Dr Ian Wilson

Dr Ian Wilson

Dr Ian Wilson, Lecturer, Research Fellow, Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University

‘Proxy wars’ and Moral Panics:  the Moral Economy of Street Politics in Indonesia

The past year has witnessed increasing instances of vigilantism involving Islamist groups forcibly shutting down public events and discussions on the grounds of being ‘immoral’, ‘illegal’ or fronts for ‘neo-communism’. In most cases the Indonesian police have either actively or passively sided with the militants. Public commentary in Indonesia has fluctuated in its analysis of the forces behind this. Some accuse the authorities of turning a blind eye to growing intolerance and sectarianism while others allege it is at the behest of political elites themselves, using vigilantes and militias to silence dissent and divert public attention.

Discussing recent cases within the broader political and historical context of collusion between state actors and vigilante groups, it will be suggested that the upsurge in attacks on events identified as liberal or leftist involves a volatile marriage between two different realms of politics:  parliament and the streets. Despite hopes to the contrary, conservative and right-wing elements have gained significant ground under the current administration.  The Minister for Defence, for example, recently claimed that campaigns for LGBT rights constituted part of a ‘proxy war’ threatening to destroy Indonesia. Meanwhile, in streets and kampung of urban centres such as Jakarta, congested and increasingly segregated spaces and economies produce particular kinds of disenfranchised political subjects. Street-based organisations and militias have proven adept at reaching out to these largely young men, pitching to deep-felt resentment, anomie and anger at the ‘liberal’ consumer lifestyles from which they are excluded.


Dr Ian Wilson is a lecturer in Politics and International Studies and Security Studies, and a research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University.  His research interests include the political economy of gangs, organised crime, political corruption and violence. He also has an interest in urban politics, in particular infrastructural politics, the political agency of the poor and the relationships between urbanisation and social and political change. He has worked collaboratively with a number of organisations such as Indonesian Corruption Watch and published in journals such as Critical Asian Studies and Journal of Nationalism and Ethnic Politics. His latest book, The Politics of Protection Rackets in Post-New Order Indonesia: coercive capital, authority and street politics, was published by Routledge in 2015. For more see Dr Ian Wilson’s staff profile.