(from The Economist and The Spectator)
The mood in Jakarta was jittery in the days leading up to its gubernatorial election on April 2017. Islamist agitators accused the incumbent governor, Ahok, who is both Christian and of Chinese ancestry, of “Christianising” Jakarta because a mosque built by the city government resembles a cross. Anxious ethnic-Chinese, in turn, shared posts warning that the election of Ahok’s rival would lead to the forcible imposition of Islamic law. However, the election passed off peacefully. Unofficial counts showed Mr Baswedan easily beat Ahok with around 58% of the vote. Ahok would have been the first Chinese Christian to win the job in an election. In the end, however, a row about religion upended his campaign.
His election seemed secure. But early in the campaign he gave a speech in which he urged voters not to heed those who used a particular verse from the Koran to argue that Muslims should not vote for Christians. Hardline Islamists, who had attacked Ahok for his race and religion since he became governor, edited the speech to make it sound as if he was criticising the Koran. The agitators organised massive anti-Ahok rallies. In November prosecutors charged Ahok with blasphemy.
Mr Baswedan spoke at the headquarters of the Islam Defenders Front and later joined its leader, Rizieq Shihab, for prayers before a big anti-Ahok rally. In the wake of his victory, Mr Baswedan made all the right noises, pledging to defend diversity. But he celebrated in the company of Mr Shihab, once again. Marcus Mietzner of the Australian National University worries that “it demonstrates that militant Islamists have become more organised, established better connections with elite networks, and have found ways of building alliances with mainstream politicians.” Mr Baswedan is not about to impose Islamic law in Jakarta. But hardline forces certainly helped him win. That genie is not easily returned to the bottle.
It was the 34th annual convention of France’s Muslims at the weekend in le Bourget, just north of Paris, and the main topic of conversation was the upcoming presidential election. Five years ago, when François Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy to become president, the Socialist candidate benefited from 86 per cent of the Muslim vote. That won’t happen in 2017. The man who stands to gain most from the disenchanted Muslim electorate is Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Although in the past the far-left candidate has spoken out against the wearing of religious clothing, he was firmly on the side of those young women forbidden by court orders to wear what they wanted to wear on the beach, the notorious burkini row. ‘In our country’, he tweeted, ‘we have persecuted the Jews, then the Protestants and today the Muslims’. The conservative newspaper, Le Figaro, was quick to ridicule the former communist with an article headlined ‘Comrade Mélenchon converts to Islamo-gauchism’. Following Mohammed Merah’s rampage across France in March 2012 in which he singled out Muslim soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren for cold-blooded execution, Mélenchon dismissed any link to Islam. Two years later, when violent pro-Palestine demonstrations broke out across Paris, Mélenchon insisted anti-Semitism was not a factor and blamed the burned-out Jewish shops and businesses on ‘a handful of nutters’. Then, in November 2015, days after an Islamist terror cell had butchered 130 people in Paris, Mélenchon declared to the European Parliament that ‘the cause of terrorism is money and religious fundamentalism is the mask of a war for money’.
“When they touch the precepts of our religion, it’s like they’ve insulted us. They talk about us, but our voice is not heard“. That’s why he and many other Muslims are voting for Mélenchon, in the hope their voice will be heard.