizations like the Indonesian Communist Party, whose members were all but exterminated in the 1960s because they threatened the “unity” of the state. According to the president’s deliberations, these organizations could be made illegal, their rallies broken up by the police, and their organizers jailed. People charged with blasphemy could now also face up to ten years in prison. Journalists argued that Widodo was retaliating against the conservative groups for sending Purnama to jail. A week after the law was announced, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia was listed as an illegal organization.
All this came as a surprise to the West. The rise of Widodo in 2013 had seemed like a turning point for Indonesian democracy. A furniture salesman from Surakarta, he came from outside the oligarchy and quickly rose through the political ranks, first as mayor of his small, provincial hometown, then as the governor of Jakarta. He was so astronomically popular that he was ushered in as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s presidential candidate before he had even finished his term as governor. Promising to end corrupt politics and the influence of big money, he would also invigorate and modernize Indonesia with a kind of humble technocracy. Good managerial practices mixed with roll-up-your-sleeves hard work would, his campaign suggested, finally bring the country sorely needed technological and infrastructural development. Widodo loved Metallica, looked and dressed like he was from the countryside, was liberal on social issues and keen to plug Indonesia into the Obama-era configuration of globalization. Both in the West and in Indonesia, he was projected as Obama’s mirror image. The fact that Obama spent a few years as a kid in Jakarta only confirmed that Obama, and by extension Obama-era America, was at least in part Indonesian. But one of Widodo’s closest allies, Purnama, was in prison for blasphemy, and the capital city voted its new governor into power on religious principles.
Indonesia came into modern existence in 1945. Before that, it was controlled by the Dutch. Like the French and British, who also controlled parts of Southeast Asia, the Dutch were expelled when the Japanese took control of the region during World War II. After the war ended, some Japanese forces gave their weapons to the burgeoning nationalist groups vying to fill the power vacuum before the Dutch could return to reclaim the colony. From the veranda of a white modernist colonial building in Central Jakarta, Sukarno, the leader of the resistance and a powerful nationalist movement, read the “Proclamation” declaring the existence of the Republic of Indonesia. Soon afterward he became its first president.
Then he became its first dictator, claiming absolute political authority in the name of the anticolonial struggle. Sukarno was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and the third worldism that built political and economic alliances among new postcolonial states. He died in 1970, after he was replaced in a coup by Suharto, the dictator who defined Indonesia for decades as a country ruled by oligarchical power.
Though Indonesia has had several relatively free elections since 1999, Joko Widodo was the first candidate to emerge from outside the power structures inherited from Sukarno and Suharto: the corrupt judiciary, police, military, and civil service sector, and the small network of political families who hold an overwhelming concentration of capital. Even so, Megawati, the woman who financed Widodo’s political career and brought him into the Democratic Party of Struggle, is Sukarno’s daughter. His nemesis, Subianto, the oligarch behind the Widodo-is-a-Christian controversy, was a special-forces general under Suharto. Subianto married Suharto’s daughter Titiek Suharto and is now head of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, one of the country’s most powerful political parties. Widodo’s vice president, Jusuf Kalla, is from one of the richest families in Sulawesi, an outer island east of Borneo, and was the chairman of Suharto’s Golkar party until he shifted his alliances to Megawati. Aburizal Bakrie, whose conglomerates include Indonesian media, education, property, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing companies, took his place. Bakrie was then replaced by Setya Novanto, who was brought up on corruption charges in 2017 for orchestrating the redirection of $184 million in state funds to private coffers.
Where does political Islam fit into this picture? It is, by most accounts, a conservative populist movement eroding the country’s already fragile liberal democracy. Some accounts suggest conspiracy, that the emergence of conservative Islam is not a true grassroots movement but a power play by the country’s oligarchy to undermine Indonesia’s liberal traditions. According to this view, radical groups are funded by entrenched wealth through opaque channels and encouraged to unleash vigilante violence; mobilize latent religious intolerance, social divisions, and scapegoating; and unsettle the stability of the popular president. Some writers have gone so far as to warn of coups planned by these shadowy forces.
