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Hardcore Muslims bate President Yudhoyono
By PHILIP SETUNGA
HONG KONG, China, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is under pressure to make a very painful decision that is going to cost him dearly. On Monday, local and international news media reported the demand by some Muslim hard-liners that the controversial Ahmadiyah sect be disbanded.
Some scorn this group so much that they would prefer its members to be expelled from the country. Certain factions, including the Islam Defenders Front and the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, have threatened to disband Ahmadiyah themselves if the president does not issue a decree banning the Islamic sect, which they consider “deviant.”
It was only last week that the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs, or Bakor Pakem, which includes the attorney general and officers of the national police, shot themselves in the foot by drafting a decree to outlaw Ahmadiyah. The draft was written following a number of well-orchestrated attacks on the sect’s members, their families, property and places of worship, aimed at forcing them to recant their faith, including the denunciation of the group’s Indian founder, Mirza Gulam Ahmad, who sect members consider to have been the last prophet.
This persecution culminated in the Ahmadiyah leader being compelled to sign a 12-point declaration, which literally meant denouncing his own religion. A committee was then created by the hard-liners, in collaboration with the government, to monitor the sect’s adherence to the 12 points thrust upon it. Later the committee accused Ahmadiyah members of not abiding by the 12-point declaration and requested that the group be banned by presidential decree.
The Bakor Pakem in the first place committed a major violation of a right enshrined in the national Constitution. The Indonesian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion for all, despite the official recognition granted to six religions – Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism and Confucianism.
The official recognition of only six religions has long been a bone of contention, since the exclusion of adherents of other religions has resulted in various forms of discrimination in matters of education, employment and marriage. Various U.N. agencies have drawn the attention of the Indonesian government to this discrimination since it goes counter to the country’s obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Aside from Constitutional and U.N. obligations, the Koran itself instructs the faithful to engage in “elegant dialogue” with factions that are considered deviant. The Koran goes still further in saying, “If they still refuse, leave it to God as the owner of the absolute truth. No one can claim to hold the absolute truth and force it onto others by any means.”
If the Koran, the ultimate authority for all Muslims, does not condone the banning of a sect, and if the Constitution of the country and the U.N. forbid such discrimination, on what grounds have the attorney general and the national police proposed that the president ban Ahmadiyah? Can these officials recommend that the government go against its own Constitution? How can these bodies that derive their existence from the Constitution deny its authority, without destroying their own legitimacy?
This whole issue boils down to the legitimacy of the action of the attorney general and the national police. Is this a case of fools rushing in where angels dare not tread? When an ordinary civilian acts against the Constitution, he or she is brought before the courts for appropriate punishment. When the attorney general and the national police, the country’s law enforcement agencies, deliberately break the law and urge the president to follow suit, should they not be indicted? Are they above the Constitution?
There is concern regarding the motives behind setting this trap for the president. Is this being done for political mileage with elections around the corner? By banning the sect, the party in power may get more votes from mainstream Muslims at the expense of over 200,000 persons, which in Indonesia is negligible. The damage however will outweigh all the short-term gains. This will open the flood gates for all sorts of demands by hardcore Muslims.
The issue has already sent shockwaves to members of other faiths who are concerned for their freedom of religion, including the right to construct places of worship and gather for religious practices without having them disrupted. The call to abandon the investigation into past human rights violations by the hardcore factions will gain momentum. Put simply, the attack on Ahmadiyah is a gimmick orchestrated by the attorney general and the police to hinder the growth of pluralism and democracy in Indonesia.
The test of democracy is the stand taken by the state to protect the rights of its minorities. By violating their rights, the government invalidates its own rights under the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The president under no circumstances should fall into this trap, but instead instruct the attorney general and the police to stand by the Constitution. Political expediency does not justify denying citizens their human and civil rights, even when they are a minority.
(Philip Setunga is a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong responsible for the organization’s research on Indonesia. He has a doctorate in sociology.)