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Jakarta Journo: Testing Indonesia’s Belief in Democracy
Armando Siahaan | October 03, 2010
An Indonesian Police officer standing in front of a burnt house belonging to an Ahmadiyah follower in Ciampea village, West Java province, Bogor, on Saturday. Hundreds of people set a mosque and five houses, reportedly belonging to followers of Ahmadiyah, on fire, stirring panic among the Islamic sect members, local media said. (EPA Photo)
This is truly a dark time for the country. Friday’s mob attack on the Ahmadiyah sect in Ciampea, Bogor, is a concrete example of an alarming trend. We are witnessing yet again the escalating — yet unchecked — oppression of a minority group.
On Friday, angry villagers in Ciampea ransacked and burned a mosque and some houses belonging to members of Ahmadiyah, a minority denomination deemed deviant and heretical by mainstream Islam.
Both sides have their own versions of what ignited the encounter. But determining who is to blame for this should not be our main concern, as this is just another episode in a larger, more systemic and endemic attack against the sect.
In July, a confrontation erupted in Manis Lor village, Kuningan, West Java, when the local government and a hard-line Islamic group tried to close down an Ahmadiyah mosque and were met with fierce resistance from its followers. Other incidents have taken place in West Java towns and villages like Tasikmalaya, Parung and Garut, as well as in East Lombok. These places are no strangers to violent persecution.
But Ahmadiyah is not the only group suffering from pugnacious oppression. Vigilant Islamic groups have also targeted Christians. Churches have been shut down and churchgoers have been harassed, culminating in the recent assaults on an elder and a female pastor from the HKBP Church in Ciketing, Bekasi.
And we must not turn a blind eye to the menacing protests by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and a small group of university students against the Q! Film Festival, which showcases films with gay themes. The Indonesia Council of Ulema (MUI) has joined the protests, claiming that the festival promotes a lifestyle contradictory to Islamic and Indonesian cultural values. Even worse, MUI has pilloried homosexuality as a form of human rights abuse. The protesters have accused the festival of screening pornographic movies, but their actions were certainly nothing but a bare-faced attack against gays in general.
At the same time, surveys by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society and a joint study by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) and Lazuardi Biru, a de-radicalization program, respectively found that 57.8 percent and 63.8 percent of respondents would object if other religious groups built a house of worship in their neighborhood.
These surveys and the recent attacks against minority groups strengthen the worrying portrait that in our supposedly pluralistic society, religious intolerance is on the rise. As such, the government must play a greater role in preserving the country’s much-acclaimed pluralism and curb any movement that seeks otherwise.
To start with, the government must revoke a number of controversial policies that are clearly disadvantageous to minority groups. A 2006 joint ministerial decree requires a religious group to gather the approval of at least 60 households in the area to build a house of worship. This makes it virtually impossible for non-Muslim faiths to build houses of worship in Indonesia, making it appear to be a state-sponsored effort to curb minority faiths.
A 2008 joint ministerial decree prohibited Ahmadiyah from spreading its teachings. But the sect has been acknowledged as an official Islamic organization since 1953 and imposing the decree only suggests that the current government — despite its claim to be the guardian of post-reform democracy — condones oppression.
These discriminatory decrees must be revoked. Not only do they defy the Constitution’s promise of freedom of religion, but they are also frequently the source of trouble that leads to violent conflict.
Regarding the mistreatment of the gay community, the government must remember that this is a country that upholds the law. There is no law that prohibits homosexuality. Thus, gays deserve to be safeguarded at all costs from intimidation and assault.
The government must also turn a deaf ear to the MUI’s statement that homosexuality is a violation of human rights. It is ridiculous. If anything, enforced uniformity and conformity toward a particular belief is the violation of human rights. We also can’t have a minister publicly declaring his desire to ban Ahmadiyah. Or one whose Twitter posts suggest that homosexuality is the No. 1 cause of the rise in HIV/AIDS cases here and that the infected deserve to be stoned.
This brings us to the most important point: The government must be firmer in dealing with extremist groups that take matters into their own hands, and arrest and disband groups that pose threats against minorities. The country cannot fall into an abyss that glorifies the tyranny of the majority.
Armando Siahaan is a reporter with the Jakarta Globe and writes a weekly column about current events. Find Jakarta Journo on Facebook at http://bit.ly/apxo4g, or e-mail him at email@example.com