The dark side of civil society: Indonesia edition

One of my favorite articles is Sheri Berman’s “Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic” because it pushed past the blandly positive celebrations of civil society that have been very prominent in political science.

UChicago Ph.D student Sana Jaffrey has a fascinating preview of ongoing dissertation research in New Mandala. It explores how civil society in Indonesia has become an increasingly illiberal force:
“Yet instead of advancing progressive reforms that guarantee civic equality, these energies are being deployed to articulate illiberal demands that emphasise communitarian differences. . . .

Unlike the New Order, however, there is considerable slippage in the way that local leaders interpreted and executed their reinstated social control functions, far beyond just reporting suspected terrorist activity. They have, in fact, expanded to regulate a host of activities that allegedly “agitate” residents.

Most frequently, these efforts target individuals belonging to religious and social minorities. These include rejection of “deviant” sectsprohibition of worship by minority religionspunishment of alleged fornication and even the forced eviction of homosexuals, transgender people, and families of suspected terrorists. Troublingly, most of these interventions are made in consultation with local law enforcement officials, who acknowledge RT/RW chiefs as representatives of their residents’ demands and facilitate their requests as part of community policing.. . . .

recent events indicate that the RT/RWs may also be resuming their political control functions amid contests over the allocation of state funds by rival candidates”



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