Episode 139      28 min 59 sec
Muslim publics divided: Encounters with anti-pluralism in a democratic Indonesia

Indonesian law expert Professor Tim Lindsey discusses the apparent decline in religious pluralism in contemporary Indonesia against a backdrop of anything-goes press freedoms and laissez-faire officaldom. Also, liberal Muslim activist Dr M. Syafi’i Anwar recounts his experience at the hands of hardline Islamist groups,and the battle for the minds of ordinary Indonesians. With host Jennifer Cook.

"These tensions aren’t because the conservatives are winning, it is precisely because they are losing in mainstream politics." -- Professor Tim Lindsey




           



Prof Tim Lindsey
Prof Tim Lindsey

Tim Lindsey is an ARC Federation Fellow and Director of the Asian Law Centre, which he joined in 1990. He is also Director of the Centre for Islamic Law and Society (formerly, Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam).

Tim is a graduate of the University of Melbourne Law School and completed his doctoral thesis in Indonesian studies. He teaches and researches Indonesian law, syariah (Islamic law), comparative law and law reform in developing countries. He researches and teaches in Bahasa Indonesia, is chair of the Australia-Indonesia Institute and is a practicing member of the Victorian Bar.

His publications include Indonesia: Law & Society (2nd Edition); Government of the Shadows: Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty (with Eric Wilson); Law Reform in Transitional and Developing States; and Corruption in Asia (with Howard Dick). He is a founding editor of the Australian Journal of Asian Law.

Dr M. Syafi'i Anwar
Dr M. Syafi'i Anwar

M. Syafi’i Anwar is the Executive Director of ICIP (International Center for Islam and Pluralism).Born in Kudus, Central Java, Indonesia, on September 27, 1953, he obtained his Ph.D in history and political sociology at the Department of Indonesian-Islamic Studies, The University of Melbourne, Australia in 2005.  In December 2006-September 2007, he was selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Geneva as one of 5 (five) independent experts representing group of Asian states. Prior to his current position, Anwar was Editor-in-Chief of the two leading Islamic magazines in Indonesia, i.e. Panji Masyarakat (1986-1988) and Ummat  (1995-1999).

Since 2006, he has been a lecturer at School of Post-Graduate Studies, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta.  Among his selected works are (1) “The Future of Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Between Hope and History”, which has been translated into Spanish, in “El Futuro del Islam y de la Democracia en Indonesia”,  Culturas, No.6, 2010, (2) “The Interplay Between U.S. Foreign Policy and Political Islam in Post-Soeharto Indonesia”, The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, Washington D.C, Working Paper No.3, September 2008; (3) “The Clash of Religio-Political Thought: The Contest Between Radical-Conservative-Islam and Progressive Liberal Islam in Post-Soeharto Indonesia”,  in T.N. Srinivasan, (Ed), The Future of Secularism, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Credits

Host: Jennifer Cook
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Transcription: Andy Fuller
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param

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VOICEOVER
Welcome to Up Close, the research, opinion and analysis podcast from The University of Melbourne, Australia.

JENNIFER COOK
I’m Jennifer Cook, thanks for joining us. The Republic of Indonesia, with a population of more than 238 million people, spread over more than 17,000 islands, it holds claim as one of the more successful, functioning and genuinely open, multiparty democracies in Asia. Close to 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, yet the country officially embraces a philosophy of religious tolerance and pluralism. It is also amongst the world’s fastest growing emerging economies. A remarkable achievement, following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. But, Indonesia has undergone huge upheavals following the end of President Suharto’s 32-year rule including changes to the constitution that set out new articles concerning human rights and providing for real freedom of the press. In this episode of Up Close, we take Indonesia’s democratic pulse and examine how the right to freedom of expression seems to have been accompanied by a rise in the influence of fundamentalist Islamist groups and a decline in religious pluralism. Prof Tim Lindsey is the director of the Asian Law Centre here at The University of Melbourne and an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow. He believes that amidst the changing political and social currents in Indonesia, what is going on is no less than a fight within the Islamic community for the future of Islam in that country. He is joined by telephone from Indonesia by Dr M Syafi’i Anwar, the director of the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism in Jakarta. Syafi’i, a former journalist and editor, was branded a CIA agent and western puppet by Islamist groups when he spoke up for pluralism in his country. And in 2008, he was beaten and hospitalised during a peaceful demonstration in Jakarta that erupted into a violent brawl of Muslim against Muslim. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

TIM LINDSEY
Thank you.

