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Viewpoints of Prominent PKS Parliamentarians on the Future Development of PKS in Indonesia
May 19, 2012 by Dr. Farish A. Noor
II. Interview with Zulkieflimansyah, Member of Parliament of the PKS, Jakarta, 5th October 2011.
Q. The Partai Keadilan Sejahtera PKS is well established on the landscape of Indonesian politics by now, but despite the success you as a party have achieved in terms of winning Parliamentary seats, there remain many Islamist movements and groups who do not agree with your approach. On the one hand there are the neo-Salafi groups like the Tablighi Jama’at who seem to think that politics as a whole is corrupt and contaminating, and who think that the PKS has dirtied itself with the business of politics. Then on the other hand there are the more radical and violent groups who say that PKS has chosen the un-Islamic path by choosing to enter the democratic arena, which they regard as not only un-Islamic, but even haram by the standards of some of them. How do you (PKS) deal with these criticisms?
ZM: Yes we know that these criticisms exist, but they are normal for as you say we are part of a broader landscape of Muslim politics in Indonesia. PKS is a community you see, and we see our work as part of the long-term struggle of a community. Our approach is pragmatic and functionalist, for what we want is to deliver results.
Groups like the Tablighi Jama’at are entitled to their opinion, but for us there is no way we can bring about real results without entering the political arena. Personally I have nothing against the Tablighi Jama’at for they are neither deviants nor heretics, and frankly they do not pose a real threat to us. In my view the Tabligh is part of the overall Muslim phenomenon, but their anti-modern approach makes them out of date and out of time. If they wish to do their missionary work, that is ok; for it doesn’t hurt to make Muslims better Muslims. But we are trying to do something more than that.
The PKS has grown more pragmatic and realist over time; and even as a community ours is one where the learning process is still slow, and I will admit to that. For the PKS has to be more than just a party that seeks to win elections and to gain power. We are not trying to sell religion, in the sense of branding our politics. We are trying to show that Muslims can enter that political space and change it from within, by inculcating Islamic values that bring about positive changes for everyone. That is something that non-political or anti-political groups cannot do; not even the more radical ones like the Fron Pembela Islam or Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.
Q: But this talk of changing the political system from within, etc. is precisely the reason why some people who oppose you (the PKS) think that you are entering the democratic political space in order to radically change it from within, permanently.
ZM: Firstly, let me say this simply: We cannot knock the system too hard because if we do the system will knock us back harder. Its as simple as that, and the younger generation of the PKS leaders and members are more pragmatic and realistic, and they realise this. So any talk of radical politics is out of the question, for what we want is slow but tangible change
The other problem lies in the mindset of some of the conservative Ulama, be they the Ulama in PKS or even outside the party in the other Muslim groups you mentioned. That’s where the reformists encounter problems in terms of differences of interpretation.
But remember the organic roots of the PKS as a movement. Long before it became a party, it came from the likes of me and my generation who were university students in Indonesia, studying at secular universities like Universitas Indonesia (UI), Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), etc. We were all trained in the hard sciences or the social sciences, and not religion. So our original cadre base does not come from the madrasahs or pesantrens of Indonesia, but rather from the secular universities. Then from the 1970s and 1980s, our generation was seeking answers to the social problems we were facing while living under the New Order regime of Suharto and the army. We turned to religion because many of us felt there was a spiritual vacuum in our lives, but also because we wanted to seek other discourses to express our political vision for the future. With the fall of Suharto in 1998 PKS was formed, but at that time we were mainly professionals and students of secular universities with secular educational backgrounds.
That’s one of the ironies of Indonesia during the Suharto period: The students of the secular universities ended up joining an Islamist political movement, while the students of the UINS and IAINs (State Islamic Universities and Research Centres) ended up becoming liberals who criticised us in the Islamist movement!