Islamic vigilantes raid major bookstore in Makassar searching for leftist books

Source – August 5, 2019
BMI members hold books at Gramedia bookstore in Makassar – August 3, 2019 (Suara)
BMI members hold books at Gramedia bookstore in Makassar – August 3, 2019 (Suara)

Haris Prabowo – A book raid by a group of people calling themselves the Indonesian Muslim Brigade (BMI) in the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar has caused an uproar on social media. The group confiscated books which they claim contain “communist and leftist ideas”.

This time however, the raid was not on a small bookshop or like the recent seizure of books from a book stall in Probolinggo, but from a bookstore by Indonesia’s biggest book retailer Gramedia at the Trans Mall in Makassar on Saturday August 3.

In a video uploaded on the Tanah Merdeka (Independent Land) Instagram account, the group can be seen making a statement as they hold several books which the they want returned to the publishers.

“[We’re] currently conducting a search for books containing radical ideas which have actually been prohibited by law”, says one of the men in the video.

“Praise be to Allah we are coordinating with the Gramedia management to withdraw these books and return them to their publishers. We agree that Makassar must be free from the ideas of Marxism and Leninism”, he adds.

There were several books which they were concerned about in the video, namely Karl Marx’s Thoughts: From Utopian Socialism to the Dispute of Revisionism (Pemikiran Karl Marx: Dari Sosialisme Utopis ke Perselisihan Revisionisme) and In the Shadows of Lenin: Six Thoughts on Marxism from Lenin to Tan Malacca (Dalam Bayang-Bayang Lenin: Enam Pemikiran Marxisme dari Lenin sampai Tan Malaka).

Both books were written by Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Catholic priest and professor of philosophy.

Rights violation

Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) founder Nasir Tamara strongly criticised the book raid which he believes was a violation of human rights (HAM).

“Raids like this seriously harm the interests of authors and conflict with the principles of democracy. It defiantly violates HAM. The government must take firm [legal] action against those who conduct [raids]”, Tamara told Tirto on Sunday August 4.

“The impression right, is that books have become an arena of political and ideological contest”, he added.

Reckless and illegal

The book raid was also very counterproductive and against initiatives taken in Makassar to promote the development of a literary culture. One of these is the Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF), an annual national festival which focuses on the development of literacy.

MIWF Chairperson Lily Yulianti Farid also slammed the raid saying she believes that what the group did was reckless and against the law.

“The banning of books according to the law must be through the courts. The Attorney General’s authority is limited to studying books which are deemed to disturb public order”, said Farid when contacted by Tirto on Sunday.

“The raid was carried out by a group called the Indonesian Muslim Brigade, I’ve never heard of this organisation before”, she added.

What’s interesting, said Farid, is that one of the seized books was written by Magnis-Suseno titled Karl Marx’s Thoughts: From Utopian Socialism to the Dispute of Revisionism, which is actually critical of Marxism. This shows that the group did not even understand the contents of the books they took.

“Franz Magnis-Suseno’s book is actually critical of communist teachings, Marxism and Leninism”, she explained.

In 2019 the MIWF issued a statement on book raids and bannings. “In 2016 we held a symbolic movement holding books up to the heavens on the closing night. At the time there were lots of book bannings and discussion. What we did back then is again relevant in the context of [what happened] in Makassar today”, said Farid.

Read the books first

Gramedia Kompas Corporate Communications Director Rusdi Amral said he regrets the book raid by the BMI and that their actions were clearly against the law.

“Book raids, or arbitrarily securing printed materials are not allowed since the ruling issued by the Constitutional Court [MK] in 2010. The MK ruled that book bannings must be done through the courts”, said Amral when sought for confirmation by Tirto on Sunday.

Amral suggested that the BMI should read the books that they seized and if necessary even hold a discussion. “If indeed they find contents that has Marxist and Leninist teachings, then report it to law enforcement officials”, he said.

Amral said that Gramedia has refused the request to return the books to the publishers saying that no books sold in Gramedia bookstores violate the law in any way. “As long as they don’t violate the law we won’t return them to the publishers”, he asserted.

Although the BMI broke the law, Amral said that Gramedia does not feel the need to report the matter to police.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Razia Buku “Kiri” di Gramedia Makassar: Gegabah dan Melanggar Hukum”.]