SYAFI'I ANWAR
Hello.

JENNIFER COOK
Now Tim, can you give us a backdrop to the 2008 Monas demonstration and how it resulted in this Muslim on Muslim violence?

TIM LINDSEY
What happened to Syafi’i was, a demonstration was organised to support pluralism in Indonesia and in particular to prevent persecution of Ahmadiyya. Ahmadiyya is an Islamic minority sect that believes there was another prophet who came after the Prophet Muhammad. And that is a view that is unacceptable to most mainstream Muslims. So we now have a conflict between conservative Muslims and this minority group that originates from the Pakistan-India area. Syafi’i was part of a demonstration that was trying to assert tolerance for the Ahmadis and also to support the national ideology Pancasila which includes the notion of pluralism and tolerance for other religions. Now, what happened was that Syafi’i was, along with other leaders of the moderate or mainstream Muslim community was attacked brutally by members of Front Pembela Islam or FPI as it is commonly called in Indonesia. And was severely injured. But, I think he can tell that story better himself.

SYAFI'I ANWAR
Well, I was attacked by FPI on June 1 2008. I was beaten several times by the FPI members when I was participating at the rally organised by the National Alliance for Religious Freedom and Belief for commemorating our state ideology of Pancasila, as mentioned by Tim. The FPI is one of the radical conservative Islamic movements in Indonesia. There are approximately nine groups of radical conservative Islamic groups in Indonesia, one of them is FPI. FPI was established after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1999. It has what we call ideology and, of course, mission to implement sharia. To replace Pancasila by sharia. That is the ideology of FPI. And any other groups such as Majelis Mujahidin etc. You know, as a defender of human rights and pluralism I could not receive demand from FPI to disband Ahmadiyya. Although I myself is not Ahmadiyya member, but as a human rights activist I have to defend their right to exist. And when I was beaten several times, one of the attack was reaching my head, so, I was hospitalised for four days because I was unconscious at the time and someone brought me to the hospital.

JENNIFER COOK
Must have been terrifying for you Syafi’i.

SYAFI'I ANWAR
Definitely. This is the worst experience that I have ever had in my life, in my career as a defender of pluralism, actually. The participants of the rally was approximately 3,000 people including men, women and children actually. Approximately 70 people were injured. From that, approximately 20 were seriously injured including I myself.

TIM LINDSEY
Syafi’i, I have a question for you, the FPI are behaving like gangsters and criminals and they are breaking the law, clearly they are breaking the ordinary criminal laws in Indonesia, and yet, although there were many police present at the rally, they did not intervene and they did nothing. Why is it, that the government isn’t prepared to take steps against FPI?

SYAFI'I ANWAR
Yeah, that’s the problem actually. It seems to me that the government develop what I call the politics of ‘let the situation take place’. In Indonesian language, ‘politik pembiaran’. You know, let the situation take place. It seems to me that the government implement what I call ‘indecisive policy’ regarding FPI. Despite the fact that I was a supporter of SBY. President SBY has a weakness, it seems to me that he is indecisive in making any firm and concise decision related to radical conservative groups.

TIM LINDSEY
The interesting question there is why is he indecisive?

SYAFI'I ANWAR
Yeah, I don’t know exactly. Most probably because of his Javanese style of leadership as many observers have said. This is also related to political calculation of SBY. But, frankly speaking, I don’t know exactly what is the problem or factor causing this kind of policy.

JENNIFER COOK
Syafi’i, I’d like to ask you, there is more liberal Muslim scholars and researchers in Indonesia, they seek to position Islam as a more tolerant, moderating force in Indonesian society, but how can these relatively liberal ideas be made to reach the masses of Indonesian Muslims? And aren’t these liberal Muslim scholars, researchers, a kind of elite that remain outside mainstream public thought on Islam and society?