Jakarta sets the political and economic agenda for the rest of the country. It is the largest stage from which the grand narratives of Indonesia are broadcast, and a magnet for Indonesian migrants with dreams of increasing their prospects and fortunes. The scale and complexity of the city are so vast as to be unfathomable: 30 million people living in a sinking estuary connected from the volcanoes in the south to the Java Sea in the north by the river systems that snake through it — river systems that carry 30 million people’s worth of garbage and shit, which pile up during the rainy season and spill out over the edges for weeks on end.
About 5 million of these people live in slums, in pockets between roads and rivers and train tracks and overpasses. The concrete columns of the unfinished MRT light rail stand like ruins, their bases wrapped in faded banners bearing architectural renderings of the new, efficient city to come. Built on light deltaic sands, Jakarta is sinking unevenly, creating bowls for floodwaters to pool. The bay in the north slowly rises as global sea levels inch upward.
My low-lying neighborhood was a thicket of streets and cheek-by-jowl concrete housing. There were about twenty mosques in less than half a square mile. Five times a day, from four in the morning to six at night, muezzins raised their voices through speakers poised in minarets. They, too, are creating Jakarta, a city that speaks directly to God from the prayer mats laid out on tile floors.
I was living in Jakarta during Purnama’s trial, trying to understand the confluence of city politics and conservative Islam that led to his downfall. Purnama had been an effective governor, promoting infrastructure projects that were meant to save Jakarta from floods and ecological devastation. But he made enemies in the city’s slums when he attempted to evict the slum dwellers and move them into modernized public housing. The houses simply didn’t take, and many former slum dwellers returned to their old neighborhoods or created new informal settlements elsewhere. These slum dwellers became part of the force behind Baswedan’s successful contest for governor, and part of the overall transformation of Indonesia into a surprising home for Islamism.
Over and over, I found myself traversing the grounds of a cemetery in my neighborhood. I was first drawn to the goats that perched on top of cenotaphs for better views of the grounds, and came to understand that their herders lived in the small shanties woven around gravestones. The adjacent land was owned by Bakrie, the developer-politician, and from the graveyard you could see the two giant black-glass towers he’d designed for his company headquarters in 2009, known as Bakrieland. He also built a mosque only a few hundred meters from the cemetery and named it after himself. The song of the muezzin from Bakrie’s mosque was the loudest in the neighborhood. After coming back from prayers, the people who lived in the cemetery worked under the shadow of those towers, sorting, burning, and selling the garbage from the nearby canals and neighborhood streets. They were right in the middle, stuck between the oligarchs, Islam, and the unstable ground of the city.
In August 2017, I spent weeks interviewing the cemetery’s scavengers. They told me the story of a mysterious fire that consumed their village that July.
Haris had woken up before sunrise to prepare his new coffee stall in order to catch the traffic from morning prayers. On the dirt shoulder of a three-way intersection, he had shimmed a wooden board between a lamppost and cement wall. On the board, he’d placed a couple of thermoses of hot water, a bucket to wash dishes, some cups, some saucers, and sachets of powdered instant coffee and tea bags. One red plastic stool for him, and two others — blue — for customers. Suddenly, his attention was drawn across the road. From deep inside the cemetery, rushes of sparks flickered into the night sky. At first Haris thought it might be fireworks set off by kids running around inside. But then the giant tree caught on fire, the tree that stood in the middle of the cemetery and gave shade to the workers and garbage piles and coffee houses that sprawled around the old cenotaphs and tombstones. Its leaves shriveled, and then the whole thing became a torch, illuminating the graveyard in a pulsing glow. Haris watched as the flimsy houses began to light up, catching fire like a bundle of matches.
Nazar, in his mid-seventies, was born and raised in the graveyard. That night, he was sleeping in his house in the eastern section, which runs along the concrete wall that separates the slum from the working-class neighborhood on the other side. The eastern section was almost like a different neighborhood, even though it shared the same graveyard as the others. The houses weren’t connected: they used different makeshift showers and gathered their water in different cisterns. The families from the different sections knew each other but rarely spent time together. Nazar slept through the fire in his red sarong on a thin, faded mattress, which was raised on a plywood base to keep out the floods, rats, mice, and cockroaches. The roof above was a patchwork of wood, metal, and corrugated plastic abutting the concrete partition. Through his room’s curtain door was the shop where his niece sold coffee and neighbors spent evenings watching television, and where his teenage nephew had played his ukulele the night before, singing pop songs with some girls.
