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The state of oppression against minority groups
A government panel’s recent demand that Ahmadiyah be banned because the sect’s dogma runs against that of mainstream Islam is sending a chill down the spines of minorities in Indonesia, which is losing shine as a model of a tolerant, pluralistic country.
The shocking petition by the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs (Bakor Pakem) is only the latest in a flurry of persecutions suffered by Ahmadiyah, a sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 in India and which today has between 200,000 and 500,000 followers in Indonesia, mainly on Java and Lombok islands.
A proponent of nation building since 1925, Ahmadiyah enjoyed peaceful coexistence with other religious groups until 1980 when leadership of the conservative Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) branded it “un-Islamic and heretical”.
MUI, which raised some eyebrows last year when one of its fatwas labeled pluralism haram (forbidden), escalated its assault in 1984 when it campaigned to repeal the legal status accorded to Ahmadiyah by the Indonesian government in 1953.
In fact, Bakor Pakem, which consists of representatives from the state prosecutors’ office, the police, the military, the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the Home and Religious Affairs ministries, has never shown sympathy with Ahmadiyah. In 2005, it banned books about the controversial sect.
The 1980 MUI edict has been blamed for attacks by militant Muslims on Ahmadiyah followers and their property. In the latest incident, in December 2007, an Ahmadiyah community in Kuningan was ransacked. Eight mosques were closed by the local administration in favor of the “mainstream” Muslim attackers.
On July 15, 2005, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) forcibly dispersed a gathering of 11,000 Ahmadiyah members at their Mubarak campus in Parung, near Bogor, and police apprehended 300 Ahmadiyah followers for questioning.
Another major attack on Ahmadiyah occurred in 2002 on Lombok Island, West Nusa Tenggara. The attackers destroyed houses, mosques and shops belonging to Ahmadiyah. About 350 scared congregation members fled their homes as far away as Bali and they have lived miserable lives away from home until today.
Cases of violence against Ahmadiyah have also happened in Jakarta and Cianjur, West Java. Media reports say that all the violence happened before the eyes of security officers, who did little to protect the victims.
MUI, which was founded during the era of Soeharto dictatorship to represent Muslim interests, has dismissed any suggestions linking the violence with the edict that condemned Ahmadiyah and other Islamic sects as misguided.
An Ahmadiyah leader was right when he said his congregation enjoyed freedom under both Sukarno and despotic Soeharto but, ironically, not throughout this age of reforms, particularly under the Yudhoyono regime.
Ahmadiyah is not the only sect that MUI has branded heretical. A host of religious sect leaders have been imprisoned for their beliefs. Preacher Yusman Roy in Malang, East Java, was sentenced to two years in prison last year for promoting prayers in the Indonesian language instead of the regular Arabic. A Jakarta court sentenced Lia Aminuddin, leader of the Salamullah sect, to two years in jail. Self-proclaimed prophet Ahmad Mushaddeq, leader of the Al-Qiyadah Al-Islamiyah sect from Bogor, received four years in jail Wednesday for “blaspheming Islam”.
Despite all the political freedom ushered in following the fall of strongman Soeharto in 1998, the four subsequent regimes were desperately soft when it came to dealing with religious politics, and this weakness has been giving rise to religious fundamentalism.
Soeharto, well-known as a shrewd political strategist, would resort to preemptive strike to crush his political opponents’ apparent attempts to undermine his power. This heavy-handed tactic applied when dealing with religious groups opposed to state ideology Pancasila. His biggest mistake, though, was his inclination to use excessive force, as he did when dealing with the Warsidi sect in Lampung in 1989 and the Tanjung Priok Muslim protest in 1984.
But after Soeharto’s fall and the painful beginnings of the quest for democracy, his successors learned from his mistakes. As freedom of any sort became unstoppable, subsequent political leaders have hesitated to act firmly in enforcing the law, afraid to be accused of trampling human rights.
The Yudhoyono administration has often demonstrated this reluctance to act swiftly and firmly against politicians that bend the law and on the omnipresent thuggery, especially when perpetrators act in the name of religion. Some regional politicians, for example, have exploited this weakness to introduce sharia-style bylaws and others counter it with Bible-based ordinances while Pancasila is still well in place.
The Ahmadiyah affair is but the latest case in point of how the Yudhoyono administration will readily succumb to fundamentalists’ pressure. In fact, the existence of state bodies like the one that monitors mystical beliefs is a mockery of democracy. The state controls citizens’ spiritual life while the Constitution unambiguously guarantees the freedom of religion.
Besides, Indonesia ratified the Declaration of Universal Human Rights in 1999 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2005. Both affirm the state’s guarantee of religious freedom.
In the case of Ahmadiyah, opponents argue that the state has to ban the sect because it goes against the Islam that most Muslims embrace. If this statistical logic becomes the accepted norm in state decision making, a unitary Indonesia will be digging its own grave as a pluralistic nation.
Minorities, you are on your own. The state won’t protect you.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.