SYAFI'I ANWAR
Well, that is a very important question, Jen. As a matter of fact, you are right, that mostly progressive, liberal Islam, they are what I call a true, intellectual leadership, so, they just reach Muslim middle class and educated Muslims. The problem lies in the fact that, they tend to be too elitist, too sophisticated in disseminating their ideas. So, the problem is that ordinary people used to have a simple and more easily understood ideas. But in this regard the progressive, liberal Islam tend to use a sophisticated approach. That is my critical point. However, it is right that we progressive, liberal Islam are very, very committed to promote moderate and progressive ideas of Islam. But again, we are facing the biggest challenge from the radical conservative Islam. Why because we are suspected as the agents of the west, agent of USA and of course as defender of western ideas. That’s the problem actually. However, in the future, it would be better if the proponent of moderate and progressive liberal Islam try to use what I call ‘down to earth approach’, easily understood, yeah for the ordinary people instead of using only intellectual approach. Why, because ordinary people lack information, lack education, and of course, lacking in understanding of Islamic perspective based on the social sciences etc. So, what we need for the future is to make our ideas easily understood by the ordinary people and this regards what I have developed so far is what we call pluralism in action. Rather than promoting ‘interfaith dialogue’, interfaith talking etc. Because what we need is to promote not only ideas but also action.

JENNIFER COOK
Tim, what do you think this says about a post-Suharto, newly democratised Indonesia?

TIM LINDSEY
The most important thing in understanding what happened in Indonesia as regards Islam and democracy after Suharto is actually what happened beforehand. For 32 years under Suharto’s New Order, political freedoms and in particular religious freedoms were controlled. The New Order government feared political Islam and so prevented public expression of Islamic identity. Which became almost subversive. The wearing of Islamic clothes in public places in offices and so forth were banned. And Islamic political parties were forcibly amalgamated into a party that didn’t even have Islam in its name. So, after 32 years of repression, that at times went as far as killing large numbers of people, every now and then there would be an incident that would remind Islamic agitators what it was prepared to do, and shoot some of them. After 32 years of this, the fall of Suharto led to this complete opening up of the Indonesian system. Indonesia went through a rapid democratic transformation that resulted in the introduction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights almost completely in tact in a new constitution that was put together between 1999 and 2002.

JENNIFER COOK
I’m just trying to imagine, how these people would have felt after being so repressed, it would have just been like being able to breathe for the first time.

TIM LINDSEY
Indeed. And it led to this efflorescence of Islamic culture, Islamic ideas, Islamic politics, Islamic debate, both on the right and on the left. So, what you had was Islamic voices of conservatism, radicalism, militancy, but you also had voices of Islamic liberalism, what we call the moderate groups if you like. So, the liberalising, the freeing up of Islam after more than three decades of repression led to, yes, public expression of Islamic identity, but also debate about what that identity was like. And that has been seen in mainstream Islamic politics, where you have Islamic parties that are really close to being a secular party which even invite Christians and Hindus as members. And you have other political parties that assert the need to introduce sharia, not just in politics though, also in public life. Islamic costume? Do you wear it? Do you not wear it? If you wear it, what does it mean? And of course, in the streets, that includes violent Islamic gangs and Muslims protesting for their freedoms against those gangs.

JENNIFER COOK
This is Up Close coming to you from The University of Melbourne, Australia. I am Jennifer Cook and our guests today are Prof Tim Lindsey, the director of the Asian Law Centre here at The University of Melbourne and he is joined by Dr M Syafi’i Anwar, the director of the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism.
Tim, you mentioned sharia…

