Indonesia’s carbon crisis: will Islam get dirty hands?

Jun 18, 2024
This coal comes from Kalimantan, Indonesia. Coal is a source of energy used as fuel for power plants.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)(revival of the scholars) is Indonesia and the world’s largest Islamic organisation claiming almost 100 million members. If it digs coal it could become mega-rich. How dirty work marries with sending souls to paradise only Allah knows.

President Joko ’Jokowi’ Widodo has four months left in office, enough time to sow division before handing the job on to the elected former cashiered general Prabowo Subianto.

In May, Jokowi signed a decree letting religious groups apply to be the first shovel in the ore for special mining concessions. Not quite a gift from the gods as the Republic is supposed to be monotheistic, but pretty close.

This allows him to make good on an old promise to religious groups to take over mining concessions to raise funds. What the hell has coarse commerce got to do with matters of faith?

One answer: Politics, or as The Jakarta Post described it clumsily because pig meat is taboo to Muslims, “halal-certified state-sponsored pork barrelling”.

It added: “The government has come out with one of the most ridiculous policies in the history of this nation … It’s now up to the country’s largest Muslim organisation to back out on moral grounds.”

But will the lure of lucre prevail over Islam’s obligations to be honest, fair and righteous?

NU supported the Prabowo ticket in the February presidential election as did Jokowi who was constitutionally barred from taking a third five-year term.

Instead, he engineered for his eldest son Gibran Rakabuming to contest as number two. He’s now Vice-President elect.

The lead-up to the inauguration is a time to settle debts and cement alliances. If enough minor parties join the Prabowo-Gibran winning team, opposition will be left to NGOs.

Most are poor and poorly equipped to do more than their narrow roles, like advocating for human rights.

The churches have already knocked back Jokowi’s offer saying that fossil fuels are not their job and they’re better at consulting holy books than mining manuals. The mosques are dithering.

Second behind NU is Muhammadiyah (followers of Muhammad) with 60 million members. It tends to attract the better-educated middle class.

At present it’s pondering the Jokowi offer, but observers reckon nothing will happen as the gift has been pegged only for the NU.

The six government-approved religions, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism have charity wings. They run schools, hospitals, clinics and retirement homes principally for their members and could probably improve their work with mining profits.

But supping with this devil will need a long-arm excavator.

Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia was reported as saying the handout was “in return to their past services during and after the country’s struggle for independence … you are investing for the hereafter.” That’s something most religions have been doing for millennia.

The government says any faith group that accepts the deal has to run the show themselves. This means they can’t flog off a mining permit or farm out business to an established company, even though it has the gear and expertise.

That rule crimps expectations of the beneficiaries only needing bigger truck parks and tips to take Haulpaks of rupiah.

A few right-wing congregations believe the earth is for exploitation; the rest take a more environmentally conscious position accepting that despoiling nature is not part of any Deity’s plan.

The better read will know that most responsible nations are moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter and third biggest producer; to the distress of those worried about global warming it shows no sign of slowing down; the compound annual growth rate has been seven per cent since 2019. This year it expects to produce 710 million tonnes.

There are precedents for Jokowi’s generosity though unfair and distressing.

Last century then president Soeharto gave forestry concessions. Tens of thousands of hectares of virgin growth mainly in Kalimantan (Borneo island) to relatives and mates, particularly army generals, establishing vast business enterprises.

Many wield enormous power today and are part of the oligarchy. We’ve yet to hear how the profiteers feel about sharing their spoils with the pious.

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