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Unchecked hate speech ‘exacerbates intolerance’
Bagus BT Saragih, The Jakarta Post
Speeches by religious leaders that spread messages of hatred are believed to play a role in the increase in religious violence across the country as many leaders still spout hate speech in their sermons without fear of legal repercussions.
Human rights activists claimed they had evidence that angry mobs in two recent incidents of religious violence were motivated by gradually built up anger at minority groups.
More than a thousand villagers in Cikeusik, Banten, attacked Ahmadiyah followers on Feb. 6, killing three Ahmadis.
“We began monitoring the situation in Cikeusik a year ago,” Andreas Harsono, the Indonesian consultant for US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “Provocative speeches by local clerics that tend to justify hatred of the Ahmadis were around since then.”
A 2008 joint ministerial decree banning Ahmadis from propagating their faith was seen as a “legal basis to take any necessary measures to dissolve Ahmadiyah from Indonesia,” Usman Hamid from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) said.
In 2005, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a second fatwa against Ahmadiyah.
Transparency International Indonesia (TII) chief patron Todung Mulya Lubis called the Cikeusik and Temanggung incidents “government-sponsored violence” because of the decree and the lack of preventative measures by security forces.
The decree, which stipulates theological differences between Islam and Ahmadiyah, as well as the fatwas, has become the platform for clerics to vilify Ahmadiyah. “The result of all this hate speech is more extremists,” Yenny Zannuba Wahid, the director of the Wahid Institute, said.
HRW said the number of attacks on Ahmadiyah rose rapidly since the issuance of the decree. “We saw an increase of about 30 percent annually. We recorded at least 50 attacks in 2010 alone,” Andreas said. Apart from the decree, the soft stance and lack of legal actions taken against attackers also helped people continue to bully Ahmadis, he said.
Yenny blamed the problem of religious violence on cultural and structural causes. “Hate speech is cultural while the decree as well as the poor law enforcement are structural causes. I believe the government is aware of both causes, but I cannot see any effort on their side to solve the problem,” Yenny, the daughter of late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, said.
In February 2008, a shocking video circulated on the Internet showing Sobri Lubis, a cleric from the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), preaching to hundreds of people and calling on his audience to kill Ahmadis. “Kill them, don’t worry. [FPI leader] Rizieq [Shihab] and I will take responsibility,” he said.
Rizieq was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for inciting violence against activists at a rally calling for religious freedom in Jakarta, but Sobri has never been prosecuted.
“When Rizieq was in prison, the acts of violence by the FPI dropped significantly. Instead of taking similar measures against other hate-speech preachers, the government issued a joint ministerial decree that has clearly led to a rise of religious intolerance,” Yenny said.
Apart from criticizing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his lack of actions, Yenny also directed her criticism to the country’s two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah. Leaders of both organizations seemed afraid of being considered “un-Islamic” if they appeared to be supportive to Ahmadiyah, she said.
“Hardliners claim Ahmadiyah deviates from orthodox Islam. I don’t disagree, but that doesn’t justify violence against the Ahmadis. Let them practice their faith their way,” Yenny said.
Both NU and Muhammadiyah had also been trapped by political interests, forcing them to “remain friendly with the [religious] majority,” she said.
Both Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin and NU executive board member Slamet Effendy Yusuf claimed their organizations rejected all forms of violence. “Our stance is clear: Don’t be provoked and stay away from anarchy,” Slamet said.