But Sandi was awake for the fire, sitting on the couch outside the Betawi Forum clubhouse at the cemetery entrance. He was on the night shift, drinking coffee while his two friends slept inside. When the tree lit up, he roused and walked to the edge of the clubhouse porch. “Bastard,” he said. “This one’s big.”
Karno was down the road sitting in his Bajaj, one of the blue, three-wheeled, beetle-shaped taxis that wind through Jakarta’s small streets. He was smoking his first cigarette of the day, a fat Djarum Super, to get his stomach moving. Then he’d visit the public toilet at the market just down the road. He liked it there because it was usually empty that early in the morning. No one to ask for change at the door. The days when the market was full of promise were long gone. The stalls upstairs were half empty, the metal grates rusted shut from the humidity. In the corners of the food hall, high up toward the edge of the vaulted metal ceiling, black cobwebs had grown wild. When the market was first built, city officials said the neighborhood would be full of newcomers, but they never came. Everyone suspected it had been a way for someone in the neighborhood government to take a payout from a developer or construction company.
Like Sandi, all Karno could do was stand up and watch as the tree lit up and the houses erupted in flames. He didn’t know anyone who lived inside the cemetery and had no one to call. He would just wait and see what happened.
Father Nudi was called father as a sign of respect. He was already awake when the tree caught fire because he kept irregular hours, sleeping through parts of the day in the graveyard if there was shade. Sometimes he slept as little as an hour a day, sometimes not at all. Perhaps this gave him the quality of delirium he was known for around the cemetery. A loner, he’d staked out a space among a few graves along the black iron fence and formed modest-size mounds of the plastic he collected throughout the day. Some of it had been there for a long time and begun to fuse with the ground. His red T-shirt slumped over a concrete tombstone that read, HERE LIES TJIE FEN SIONG, 18 NOVEMBER 1969. It was hard to know what Father Nudi thought about the fire. It was hard to know what he thought about anything, because he talked like he was continually surprised by his own existence. “Fire, there was fire, fire, there was fire, my name is Nudi.” He said that over and over again.
Fire trucks with BAKRIE in big letters across the front finally raced past Haris’s coffee stall. Nazar continued to sleep in his red sarong. Sandi sat back down on the couch, but he’d woken his friends, who joined him to drink more black coffee and watch the houses burn. Karno settled back into the front seat of his Bajaj to watch. Nudi hadn’t moved much at all. By that point, the fire had engulfed forty tightly spaced one-room houses. People ran around with buckets of water, screaming at kids to get out of the way.
As the sun began to rise over the burned-out swath, a blackened wood wall tipped over like a playing card. The charred limbs of the big tree were covered in bubbling orange ooze from the chemicals in the fire-truck’s spray. They stood out against the background of the slowly lightening sky with smoke seething off them. Television crews showed up in vans, and newspaper journalists on motorbikes, to document the blaze as it razed the network of homes and melted mounds of collected material.
The place was well known as the Scavenger Village. Even the residents called it that, proudly. That’s what they did: they scavenged garbage. That’s who they were, it was their identity, they said. To the city authorities, they had no legitimate claims to property, and many of them didn’t have identity cards. The media called a local politician for his thoughts, a man from the same office that built the half-empty, slowly decaying market. “I told them to get out. . . . They can’t live there,” he said. “I don’t care where they go, that’s their problem. It’s not their land, it’s a city-owned cemetery.”
The cemetery is known as the Chinese cemetery. It lies across the road from the Dutch cemetery and the Muslim cemetery. In the 1940s and ’50s, they were built on what was then the city limit. The Dutch cemetery holds the dead bodies of the Allies who fought the Japanese occupation. The Muslim and Christian cemeteries came shortly afterward, segregated in death as in life. Now roads and canals cut between the cemeteries, concrete tower blocks stand along their borders, and tight-knit, low-rise neighborhoods push right up to their edges.