TIM LINDSEY
Sharia is generally understood as a reference to Islamic law. Islamic legal traditions. It is a contested word. There are many different understandings of what it means, but essentially it means ‘Islamic law’. In Indonesia the advocates of sharia want to see sharia as the key source of legal norms, displacing other sources of legislation. They would like to see traditional interpretations of Islamic fiqh or jurisprudence being enforced by the state. So, a lot of this argument about what Islam will be in Indonesia after the end of the New Order, is actually about what form of Islam that state is prepared to enforce and how far it will go. And, what happened at this rally, this demonstration that has been called ‘Monas Tragedy’, the National Monument Tragedy, was that a group of Muslims who were marching, along with other religious groups, but it was predominantly Muslims in favour of pluralism and religious tolerance were attacked by another group of Muslims, that is to say the conservative, radical, hardliners who are opposed to that level of religious tolerance. But, while this was happening, the police were standing by in large numbers and not intervening. This event became extremely important in Indonesia because it was seen as symbolising what is happening more broadly in Indonesian society: a conflict between the conservative, militant hardliners against the liberal, or progressive moderates over religious tolerance in which the state does not intervene.

JENNIFER COOK
You say the Indonesian government is not doing anything, the police aren’t doing anything. Now, you have some insight into why you think that may be the case?

TIM LINDSEY
Again, it goes back to what used to prevail in Indonesia under the New Order prior to 1998, and that was a time when the state sat above civil society and tightly controlled what went on in the community underneath it. With the fall of Suharto and Indonesia’s remarkably successful transition to multi-party democracy the state is no longer able to control everything. This is no longer a dictatorship. This is a contested, genuine multi-party democracy. So, the state finds itself now in the middle, between the two groups. This is particularly significant, when it comes to Islam, because no government in Indonesia since Suharto has been able to win a majority. Every government has been a minority government. And this is true for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, now in his second term as president. He has at no stage controlled the legislature. Another important effect of the constitutional amendments that took place after 1999 was to shift power away from the presidency into the hands of the legislature. The legislature is by far now the most powerful institution in Indonesia. Although, many people still assume it is the presidency. It is not. Now, the president, in order to put the policy into concrete form needs to get laws through that legislature. He doesn’t have the numbers. He has about a quarter of the total numbers. He needs to build coalitions and alliances for almost everything he does in the legislature. He is not going to put his head up on the issue of Islam. If he does, he risks having his political opponents use it against him. He risks losing support from the very small Islamic parties within the legislature. And that means, effectively for the government, that the safest policy is to do nothing.

JENNIFER COOK
And, is it fair to say that the government has a high degree of tolerance when it comes to civil violence?

TIM LINDSEY
I once heard President Megawati say, that westerners need to understand that a day never goes past in Indonesia when there isn’t somebody attacking somebody over some political issue. And that is because Indonesia, you have to remember, is a nation of nearly 240 million people, and if it was laid across the map of Europe, it would run from Moscow to London. It is a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands with hundreds of ethnic groups and every major world religion represented. And so it is hardly surprising that there are such tensions within the community. Yes, the government does have a high degree of tolerance. In particular now because it would rather see horizontal conflict between religious groups, ethnic groups, political groups, directed at each other than vertical conflict against the state itself. And so, think about the fact that if in Indonesia despite the common image in the west of a vast military and a gigantic armed forces that can control the place, in fact, the military are very small in number, their capacity to maintain order is very limited. And they, in these sort of situations, fear that horizontal violence between religious groups will be directed at the state and the state won’t be able to handle it if they intervene. So, the easiest solution, politically and security terms, is for the state to step out of the debate. A debate they feel they can’t control, in any case. And let it run. Now, that explains why it happens. But of course, the casualties of this are the weakest members of the community.

JENNIFER COOK
Tim, you talk about the effect on minority groups could you tell us about the Ahmadiyya situation.

