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OPINION: Attacks on Indonesia’s Muslim minorities rise
The violent attacks against Indonesia’s tiny Ahmadiyah sect and the authorities’ leniency towards the radicals carrying out these acts of violence is beginning to alarm moderate Muslims, writes AMY CHEW
“KILL! Kill! Kill!” shouted a radical Indonesian Muslim preacher at a recent rally in the city of Banjar, West Java.
The voice belonged to Sobri Lubis, secretary-general of the radical Islamic Defender Front (FPI) as he exhorted his followers to attack members of the tiny Ahmadiyah sect during the rally which was filmed.
“It is halal to spill the blood of Ahmadiyah (members). If any of you should kill Ahmadiyah as ordered by us, I personally, as well as the FPI, will take responsibility,” Lubis said to loud cheers and applause.
No one stopped the rally which was inciting violence and hatred against the Ahmadiyah.
That the FPI can cry for blood and get away with it is worrying moderate Muslim leaders who view the government’s inertia as a capitulation to the radicals in an attempt to court their support ahead of next year’s elections.
“Support for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono from political parties is waning,” contends Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of the Wahid Institute.
“Susilo wants to save his presidency by giving leeway to hardline groups like the FPI, Hizbut Tahrir and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI) because they are considered as potential political supporters.”
The Wahid Institute is a think-tank founded by former president Abdurrahman Wa-hid and moderate Muslim ulama to seed plural Islam.
Moderate Muslims also worry that the authorities’ leniency towards the radicals will encourage them to attack other minorities like Shia Muslims and any other groups who do not share their beliefs.
“The authorities should have taken action against the FPI. Calling on people to kill others, whether in the name of religion or for any other reason, constitutes a serious crime,” said Suaedy.
“Because the FPI and other radical groups are left to their own devices, they have become bolder and their political sphere has become wider.
“Added to that, they have the moral support of the country’s Islamist political parties like Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB).”
Susilo is currently under pressure from the radicals and conservative Muslims to ban Ahmadiyah by issuing a joint ministerial decree.
A government body called the Co-ordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) two weeks ago recommended the government ban Ahmadiyah.
“I worry if the government issued the decree (banning Ahmadiyah), that could be used by the radicals to attack other minorities in the country like the Shias,” said Muslim scholar Professor Azymardi Azra of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University.
“It will have a very negative precedent for religious tolerance.”
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. The vast majority of the 200 million Muslims in the country are moderates whose voices have largely been drowned by the vociferous radicals.
But as the attacks against Ahmadiyah mount, moderate Muslim leaders are beginning to speak out.
This week, influential Muslim ulama from Java emerged from their pesantren or religious boarding schools, to converge on Parliament.
They urged Parliament to protect Ahmadiyah, stressing that every citizen had the right to practise his or her own religious beliefs as guaranteed by the constitution.
“The out-of-control condition has compelled us, ulama teaching in the pesantren, to descend from the hills because the situation is so uncertain,” Rumadi, a representative from the ulama, was quoted as saying by Detik.com, a leading local news portal.
“If the government does not protect Ahmadiyah, it means the state has failed to protect its own citizens.”
Since 2005, 25 Ahmadiyah mosques have been razed or ransacked by radicals. Dozens of Ahmadiyah homes were also burnt or destroyed on the eastern island of Lombok. Many Ahmadiyah members now live in fear for their safety.
“We have been in Indonesia since 1925 and have lived peacefully here, even during Suharto’s regime,” said Mubarik Ahmad, an Ahmadiyah member. “But now, in the reform era, we are being attacked.”
The only senior government official to speak out against the attacks on Ahmadiyah has been Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.
But little is done to ban Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terror group blamed for the country’s major bomb attacks in the country, including the devastating Bali bombings of 2002 that killed 202.
In fact, the government has regularly denied its existence in Indonesia.
“Jemaah Islamiyah does not exist as an organisation in Indonesia. How can we impose a ban?” Kalla was quoted as saying by the daily Jakarta Post recently.
Last month, an Indonesian court found JI guilty of committing crimes of terrorism and banned the organisation. The ruling came when the court sentenced JI leader Zarkasih and its military commander, Abu Dujana, to 15 years’ jail each.
The ruling was unprecedented and was expected to give a legal basis for the government to move towards banning the organisation, which foreign governments have long accused of being linked to al-Qaeda.
However, government sour-ces poured cold water on the expectations, telling the New Straits Times they do not expect much headway to be made in banning JI.
“The government will wait for the noise to die down and will leave it at that,” said the source.
JI’s banning would give Indonesia’s anti-terror force a great boost in investigating and hunting down terror suspects and militants.
Under the current anti-terror law, police have a huge burden to prove suspects’ involvement in terror activities.
“Often we have to release suspects due to lack of evidence only to discover later on that they were involved in terrorist acts and we have to search for them again, which is a very difficult and time-consuming effort,” a senior anti-terror official involved with Dujana and Zarkasih’s arrest told the NST.
“If JI is banned, then anyone found to be a member of JI can be detained and brought to court,” said the official.