Watering The Seeds Of Religious Intolerance

August 6, 2013

Here are two sad little tales that encapsulate the rot that is slowly eroding the previously harmonious social fabric of Indonesia. The stories are connected, but separate; their threads weaving dark changes in the characters and mindsets of their protagonists, and diminishing their faith in humanity.

A few months ago, a woman from a lovely family in Sumatra, despite being comfortably settled in Medan, accompanied her husband to Perawang, a village 50 kilometres from Pekanbaru in Central Sumatra. He had secured a better job there, and while it was hard to shift so far away from the family’s love and support, they made the move. They found a house and executed all the necessary agreements to rent it for twelve months. It seemed like a friendly neighbourhood, and the local residents appeared welcoming. But that was soon to change.

After having lived there for just over a month, and having settled in – with all the usual establishment expenses – there was a knock at the door. The house owner was standing there, and he did not look pleased.

“What religion are you?” he demanded without preamble.
“We’re Christian – why?” was the bemused reply.
“You have to get out of the house”, demanded the owner. “We are all Muslims here. You are not welcome.”

Stunned, the couple protested, saying that the owner had already agreed to a twelve-month rental, that he had sighted their KTP identity documents (which specify to which of the six ‘government-approved’ religions one belongs), and that they had done nothing to upset any of the neighbours. The owner was unmoved. “I don’t care. Get out now. We don’t want you here.”

So they were forced to move, and having lost their rental money – and their house – to a religious bigot, had no option but to seek charitable help from their local church. Fortunately, the church showed a compassionate face sadly lacking amongst the Muslims of Perawang, and allowed them to use one of their church properties, where they found temporary sanctuary.

Meanwhile, here in Bali, my good friend Septyni was furious. You see, the woman in question is her sister, and she is both fiercely protective of her sibling and enraged at the bigotry displayed towards her and her husband. For the five years I have known her, Septyni has always been one of the most tolerant and accepting human beings I have ever met. But her family’s crisis in Sumatra, together with the constant news of religious intolerance towards minorities in the press, have begun to change her. She is developing a profound distrust and dislike of the dominant religious group in Indonesia, and this, while sad, appears to be a view shared by more and more people as abuses continue.

And so to the second part of the story, the timing of which was both unfortunate and destructive. Through an acquaintance, Septyni recently met someone who had just arrived  from Aceh – a man who was looking for a job and a place to stay. Ever-helpful to all people, regardless of their origins or faith, Septyni gave him helpful advice about job-seeking strategies and about settling in to Bali life.

She helped him to find accommodation at her kost, where there was a room available for rent. She guided him in his search for ads for job vacancies, and helped him to find a motorbike to rent. And when his rented bike developed mechanical issues and became difficult to ride, she even lent him her own bike and rode his faulty bike herself. He was a neighbour now, and in her view, one should help thier neighbours.

She didn’t pay much attention to his pronouncements that he was “a good Muslim”, because in her mind, a person’s faith is a personal matter between them and their god, and irrelevant to most normal human interactions. So as a Christian, and as a good person, she helped him, not because she wanted anything from him, but because that’s the sort of person she is.

And then this bastard, who called himself “Adang”, repaid her kindness by waiting until she had inadvertently left her room unlocked while using the shower at the other end of the building, sneaking into her room, and stealing 400,000 Rupiah and some of her books, leaving her with insufficient money to pay her rent or buy food. By the time she had finished her shower, he had disappeared for good – no doubt to find someone else to rip off.

Her sister’s forced eviction and her experience with this opportunistic thief were two events that occurred within days of each other. As a result, this kind, tolerant woman now has a deep antipathy towards Muslims – perhaps unwarranted on the basis of only two incidents – but wholly understandable given the very personal nature of her experiences.

She is now on the brink of becoming intolerant – a state of mind previously completely foreign to her, but now precipitated by the appalling behaviour of some people, who just happen to be Muslim. Each new anti-social event she experiences in Indonesia, each new example of religious bigotry, will continue to water the seeds of her intolerance until they produce the same toxic flowers of hate and misunderstanding that we see growing every day elsewhere throughout the archipelago.

The government should do something to stop this rot, instead of promoting it as they are doing, despite their weasel words to the international community. And maybe the vast mass of tolerant Muslims should reclaim their once-vaunted reputation for friendliness and hospitality by opposing those in power who continue to promote Muslim supremacy over all others.

Because if they don’t, the situation will only get worse – and Indonesia will implode.



  1. The vast majority of prople I meet here are people.
    I have met a few disgusting ones, including a few Muslims, but I refuse to condemn all in any group because of the actions of a tiny minority.

    • Fred: Exactly.

  2. Vyt, hopefully you won’t mind a somewhat opposing view to your assertion that the Indonesian government is somehow promoting religious intolerance.

    It isn’t promoting religious intolerance, be it at the Provincial or National level. However, there are some minor political parties within various Provincial and the National legislatures that are largely comprised of Islamic conservatives, and even extremists. That said, I think most Indonesia observers would agree that the more liberal and moderate forces within all governmental roles are unquestionably defending the five principles, “Pancasila” upon which Indonesia was founded.

    Vyt, you write that what you currently see as a somehow government backed trend is “slowly eroding the previously harmonious social fabric of Indonesia.” What previously harmonious social fabric would that be? Would that be the harmonious social fabric in place during the 1965-66 purge resulting in the deaths of some 500,000 (some 80,000 right here on Bali), and so perfectly presented in the 1982 film, “The Year of Living Dangerously” or would it more recent, as in the 1997-98 financial crisis and the resulting 6,200 deaths from rioting and outright murder?

