Vigilantism as ‘Twilight Institution’: Islamic Vigilante Groups and the State in Post-Suharto Yogyakarta

Moh Zaki Arrobi(1*)

(1) Department of Sociology, Gadjah Mada University
(*) Corresponding Author


The paper attempts to comprehend the nexus between vigilantism, a particular form of citizenship, and identity politics within the Islamist groups active in Yogyakarta in the post-Suharto era. As numerous studies have revealed, democracy in post-Suharto Indonesia has been marked by the persistent presence of militias, gangs, vigilantism, and street politics. These groups have largely embraced ethnicity, religion, and localism as symbols upon the basis of which they claim to defend and represent specific communities. The rise of identity-based groups, which frequently break the law and disturb public order, has been portrayed as the emergence of ‘uncivil society’ elements that are challenging state authority and threatening democratic values and the very foundations of civil society. Without rejecting a certain degree of fact within these studies, this article suggests that these explanations have failed to understand the complexity of such groups and the reason for their persistence in local political landscapes.

This article argues that such groups have exercised a form of citizenship that is characterised by the mobilisation of local support, patronage politics, and discourses of localised ‘Islamic populism’. In this regard, it suggests that the prominence of Islamist vigilante groups in Yogyakarta lies in their role as ‘twilight institutions’ that can channel citizens into state institutions not only to negotiate basic rights such as employment and public service through violence, patronage, and security businesses, but also to defend an imagined and localised ummah community.

In making such arguments, this paper focuses on the role of Islamist groups in Yogyakarta, particularly groups that are loosely associated with the United Development Party (PPP) such as Gerakan Pemuda Kaaba (Kaaba Youth Movement), Gerakan Anti Maksiat (Anti-Vice Movement), and Laskar Hizbullah (Hizbullah Troops), as exemplars for elucidating the intersection of identity politics, vigilantism, and citizenship in the local political landscape. Primary data were conducted through in-depth interviews as well as participatory observations between 2014 and 2016.


Identity politics, Islamism, vigilante, citizenship

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