Posts Tagged ‘Muslims’

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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.

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One Day, Will We Commemorate Nyepi Day With A Minute’s Silence?

March 18, 2012

Nyepi Day – the “Day of Silence” – marks the Balinese New Year. It is both a cultural imperative and an iconic event of powerful significance, and it literally stops all activity on the island for one full day of the year. The airport and all transportation hubs are closed and everyone is confined indoors. Working is not permitted. No-one, except for the black-clad pecalang, the traditional keepers of village order, is permitted on the streets. Apart from emergency vehicles, no traffic is allowed.

Silence rules the day. Noise, TV and music is strongly discouraged. No fires can be lit, and at night, lights – if used at all – must be kept low and not be visible from outside a residence. Entertainment and bodily pleasures are prohibited, as is  travelling. Some communities may fast, others may ban talking altogether, while still others may even disconnect the electricity supply to whole villages.

The twenty four hour period is dedicated to introspection and reflection, and the day’s restrictions are designed to eliminate all barriers to achieving that aim. Mythologically, it is a time when evil spirits emerge from the sea to fly over the island, looking for signs of human activity that might provide a receptacle for their evil. With no lights, no noise and no activity to be seen, there is nothing to pique their interest and encourage them to linger. In this way Bali remains free of the forces of darkness for another year.

Although primarily a Balinese Hindu occasion, non-Hindu residents of Bali have always honoured the tradition as well. Perhaps not to the same extent as the Balinese in terms of fasting, not watching TV and engaging in reflective practice, but they have always arranged their activities to avoid being out in the streets, and in keeping residential noise and light emissions to undetectable levels. Tourists get more leeway, as long as they confine themselves to activities within hotel grounds. Even so, no-one has traditionally been allowed on the streets or beaches, with alert pecalang keeping a careful lookout for transgressors who may be counselled, disciplined or fined.

Some of my foreign acquaintances, both tourists and residents,  choose to leave Bali during Nyepi, or to check into a hotel with spacious grounds to give themselves a little more personal freedom. I can understand this, especially if they have kids.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep them quiet for 24 hours without the stimulation of activities, the soporific effect of TV, or the comfort of air-conditioning.

However for me, Nyepi is a highlight. It always has been during the time I have been living in Bali. I enjoy the quiet, the lack of chaos and the sense of complete spiritual peace that descends on the place. I don’t mind being sequestered in my villa for a day and a night. I welcome the time for thinking, for reading and for reflection. I don’t see the restrictions as an impost, I see them as an opportunity. My great fortune is that I cannot remember ever having been bored, and this stands me in good stead on Nyepi Day. A rich internal world is truly a blessing.

Government authorities here generally use sanctions to encourage the observance of the day’s restrictions for everyone, even to the extent of sometimes going too far to ensure this. This year, their call for cable TV providers to shut down all transmission for 24 hours was well-meant, but not particularly well thought-out. It’s not just Bali’s Hindus that would be affected by such a shut-down – it would also be the  patrons of hotels, which are already allowed to provide some reprieve from Nyepi restrictions  for foreigners. After all, surely devout Hindus can simply choose not to watch cable TV?

So given the purported strength of the Bali government’s conviction about the sanctity of Nyepi Day, why are we starting to see an erosion of restrictions? Why is a day that is central to Balinese core cultural beliefs being gradually changed to accommodate special interests? Already reports are coming in that, despite beaches always having been off-limits on this day, an exception is now being made for surfers, who will not have to abide by Nyepi restrictions, on Bali’s far west coast.

Now, in the interests of “religious harmony” – or maybe pressure from elsewhere in the archipelago – Bali’s Governor has announced that Muslims will be permitted to use the streets to attend Friday prayers. Mosques have been “requested” not to use amplified calls to prayer, or amplified sermons on the day. However, it seems that no actual prohibition has been put in place to ensure silence in the surrounding community. Interestingly, there appears to be no corresponding relaxation of Nyepi restrictions for members of any other religious faiths to attend services.