    Can the Indonesian government quiet the voices of radical Muslim extremists? No, nor should it so long as it wants to remain a democracy. Can Indonesia effectively deal with those radical Muslim extremists who cross the line and resort to terrorism? Yes, and it has…just ask Amrozi or Noordin Top.

    While these two sad events that almost simultaneously happened to your friend are horrible and evil, they are not indicative of anything beyond the sad reality that within any faith one can find evil people, bigots, racists…all the things from the dark side of humanity. Had your friend been robbed by a Christian from Ambon as opposed to a Muslim from Aceh that would indicate nothing beyond the reality that this fellow, Adang, is a man with a black heart.

    I’m betting that sooner or later your friend Septyni will come to realize this, and she won’t allow her own good heart to be tainted by the actions of evil men.

  3. I like, as the author mentioned, the idea of sensible people from each/any religious system to reign in the intolerant,divisive and violent members of their respective groups. I am not sure that the message would have the same impact coming from “outside” (actually an illusion as we people share one world) as from people of their common beliefs. Meaning, it’s past time for folks of the various faiths to take responsibility for each other and their members and let them know that behaviors like mentioned in the article are unacceptable. Is this possible? Am I naive?

    • It would be ideal if that could happen. But as some have pointed out, it is not the ‘religious system’ per se that they happen to belong to, it is their own attitude as individuals. All humans have the power to accept or reject anti-social religious teachings that are not in accordance with society’s expectations. Few have the courage to do so, and therein lies the problem.

      Those behaviours ARE unacceptable – there is no doubt about that – but it is the whole community that needs to exert social pressure for these types of people to change their mindset.

      And where a ‘religious system’ holds certain tenets of faith – for example, that kafirs, or women, are fair game – then it’s the broader community that needs to indicate clearly that certain behaviours are simply unacceptable.

      • Excellent points! Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Maybe a courageous few can inspire a courageous many? Hope.

  4. Those are very good points Vyt.

    In my experience it is the Indonesian women who are the most likely to likely to continue to carry the sword that defines Indonesia and all the basic ideologies and principles that are the fabric of Indonesia.

    Woe to any man, be he Indonesian or foreign who tries to control an Indonesian woman within any constraints or baloney religious tenants. Indonesian women are remarkable, and I’m not only considering my own Balinese wife for the past 15 years.

    Here are just a few organizations and lobbying groups either founded by or strongly supported/maintained by Indonesian women: PerCa (Perkawinan Campur), KPC (Kelompok Perkawinan Campur) Melati (Melalui Tangan Ibu) as well as MMC – Mix Marriage Community.

    As a predominantly Muslim country, Indonesia is all too often mistakenly considered as the same as many Middle East Muslim countries. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    But, with that said, I am disappointed that Indonesia doesn’t do what I perceive could be a better job at promoting Islam in the manner that it is lived every day by the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims. But alas, it isn’t within the Indonesian mind set to blow one’s own horn.

    Odd, isn’t it, that Indonesia, which is the most highly populated Islamic country on earth hardly ever gets even an off side mention in the news when discussions of Muslim extremism ever comes up? Is that because it’s an inconvenient truth that moderate Islamic countries such as Indonesia can be such an indicator of what Islam truly means?

    Food for thought I say, and I’m happy to offer it on the first day of Idul Fitri.

  5. The first example appears to be an example of religious intolerance. The second one is an example of a petty theft which the victim and narrator then link to the professed faith of the perpetrator. In doing so, they betray their religious intolerance. Am I wrong?

    • On the strength of the article as written, you would be justified in your conclusion.
      With knowledge of further information about the reasons given for this ‘petty theft’, confirmed by a third party, but not included in the article, you might have come to a different conclusion.

  6. bali should become it’s own separate country, so they can control their borders, they escaped here form the muslims many centuries ago and will now lose their paradise, by the stealth of islamic immigration, protect your beautiful culture balinese, before it’s too late

  7. When I had to fill in a form at the police station for stolen property. It was necessary to declare a religion. I wrote Christian and I was a bit concerned about it. In Bali I don’t think the Hindus are anti Christian.
    I have noticed a big increase in Muslim population over the years. I fear for the continuation of Bali’s cultural future which is being eroded. In Bali I lived in a Muslim area ( I did not realise this when I moved there…am a poet…a bit unworldly, very vague) and my Muslim neighbours who owned the warung across the road were very kind and helpful to me when I lived there.I miss them.

    Once a Muslin taxi driver lent me some money (his suggestion) to buy a sound system ( I was short) and he trusted me to go the bank and pay him back….this has never happened to me before anywhere.Bali has memories for me of overwhelming kindness and some but not too many downside experiences. May be I am blessed or just lucky.It is more difficult for a woman to live alone there . People thought it odd.Fortunately I am very quiet and solitary. If I were a party chick I think my experiences would have been negative:)

    • You are living the karmic lifestyle, which is why you saw the positive attributes of the people around you. Your experience of Muslims in Bali parallels that of many of us here. But it is common in the South of Bali to encounter the occasional nasty character.

      Some are Muslims, some are Hindus, some are Christians, some are atheists. Some like spinach, some don’t. Some have long hair, some don’t. Some are male, some are female. Some are hetero, some are gay. Some are local, some are foreigners. So what? A person’s religion, appearance, food preference, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality are qualities completely separate to those which mark a person as having a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character.

      Bali is a pluralist society which, in the main, shows admirable tolerance. Whether its uniquely Balinese social fabric remains intact with the increasing influence of outside cultures, other more ‘prescriptive’ religions, and Western material wealth-generating mind-sets remains to be seen.

  8. Prescriptive religions! …Ooooo I think you have been reading my blog…ha 🙂

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