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Ahmadiyah a test of dialogue, law
Andy Fuller, Surabaya
In the wake of attacks against Ahmadis on Feb. 6, 2011, many have called for a dialogue between the members of Ahmadiyah and groups — such as Front Pembela Islam. In other instances, commentators have emphasized the legality of citizens to practice their religion in the manner that they choose.
The practice of dialogue and the enforcement of particular laws, however, will not necessarily bring about the easy resolution to conflicts between groups such as FPI and a religious minority such as Ahmadiyah. Dialogues and laws also offer the opportunity for some to further their will upon others.
Although a “dialogue” is a welcomed alternative to physical violence, a dialogue is not without its own pitfalls and needs to be judged on its own merits. It is worth questioning, for example, as to who participates in the dialogue and for what ends.
A dialogue is not something that can be forced to take place. Dialogues also present an opportunity to perform a kind of discursive violence: a violence, which even if only spoken, still rejects the other participants in the dialogue.
In the days after the attacks on Ahmadis in Cikeusik, Banten, some leaders referred to the belief of Ahmadis as being blasphemous of Islam. Elsewhere, in Sabili a conservative (and popular) magazine, Ahmadiyah members are blamed for inciting the violence against them.
Moreover, they are referred to as being intolerant of non-Ahmadis. There has been a rush to be considered as “tolerant”, as well as a claim to being “offended”. Discourses regarding religious orthodoxy and deviancy somehow become more important than the criminality of three killings performed in broad daylight.
Dialogue, however, might be more useful as a tool to prevent violence, rather than to solve cases or ease tensions after grave violations of one’s rights has already taken place. Since the killings and other attacks, no one has volunteered a statement in which he or she acknowledges a kind of complicity in sharpening attitudes against Ahmadis.
Calls for dialogue, thus, become an effort to avoid accountability. Groups that have participated in discursive and physical violence against others, should not participate in public “dialogues” unless they are willing to acknowledge the violence of their actions and words. Ahmadis or others, do not need to validate such calls for dialogues, until those who are guilty have faced public and criminal censure.
Some commentators have pointed to the weakness of the state in allowing the killings of Ahmadis. That is, the state has not been able to implement laws that protect Ahmadis (just as it should for any other citizen) from criminal acts of violence.
One of the curious elements of recent attacks on Ahmadis, however, is the presence of the state.
Throughout the footage that shows the killings in Cikeusik, police are present. They are shown to be passive in watching the killings as they occur.
Some publications have continued to report on how different levels of the police force knew about the impending attacks on Suparman’s house in Cikeusik. Here, the state is clearly present: but it is a state that is willing to take sides with an outraged and violent mob.
Just as public forums have served to discriminate against Ahmadis, so have the decrees of various governors sought to criminalize belief. These laws are curious as they seemingly go against the laws that are part of the Constitution that state that each citizen is able to hold his or her belief in accordance with their wishes.
It seems that these governors, however susceptible they are to different political interests, are willing to give in to the demands of different radical groups. Instead of moving to protect Ahmadis from further discrimination and violent attacks, the state through laws issued at the provincial level have provided more room for discrimination against Ahmadis.
Hate-speech is normal when talking about Ahmadiyah. So, the state is present and laws are being created. These laws, however, have followed the demands of “the mob”, rather than referring back to the authority of the Constitution and the state ideology, which states “unity in diversity” and “social justice for all”.
The clashes between a self-proclaimed mainstream Muslim majority and that of a minority Muslim sect (Ahmadiyah) are representative of a conflict between “the orthodox” and “un-orthodox”. The orthodox and those who claim to be so, are unwilling to accept those who divert from what is considered to be “the true” or “the real” Islam.
This is seen clearly in recent attempts to re-convert Ahmadis away from their chosen faith and back to “the real”, “the right” and “the true” Islam. In such an instance, the orthodox clearly consider themselves to be the paternal representatives who know what is best for the infantile “other” who has strayed from “the straight path”.
A negotiation of values was strikingly absent on that morning of Feb. 6, 2011. It was a moment when “dialogue” was no longer possible. It was a moment for violence and rejection of the other.
Decrees at the provincial level have further normalized violence against Ahmadis. A dialogue “after the fact” won’t solve anything until the injustices against this particular minority are recognized.
It is not the time for a dialogue, but the time for openness and arguments: where people are willing to accept the legitimacy of others to hold their beliefs. Until guilt and culpability is established, a monologue of violence — both physical and discursive — will persist.
The writer is based at the Asia Institute, the University of Melbourne, Australia. This is an English language version of a presentation given at Sunan Ampel State Islamic University, Surabaya.