The Dutch and Muslim cemeteries are both vast and have permanent guards and groundskeepers, but the Chinese cemetery, while still used by families, with new graves dug and bodies interred, sprouted a village after the city expanded. The exact date when the scavengers arrived is unclear, but it has existed at least since the Suharto regime in the 1960s, and Nazar claims to have been born there. I was told the current residents are ethnically Indonesian; though it is an unclear category, it usually means neither Chinese nor white. Nobody is certain how many people live there now. Figures range from three hundred to fifteen hundred people, according to different residents and media reports. But there is no census to check, because the residents don’t officially exist, and they too fail to agree on how many they are. Residents told me that everyone originally comes from Java, but then I met a woman who immigrated from Sulawesi.
The village’s main function is to intake, sort, and sell garbage from the surrounding neighborhoods. Some people fill wooden trollies with plastic lifted from the street and canal banks. Some work in the center of the settlement, where there is a giant, almost mountain-like deposit of compressed waste. One side was blackened and melted by the fire, which exposed layers of bottles, labels, bags, shoes, and other trash in bands, like geological strata. Black trucks from the neighborhood bring in loads of waste, which the scavengers break apart and separate. They cut the tops of plastic bottles from the bottoms, removing the lids and labels. Everything gets its own pile. The separated parts are then bagged and sold off to companies that bring the material to factories to incinerate or recycle. One pound of plastic is worth 500 rupiah, about three and a half US cents. What is not sold is burned on-site. In the evenings, it’s normal to see smoldering fires smoking between the graves and cenotaphs. The fires are almost constant.
It would make sense that a settlement built of tightly packed, thin, scavenged wood planks, with fires constantly burning, would occasionally go up in flames. Mia, an activist in the local community center who lost her house in the fire, told me that someone came home late that night and started making coffee on the propane stove. They passed out, exhausted from work, before it was finished. Then everything went up in flames.
On the way into the village one day, I met Udin, who had come along the dirt path through the graves carrying a wooden cart filled with cardboard. His house had burned down too. He explained that the fire began with a spark from the electrical cables they hijacked from the surrounding neighborhood. Someone else told me that all the accounts were true: one thing leading to another had started the fire.
I began to wonder why no one could agree on the cause of the fire, and why some were ready to believe that two different sources could start it at the same time. It seemed intuitive that one would want to determine the cause, to locate the hazards within the village’s precarious architecture and ensure a fire wouldn’t happen again. But nobody seemed too concerned. Perhaps this was the condition of marginal people in Jakarta: exposure to physical danger was permanent. There was nothing that could be done about it, so why even bother with the cause of the fire? If this time it was a stove, next time it would be the electricity.
When I asked about Purnama and the recent election, Mia said people in the village didn’t talk about city politics. “Your vote is your choice,” she said. “It’s private.” She didn’t know who voted for whom. I asked about Sandi, the guy who worked in the clubhouse for the Betawi Forum, which is an ethnic organization usually considered to be a criminal gang because it exacts vigilante justice. Mia said there were no relations between the cemetery’s inhabitants and the gang — the scavengers keep everything peaceful. But Nazar had told me a few weeks earlier that the guys in the clubhouse were a bunch of thugs and extortionists and no one living in the cemetery wanted them there.
I went to the clubhouse a few days later. I was passed on to Ashoy, the 35-year-old director of program development for Sanggar Bilpin, who is a spokesperson for the village. As we sat on the green linoleum floor of the clubhouse drinking coffee, Ashoy explained that it was good that Purnama was no longer the mayor; he’d been evicting slums like theirs in the name of cleaning up the city. A few months ago, during Purnama’s trial and the mayoral campaign, the local government had threatened to evict them again, a regular occurrence. But Ashoy went to the media: “The government became shy, scared, they backed off. I said we wouldn’t leave until the government could guarantee a place in subsidized housing.” There was a block currently under construction on the edge of the neighborhood; they wouldn’t move until it was finished and promised to them. The person who eventually met their demands turned out to be the new mayor, Baswedan, who had defeated Purnama.
