The Practice of Affinity: Making Social Justice Work on Indonesia's Muslim Left
Lecture by Sophia Hornbacher-Schönleber (University of Cambridge)
Decades after the violent extermination of communism in the mid-1960s, anything associated with it remains suspect in the mainstream public discourse of Indonesia. Yet, more recently, leftist ideas have received renewed interest among youth activists even if their expression is still a risky matter. Against this background, this paper examines an ethnographic case of a leftist Muslim (youth) activist group, engaged in solidarity with peasants affected by agrarian conflicts. Activist leaders put considerable ethical and intellectual work into synthesising Marxism and Islam by emphasising the affinities between central moral teloi, in particular social justice and liberation. This serves to legitimise their leftism, which is widely seen to be atheist and anti-Islamic, and to mobilise Muslim youths.
But how does the struggle and the activist work towards these temporally distant and abstract teloi play out concretely and in the short term? To answer this question, the paper examines the case study of a collaboration between my interlocutors and a group of peasant activists in Java who were confronted with forced relocation by a large infrastructure project. With the aim of practicing solidarity across difference, leftist Muslim activists are shown to work with affinities between moral principles in relation to their peasant activist counterparts. This emphasis on affinity enables the development of shared activist practices without explicitly addressing differences between the two groups’ outlooks or the wider issue of leftism’s tainted history in Indonesia.
Sophia Hornbacher-Schönleber is a teaching associate and affiliated lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests centre on the relationship between ethical reflection and activist practice in Indonesia as well as Islamic ethics and morality beyond personal piety. For her PhD (Cambridge, 2021), she studied leftist Muslim activists in Java who are engaged in solidarity with peasants faced with agrarian conflicts. Her postdoctoral project turns to the link between egalitarianism and ecology in a grassroots agrarian and environmentalist activist movement in Java.
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