TIM LINDSEY
The Ahmadis are a group who consider themselves to be Muslims, but whom most orthodox Muslims completely reject as members of that religion. Specifically they believe that a man called Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who was born in the late 19th century and lived in the India – Pakistan region. They believe that he was another prophet, after Muhammad. And the orthodox Muslim belief is that prophecy ended with Muhammad. There are no further prophets possible. So, this is a point of deep tension between orthodox Islam and the Ahmadis who nonetheless consider themselves to be Muslims. Ahmadis have been in Indonesia since the 1920s. They have faced persecution in different countries around the world, but now they are facing it in Indonesia. And their position is particularly difficult because as I said in this struggle over the future of Islam and which groups will dominate official interpretations of Islam in Indonesia because the state tries to keep out of that argument as much as possible to prevent this vertical conflict – the tensions being directed against it – that means that there is a lot of blaming the victims, that go on. Now, the Ahmadis are classic victims. They have a position that won’t allow them to be absorbed into Islam. They consider themselves to be Muslims. And orthodox groups see them as absolutely heretical. And, this started with complaints, with a series of fatwa being issued by the peak Indonesian ulama, or religious scholars council, in Indonesia, against the Ahmadis in 1980 and again in 2008. And has since grown into civil violence led by hardline vigilante Islamist groups against them and this most recently, just in February 2011, led to killings of three Ahmadis in west Java and riots in nearby Temanggung. So, this has now gone from events such as the attack at the national monument where liberal and progressive leaders were injured to actual, in rural areas, pre-organised, planned vigilante killings of Ahmadis. And the context is not just one of fatwa issued by religious scholar organisations, but now the government at last being forced to act and it has had its own deep internal political dilemmas about what it will do and unfortunately the decision it made was to blame the victim. What happened was, the government, under great pressure from the orthodox conservative groups passed a joint ministerial decree which has been extremely unclear in what it says. What it does actually say when you read the text in its plain words is that, it limited the freedom of the Ahmadis to spread their religion and practice it in an open manner. In other words, to try and convert others to Ahmadi faith or to be seen to be publicly praying and following their rituals. It didn’t ban it outright. However, this has been interpreted as a sort of ban and we now have governments in West Java, East Java and elsewhere passing bans and that has authorised this vigilante violence. So, again we have got this situation, where the government, nervous about turning horizontal into vertical conflict is reluctant to take a stand on freedom of religion and the basic rights that these minorities have and that leads to the victims being blamed, but not just blamed, now having their houses burnt, their mosques destroyed and even killed.

JENNIFER COOK
I’m Jennifer Cook and you’re listening to Up Close, coming to you from The University of Melbourne. I’m talking with Prof Tim Lindsey on the decline of pluralism in Indonesia.
Now Tim, this might seem like a very simple question, but do people in Indonesia, does the average Indonesian person, do they vote along religious lines?

TIM LINDSEY
Interestingly, although Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim society, there are  believed to be more Muslims in Indonesia than the whole of the Middle East, for example, interestingly, despite that Muslims in Indonesia have historically not voted for Muslim parties. You can track back through every election that has been held, whether it has been the free elections of the 50s or after Suharto, or the rigged elections during Suharto, people did not give a majority of votes at any time to Muslim parties. In fact, after Suharto, the percentage voting in free and fair elections for Muslim parties has actually declined. People are choosing secular-nationalist tradition over Islamic identity. This shouldn’t really surprise us. This is a society that is moving from, from being a developing country towards achieving that middle-income status. Catching up with Malaysia next door. And in most modern developed societies people don’t vote on the basis of their religion. So, we are seeing a transition in Indonesia from communalism towards a real democratic choice. And this of course adds to the tensions in Indonesia over the future of Islam. The truth is that the radical conservative Islamist groups realise that they have lost the battle at the ballot box. These tensions aren’t because the conservatives are winning, it is precisely because they are losing in mainstream politics. Their votes have fallen, they have less control. What they do have is a little bit of leverage. And they are maximising the benefit they get from that. By using tactics of political wedging, of aggressive militant activity, demonstrations and violence and just recently tactics such as sending book bombs through the mail to prominent liberal Muslim leaders. They seek to maximise the impact they have. One of the problems about this is they have been quite successful in hijacking both the debate in Indonesia, but also international perceptions of the nature of Islam in Indonesia. Islam in Indonesia is still overwhelmingly extraordinarily tolerant. Extraordinarily moderate. And very open. But you wouldn’t know it, reading the newspapers, not just internationally, but in Indonesia as well.

JENNIFER COOK
I wanted to talk to you about that, the Indonesian press is genuinely free to report as it pleases, but there is some who say that it is this very freedom that has given rise to the erosion of other civil liberties, how is that possible?

