ATbar A Discriminated Majority?

A Discriminated Majority?

25/03/2017 | by D'Souza, Kirk  


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One of the central themes in Islamist ideology is the persecution of the global Muslim community, or ummah, by enemies of Islam. These enemies have been defined in various ways over the past few centuries – Crusaders, Mongols, Jews, Christians, Zionists, the West, America, and Shiites, just to name a few. Islamism is not unique in identifying enemies – other types of radical fundamentalism are animated by confrontation and opposition.[1] This narrative was articulated clearly by Islamist activists like Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, and Ibn Taymiyyah who argued at various points in history that Muslim lands had been invaded and stolen, Muslims were being killed and converted, and the practice of Islam was being severely restricted by the enemies of Islam.

Qutb even extended the label of “enemy of Islam” to the secularist political leaders of Muslim countries in the Middle East, especially Egypt. After the 1952 revolution in Egypt, Islamists were hopeful that an Islamic state could be established, but instead, thousands of Islamists were imprisoned and tortured by the secularist military government.[2] Qutb declared that President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his deputies were not Muslims, labelling them as “infidels” and calling for violent struggle against them. For Qutb, the only solution to the global persecution and oppression of the ummah is the establishment of the Islamic state or Caliphate:

“There is only one place on earth which can be called the home of Islam (Dar-ul-Islam), and it is that place where the Islamic state is established and the Shariah is the authority and God’s limits are observed and where all Muslims administer the affairs of the state with mutual consultation. The rest of the world is the home of hostility (Dar-ul-Harb).” (Qutb)[3]

According to Islamist jihadi ideology, in the face of this global oppression of the ummah, the justified and obligatory response of all Muslims is to resist the enemy through jihad. Islamist jihadi teachers and ideologues like Abdullah Yusuf Azzam have issued calls to Muslims around the world to assume the role of the mujahidin and wage jihad against the kuffar (infidels), not only through protest and piety, but also through violence. As Azzam wrote:

Jihad is now… incumbent on all Muslims and will remains so until the Muslims recapture every spot that was Islamic but later fell into the hands of the kuffar (infidels). Jihad has been a fard ‘ain (individual obligation) since the fall of al-Andalus (Spain), and will remain so until all other lands that were Muslim are returned to us… Palestine, Bukhara, Lebanon, Chad, Eritrea, Somalia, the Philippines, Burma, Southern Yemen, Tashkent and al-Andalus…” (Azzam)[4]

In the 1980s, Muslim foreign fighters travelled from around the world to Pakistan and Afghanistan to wage jihad against the invading Soviet army. These foreign fighters included Indonesians. Even today, Indonesian Muslims have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as foreign fighters.

Regardless of one’s political or ideological perspective on the civil war in Syria and Iraq, it is clear that Muslims in these countries are experiencing tremendous suffering. Hence, the rationale of Indonesian foreign fighters for travelling to Syria and Iraq is understandable – they are infuriated by the suffering and persecution of the people they regard as their Muslim brethren, and they have resolved to join the “righteous struggle” against the perpetrators of this injustice, which in their eyes include the Assad regime and the US-led coalition.

What is more puzzling, however, is the argument made by some Indonesian Islamists that Muslims in Indonesia are facing unjust persecution and discrimination in their own country. This is despite the fact that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and Muslims make up 87.2% of the Indonesian population.[5] This argument is prevalent on Islamist online news websites in the form of news articles, editorials, opinion pieces, and social media posts, as will be discussed below.

It makes more sense that Muslims in North America and Europe would feel that they are discriminated against. These Muslim communities are religious and ethnic minorities, and are subject to a significant amount of religious discrimination, be it legal discrimination, social exclusion or economic marginalization.[6] However, Sunni Muslims form the majority in Indonesia, and Indonesia’s Islamic heritage goes back several centuries, when Muslim traders from the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East spread the message of Islam through the Indonesian Archipelago.[7]

As for Muslims in the Middle East, the idea of oppression and persecution by the West is kept alive by Western intervention in the region for the past few decades. In the eyes of many Muslims in the region, this intervention includes not only the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively, but also American political support and military assistance to Israel.[8] However, the notion of persecution by the West does not seem relevant to Indonesian Muslims, especially since the departure of European colonial powers from Southeast Asia after WWII. Why then would some Indonesian Muslims perceive Western encroachment upon their country and society?

