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ICG lashes out at SBY over extremist groups
Andra Wisnu, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Makassar
Indonesia’s decision to restrict the Jamaah Ahmadiyah sect demonstrates how the government’s policy has been hijacked by extremist groups, an international independent think tank said in a report Monday.
The decree against Ahmadiyah “is step backward for Indonesia”, which has traditions of pluralism and tolerance in keeping with its diverse religious minorities, said the report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The policy shows President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government has emboldened radical groups in policy-making, it said.
“A key factor in understanding why the government succumbed to pressure is President Yudhoyono’s desire to maintain the coalition of Islamic parties that helped him get elected in 2004, especially as 2009 elections draw closer,” the 18-page report said.
“It (the government) opened the door for hard-line groups to press for greater state intervention to define orthodoxy and legislate morality,” Sydney Jones, an International Crisis Group senior adviser, said in the report.
The report also blamed Yudhoyono for allowing the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), known for its conservative and hard-line fatwas, to influence his government policy.
“The Yudhoyono government made a serious error in 2005 by inviting MUI to help shape policy,” Jones said.
MUI is a partner to the government-sanctioned panel that oversees people’s beliefs.
The report links the decree on Ahmadiyah to “skillful use of civil society tools by radical Islamic groups, which have more carefully thought through strategies, better networking abilities and stronger lobbying skills than most other advocacy groups in Indonesia”.
The report also criticizes many Muslims leaders, particularly those from the country’s largest Muslim organizations – Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – for being “far less effective in challenging radical positions or mobilizing the masses in a way that has visible political impact”.
“It is all the more perplexing why the government would issue a decree which so clearly violates a fundamental civil right and which gives it the right to intervene in matters of interpretation of religious doctrine,” it said.
On June 9, the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Home Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office issued a decree banning Ahmadiyah, whose members have lived in the country since 1925, from spreading their beliefs.
Ahmadiyah followers believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, not Muhammad, is the last prophet of Islam, defying one of the basic doctrines of the religion.
The decree came the same day when thousands of hard-liners gathered in front of the State Palace in Jakarta to demand the dissolution of the Islamic minority sect.
Activists claim the decision was a defeat for Yudhoyono, who had stated that he would not allow the country to be defeated by violent groups.
The report said radical groups, including the Islam Defenders Front, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and the Indonesian Muslim Forum, managed to scare the government into issuing the decree by showing the possibility of violent unrest should the government deny their demand.
“One official told us that this was not about freedom of religion but about law and order. Without a decree, social unrest would increase,” John Virgoe, director of the ICG’s South East Asia Project, said in the report.
“But the prospects of unrest have in fact increased because of the way in which hard-line groups have worked the issue both at the grassroots and top level of the government. Having won this victory, they’ll look for others,” Virgoe said.