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Editorial: Shameful days
It was no exaggeration that many Indonesians this past week felt ashamed of their country. Once proud of declarations hailing the nation for its moderate Muslim majority and pluralistic ethos, the public was jolted by reports of a series of attacks on religious minorities.
The disgust was not so much for the attacks, although the violence in and of itself was despicable. What shocked people was the brutality of the assaults and the government’s aloof response to previous calls to protect minority religious rights and communities.
Did the nation need to see so much death and destruction before authorities took action and realized that their proclamations of interracial harmony were nothing more than empty rhetoric?
“Barbaric” and “sadistic” were the two words most commonly used to describe the onslaught on Feb. 6 that took the lives of three Ahmadis in Umbulan village, Banten.
It was not the first public incidence of prejudice and assault. Just look at the forced expulsion of hundreds of Ahmadis from Lombok Island in 2001, 2002 and 2006 which lead to the death of one in 2001.
The root causes of violence may also lie beyond theological differences. Resentment of the Ahmadis appears to be fueled by allegations of their exclusivity.
Regardless, prejudice and violence directed at minority faiths is not limited to any one group.
Just two days after the attack in Banten, mobs destroyed three churches in Temanggung, Central Java. Violence erupted following a hearing in the blasphemy trial of Antonius Richmond Bawengan.
The aggression was reportedly sparked after the mob was dissatisfied with prosecutors’ demand that Antonius be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for alleged blasphemy against Islam via books and articles in October.
These violent acts not only tarnished Indonesia’s reputation as a peaceful pluralistic nation but sullied the start of a conference which should have celebrated the country’s diversity.
A meeting of the World Interfaith Harmony Week which began in Indonesia on Feb. 6, the day of the Ahmadi massacre, highlighted the fragility of interfaith harmony and reminded everyone of the gap between pronounced declarations and the practical realities at hand.
Roundly criticized for the government’s failure, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono responded to the attack that authorities should “seek legal ways, if necessary, to disband” groups or organizations that acted violently.
In a speech at the commemoration of the 2011 National Press Day in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, on Wednesday, Yudhoyono said, “We will not tolerate hate-speech or calls on certain communities to commit violence, including murder”.
He stopped short of naming any groups, though many believed he was referring to the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), a local hard-line group known for its violent raids on nightclubs and animosity toward anything blaspheming Islam.
The response from his ministers was more vague. Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said there were no mass organizations that have disturbed public order that need to be disbanded. He added that an organization could be disbanded if they were thought to have disturbed public order or received foreign aid that induced them to provoke unrest.
— Meidyatama Suryodiningrat