Ashoy showed me a photo on his phone and said coyly, “Look, a victim of the fire.” It was him: Ashoy on his back, sunbathing on a cardboard mat in the black, burned-out remains. He swiped to a photo of himself kneeling in the same spot, with a man handing him a wad of cash. He zoomed in on the wad and said, “That is $10,000.”
“Who is that?” I asked
“A donor,” he said. I asked for details, but Ashoy was evasive.
“Where does he live?”
“Over there.” He pointed vaguely south.
“Why did he give you money? What does he ask for in return?”
“He gives us money whenever there is a crisis, he doesn’t ask for anything in return. We use the money to buy food and materials to rebuild the houses. Look, we used the money to buy cement and new wood,” he said.
“He doesn’t ask you for anything in return?” I asked again.
“No, it’s just goodwill.”
I asked if I could meet the donor, or at least be given a way to contact him, but Ashoy talked around me. He then showed me another photo, this time of him standing behind Baswedan at a dinner party during the campaign. “I was representing the village to Baswedan’s team. I told him about us and that we wanted to move to the new apartment complex. Baswedan said they would help us out.” After I left Ashoy, I noticed a Baswedan campaign banner hanging outside the clubhouse.
A few days later, in an empty Indian restaurant on the ground floor of one of Bakrieville’s black towers, I told my friend Farid about the fire and how strange I found it. He said I was missing something: when things burn down in Jakarta and few people know why, money is involved. The police never resolved the fire that burned down the big market in January — also at four in the morning, before prayers. No cause found, no arsonist convicted, though the market was the size of a city block. It is quietly assumed that money tied to real estate changed hands. I remembered that the first time I came to Jakarta, in 2013, I watched from a thirty-second-floor balcony as a column of black smoke billowed from a skyscraper against the diffuse orange glow of the setting sun.
About a week before I left the city, I came across another village on fire while walking through some new neighborhoods. There were hundreds of bystanders on the rail embankment, watching as villagers inside the smoldering buildings tossed buckets of water and firefighters used their hoses.
I was never able to uncover the identity of Ashoy’s mysterious donor, but it’s likely he was involved in Baswedan’s campaign. The money he gave the slum dwellers led circuitously to support for Baswedan, perhaps in exchange for further favors down the line, including new housing. The village’s reliance on trash scavenging was secure, because the city only controlled a small percentage of its processing. But if the city cleaned up the trash, the scavengers in the Chinese cemetery and thousands, or hundreds of thousands, elsewhere would be out of a livelihood, creating a reserve army of labor that could become politically dangerous.
But the scavengers are not conservative Muslims. Over the two months that I spent coming and going — taking regular lunchtime walks through the village, hanging out in the cafés late at night, and waiting out the nearby rush hour sitting on a tombstone with someone — I rarely saw a hijab. There is no mosque inside the village. Ashoy is openly queer. “I’m not embarrassed by who I am,” he declared to me in the activist clubhouse one evening, lying on his back. His nascent potbelly protruded slighty through the opened buttons of his floral-patterned shirt. He told me about his hookups with various foreign men (usually Australian, he pointed out), and then, one afternoon, he introduced me to his pregnant wife. She knew Ashoy’s preferences. But, as he explained, it made life easier to look pious from the outside. When necessary, he could perform the role of a working-class man in a traditional family.
The slum dwellers could sometimes use political figures like Baswedan to their advantage. This pattern seemed to be repeating itself across the city. More and more of them swelled the ranks of the Islamist parties, which would not fight the city’s floods, would not clean it up, would not save it from sinking into the sea.
The constitution of Indonesia is called Pancasila and is fashioned to uphold five core principles, the first of which is “Belief in the One and Only God.” In the 1940s, early drafters of the constitution omitted which god, hoping to stem Islamic political parties’ hold on power, ensure representational democracy, and protect non-Muslim communities. This did, however, delegitimize the many polytheistic traditions present in Indonesia at the time. Another principle is the “Unity of Indonesia,” which, through flexible interpretations of its meaning, has long been used as a tool to suppress organizations. ↩