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Editorial: Tyranny of the majority
The ongoing controversy over whether religious sect Ahmadiyah has the right to persist and it’s followers the right to freely profess their beliefs illustrates the long-standing issue that this nation has failed and is failing to protect the rights of it’s minorities.
Dubbed the world’s third-largest democracy, Indonesia has been facing difficulties in adopting and adapting itself to that very principle of democracy that is the respect for and protection of minorities.
Minority groups in Indonesia, including the approximately 200,000 Ahmadis, have to face the ugly fact that they are small in number and therefore prone to marginalization, discrimination and sometimes even persecution.
As of today, hundreds of Ahmadis on Lombok Island in West Nusa Tenggara have been living in shelters since their expulsion from their homes in February 2006. They have been denied their economic right to live a better life and their right to vote as evidenced when the local poll commission scrapped them from the voter roll in last year’s elections.
Worse, their children have had to experience the ordeal. Only last month the local government moved to provide free education for Ahmadi children.
The latest in a string of attacks on Ahmadiyah followers last week indicates the absence of any form of protection for minorities. Hundreds of Ahmadiyah members living in an enclave in the West Java regency of Bogor lost not only their belongings but perhaps also their hopes for a peaceful life in this country.
Regardless of the cause of last week’s arson attack, Ahmadiyah has been perceived as a threat to mainstream Muslims and a cause of destabilization. With ulema and Muslim figures failing to promote dialog, and instead fighting for a ban against Ahmadiyah, hard-line groups have found clemency in carrying out acts of violence against the religious sect.
Solutions for the Ahmadiyah problem initiated by Muslim leaders have so far constituted one-way traffic, in which the majority dictates and enforces it’s will on the minority. It is tyranny of the majority that is currently plaguing the country’s efforts to deal with Ahmadiyah.
Sadly, this is how this nation understands democracy. Political parties form a coalition within the House of Representatives annihilate dissenting voices during decision-making processes. Democracy has been hijacked to help the majority groups fulfill their interests.
In the Ahmadiyah case, the government as the representation of the state has failed to draw a line to protect the weak or the minority vis-à-vis the majority. But democracy prevails only if the rights of the minority are protected.
The enforcement of the 2008 joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyah spoke volumes about the government’s perceptions on the rights of the strong, as the regulation amputated the basic rights of the Islamic sect’s followers and reinforced a stigma on them as an unwanted society.
A plan to review the decree that many expect will result in a permanent solution to the Ahmadiyah issue will be translated into a permanent ban against the religious sect as long as the tyranny of majority is at play. A new decree banning the sect would read as an expression of supreme power and illustrate that the government has failed to listen to their wishes.
British political philosopher John Stuart Mill noted that the danger of the tyranny of the majority lay not just in the infringements of individuals’ rights or the marginalization of a political minority, but in the oppression of minority groups in society based simply on criteria such as skin color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. Ahmadiyah and other minority groups deserve equal rights, unless of course this nation no longer believes in democracy.