TIM LINDSEY
Well, again, this goes back to my earlier comments, that to understand what is happening after Suharto you have to know what happened before hand, and it was with the removal of restrictions on the Muslim expression of identity, plus at the same time, very tight restrictions on the press and the media that you got this combination that has been exploited brilliantly by these conservative groups. Suddenly they were free to express their views. Even quite extreme views. And they had an open media that was able to report them. And in fact, militant Islamist groups who are agitating right through the Suharto period, often with quite severe consequences are much more experienced at this sort of thing than more moderate liberal groups. The more moderate liberal groups, really only started to win an audience after Suharto fell from power. So, I think they started their activism a little bit too late. By then, key ideas, key themes of the militants had already captured the public imagination. A sense of moral panic has been the key weapon of the militant conservatives on issues such as sexuality, the role of women, pornography, things that people find it hard to disagree about. You know, ‘pornography should be banned’, ‘women should be more modest’. ‘People should comply with sexual orthodoxy’, as they see it. People say yes to this and this is being used very well as a vehicle for the conservatives to create this sense of moral panic. And to dominate the public agenda over Islam with issues about sex, women’s place in society and so forth. This has left the liberals playing catch up and in a very difficult position trying to justify a position that forces them into a corner saying ‘pornography is okay’ and so forth.

JENNIFER COOK
Now, I’d like you to talk a little too about how this has impacted on women’s lives, and what is being done about it.

TIM LINDSEY
I think, probably the best example of this is the anti-pornography law number 44 of 2008. This took almost a decade to get it through the legislature. The anti-pornography law, is really, in many respects an anti-woman law. What it does is criminalise much sexuality, tightly censors the arts, the media, it prohibits a lot of traditional cultural expression involving nudity and the body, it forces women to cover up, if it was to be applied and thus excluding them from public space. And it is also a version writ large of local regulations that have been passed in the post-Suharto period right across Indonesia in areas where the conservatives are strong. The debate over this law was intense. It led to demonstrations, thousands of people, Muslims mainly, marching for and against the pornography legislation. It perfectly exemplified this division in the way this is an argument within Islam about its future. And it led to various non-Muslim parts of Indonesia to secede. Bali, Papua and elsewhere if the law was passed. It was passed and it does exist. And it represents a success for the militant conservative Islamists. And in the background behind this, we’ve got a whole range of prosecutions under equivalent laws now at the local area. You have issues such as a factory worker, a woman being arrested late at night, despite being pregnant, essentially because she had lipstick in her handbag and being charged and convicted of prostitution. Cases such as that where women in public space are targeted by conservatives. It ties into this notion of the persecution of vulnerable groups by the conservatives, whether they are religious minorities or whether they are seen as vulnerable groups such as women in the community. And this of course brings the whole issue of human rights to a head. One of the great achievements of the post-Suharto democratisation process was the introduction of human rights. Not just in the constitution with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but a whole raft of laws introduced. And new organisations and bodies set up to implement it. We have for example a women’s human rights commission. There are commissions for the rights of the child and so forth. So, that aspect of civil society is now confronted with the Muslim conservative aspects of civil society and they are fighting over it. And so, on the women’s human rights commission, the Komnas Perempuan, you find some of the commissioners there are leading Muslim intellectuals who are facing off against hardline Islamist Muslim intellectuals on the other side over what is to come.

JENNIFER COOK
As you say, it is a fight for the future of Islam within Indonesia. Tim, thank you so much for your time.

TIM LINDSEY
Thank you.

JENNIFER COOK
We’ve been speaking with Prof Tim Lindsey, the director of the Asian Law Centre, here at The University of Melbourne and Dr M Syafi’i Anwar, the director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism. And we have been talking about the threats to pluralism in Indonesia. Relevant links, a full transcript and more info on this episode can be found at our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne, Australia.  This episode was recorded on April 5, 2011.  Our producers for this episode were Kelvin Param and Eric van Bemmel.  Audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer. Up Close is created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param.  I'm Jennifer Cook, until next time, goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You've been listening to Up Close.  For more information visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Copyright 2011, the University of Melbourne.


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