The argument of Indonesian Muslims being a “discriminated majority” is not only puzzling – it is potentially dangerous as well. While it is true that not all who adhere to this perspective of victimization will decide to take action by carrying out acts of violence against the sources of their perceived persecution, violent jihad is fueled by the perception of victimization, as will be discussed further in the Literature Review. Hence, based on the belief that Indonesian Muslims are oppressed and persecuted, some Indonesian Muslims could decide to wage violent jihad at home.

The overall question then is why some Muslims in Indonesia apply the Islamist argument of persecution of the ummah to the Muslim community in Indonesia, when it is clear that this argument is not as salient as it is to other Muslims around the world. One way to tackle this question is to examine how Indonesian Islamist writers persuade their audiences that Indonesian Muslims are experiencing discrimination in their country. How do Indonesian Islamist writers argue that Indonesian Muslims face discrimination? What are the main grievances and perpetrators of injustice according to these Indonesian Islamist writers?

In this paper, these questions will be answered through a qualitative analysis of Indonesian Islamist online news websites. Online media is becoming increasingly accessible to Indonesians as the Internet penetration rate[9] continues to increase. As of June 2016, there are 88 million Internet users in Indonesia, representing an Internet penetration rate of 34.1%[10]. While print media, sermons in mosques, and lessons in madrasahs are still highly influential and accessible, the growing reach of online media means that it is becoming more potent as a tool to propagate Islamist ideology, making it an important source of information to study. Moreover, the high accessibility of online media makes it easy for academics and policymakers to analyze since these Islamist online news websites can be accessed on an Internet browser anywhere in the world. Most importantly, these Islamist online news websites use religious precepts to analyze current affairs, thus demonstrating how religious beliefs and principles can be applied to the real world. Some readers of these websites who formulate an Islamist worldview may carry out political acts, which include demonstrations, voting for Islamist parties, and even political violence or terrorism.  

This report is structured as follows. Chapter 1 (Definitions and Significance) discusses academic definitions of “ideology”, defines Islamist ideology in particular, and discusses the importance of understanding the ideology of social movements in general and Islamist movements in particular. Chapter 2 (Literature Review) analyzes previous literature on the theme of “group discrimination” in Islamist discourse in general, as well as literature on the topic of Indonesian Islamist websites specifically. Chapter 3 (Methodology) discusses the methodology used in this report to select and analyze articles from Indonesian Islamist online news websites.

The main body of the report, Chapter 4 (Content Analysis), is an extensive and in-depth analysis of the content of the chosen articles from Indonesian Islamist online news websites. This chapter discusses the alleged perpetrators of discrimination against the Indonesian Muslim community according to these articles. The Conclusion summarizes these Indonesian Islamist writers’ main grievances, as well as their proposed solutions.

[1] Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, “Conclusions: An Interim Report on a Hypothetical Family,” in Fundamentalism Observed, eds. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), 820.

[2] Marco Nilsson, “Foreign Fighters and the Radicalization of Local Jihad: Interview Evidence from Swedish Jihadists”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 38 (2015): 343-358.

[3] John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 60.

[4] Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America (New York: Granta, 2002), 203.

[5] Badan Pusat Statistik, Citizenship, Racial, Religious and Everyday Linguistic of Indonesian People: 2010 Population Census of Indonesia,

[6] Opinion poll data by Gallup on Islamophobia in the West can be found on this website:

[7] Azyumardi Azra, “The Megawati Presidency: Challenge of Political Islam” (paper presented at “Joint Public Forum on Indonesia: The First 100 Days of President Megawati”, Singapore, November 1, 2001)

[8] Mohammed Ayoob, “Challenging Hegemony: Political Islam and the North-South Divide,” International Studies Review 9 (2007): 629-643.

[9] The Internet penetration rate is defined on the Internet World Stats website as “the percentage of the total population of a given country or region that uses the Internet”. Internet users are defined as people who have “available access to an Internet connection point”, and have the “basic knowledge required to use web technology”. Website:

[10] Data on Internet usage in Asia can be found on the Internet World Stats website:

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