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Govt urged to respect Ahmadiyah rights
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
A series of attacks on followers of the Ahmadiyah religious sect has once again drawn criticism, with an expert in religion and democracy urging the government to exercise its authority when there are violations of human rights.
Alfred C. Stepan, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration and Religion at Columbia University in New York, said on the sidelines of a discussion held Tuesday that while the government must keep a principal distance, the separation did not mean the state should never get involved in religious matters.
“They should think more about whether there are circumstances in which they have to act quickly because I think it is the government’s responsibility if people’s rights are in peril,” he said.
Followers of the Ahmadiyah group are deemed heretics by mainstream Muslims for recognizing sect founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the last prophet.
Islamic teachings maintain that the Prophet Muhammad is the last prophet.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict officially declaring Ahmadiyah to be a heretical sect.
For years, followers of the religious sect have suffered attacks from various Muslim groups. Some of the attacks, which involved hard-line Muslims, resulted in the fire-bombing of Ahmadiyah mosques and houses.
Stepan said the attacks were violations of human rights and therefore the government’s intervention was needed.
“It is the duty of a democratic government to protect its people’s rights even if they have to act against some people’s freedom,” he said.
Although such measures should not go against the constitution, he said.
In the discussion, Stepan also said that Indonesia was a place where democracy and religions coexisted.
Indonesia, he noted, recognized and respected all the major religions, except Judaism.
“India and Senegal are also examples of democracies that recognize and financially support all religions, but keep some principal distance that would allow the state at times to interfere in the religion *if there were human rights violations*,” he added.
However, he said, the Indonesian government had shown much less willingness to exercise the principal distance than the other two countries.
“That may be a problem,” he added.
Stepan said that in all democracies, tolerance on the state’s part and the religions’ part were needed. Stepan terms the concept “twin tolerations”.
For democracy to function, he said, democratically elected governments must tolerate citizens’ legitimate aspirations, “as long as they do not hurt other people”.
“In pure democratic theory, any group that doesn’t violate other people’s rights has the right to articulate some of their ideas in civil society,” he said.
At the same time, religious hard-liners cannot reject the sovereignty of an elected government; instead forcing religious rules on the populace.
“That’s too great a restriction on democracy,” he said.
Theoretically, twin tolerations would allow religion to act in the area of the civil society, he said.
But, “the twin tolerations could also break down if someone violates it from the other side, if this happens the government must have some role in it,” he added.
Stepan also said that fundamentalism does not necessarily not pose an obstacle to democracy.
He added his research in India showed the greater the intensity of religious practice, the greater the intensity of support for democracy.
There are about 200,000 practicing Ahmadis in Indonesia. (adh)