I spoke to a Muslim acquaintance about this, because I was curious as to why it was necessary to physically attend a place of worship on the one day of the year where such attendance might conflict with a different set of religious and cultural imperatives, especially in a Hindu-majority region. His response was one of disbelief. “But we must go to prayers”, he said, “this is our religion.” I assured him that I understood, and gently pointed out that, for the Balinese, Nyepi Day and its attendant prohibitions concerning silence – and not using the streets – were also an integral part of their religion and culture.

“You don’t understand”, he said. “It is our religion and we must pray. For Bali people, it doesn’t matter. It is just a ceremony.” He’s right; I don’t understand. Not being an adherent of any faith, I guess I hold the mistaken belief that a person’s communication with their god occurs in their heart, and not necessarily in a specific geographical location.

And before people start moaning and shrieking that I am picking on a specific religion, relax.  My point is not about religion, it is about Nyepi Day and its observance in Balinese culture. It is a precious and rare event, the importance of which should not be eroded by surfers, or prayer-attendees, or anyone else who decides that their personal wishes should trump the observance of this day.

What’s next? I fear that as more vocal groups start demanding that they be allowed to go where they want, and do what they want on Nyepi Day, its significance will continue to erode in the same way that Bali’s cultural landscape is already eroding. What will be left of this day in ten years? Just another public holiday with a mandatory one minute’s silence to commemorate the ghost of Nyepi?

I hope not. I really hope not.


FOLLOW UP POST: Post-Nyepi Reflections – where it all went wrong


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Lombokschwitz, Indonesia’s Ahmadi Shame

November 16, 2011

The rising tide of religious intolerance continues unchecked in the great ‘secular democracy’ of Indonesia. Diani Budiarto, the Mayor of Bogor, only sixty kilometres from Jakarta, thumbs his nose at the government, the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the essence of Pancasila itself by continuing to victimise members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church. “No church should be on a street named after a Muslim”, he said. Scholars are apparently still poring over the 114 Suras in the Qur’an to find any which might support his bigoted stance.

Elsewhere in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi, Christian churches are burned, parishioners attacked and anyone who does not adhere slavishly to Islamic orthodoxy is marginalised. The police stand by and watch. The President, his hands tied by fundamentalist coalition partners, does nothing, thereby condoning the attacks.

In Cikeusik, West Java, 17 year old Dani bin Misra was released from jail to a hero’s welcome. He had received only a three month sentence for the violent murder of Roni Pasaroni, a member of the Ahmadiya sect, during a vicious siege of their home. Their house was torched by a fanatically screaming mob, two of its occupants being set upon as they tried to escape, then clubbed and slashed to death. In a stunning example of Indonesian jurisprudence, one of the survivors was sentenced to six months jail “for provoking the attack”, simply by being in the house. The police stood by and watched. The President called for the perpetrators to be caught and punished, but as is usual in Indonesian courts, the pressure from hard-liners ensured that prosecutors didn’t even bother to call eye-witnesses.

Hard-line Muslims don’t approve of the peaceful Ahmadis. Oblivious the the irony of her words, one resident of Cikeusik said, “We had to clean our village. This is no place for the followers of a cult.” The FPI, a fundamentalist band of uneducated thugs for hire, don’t approve of the Ahmadis either. In fact, they don’t seem to approve of anything that deviates from the ideology being forced upon Indonesians by the fundamentalists’ Arabic masters.

The FPI operates with impunity because the police let them. “As a part of society, the FPI is our partner … in a positive way”, said National Police spokesman Senior Commander Boy Rafli Amar. What else can he say? His boss, Chief of the Indonesian National Police General Timur Pradopo is reported to be a foundation member of the FPI. And despite knowing this, the President still appointed him to his position. What does that tell you about SBY’s commitment to tolerance?

But all of these violations of religious freedoms, all of this intolerance, violence and bigotry don’t really impact Bali, do they?. We can all relax in paradise, because these insanities perpetrated in the name of religion are a long way away in West Java, North Sumatra and Sulawesi, right?

Wrong.

Just 35 kilometres away lies Lombok, touted as “The New Bali” and a fledgling tourist destination. Lombok, which is predominately Muslim, also is home to a population of Ahmadiya – Muslims who have so offended fundamentalists by their belief in a variant of mainstream Islam that they are not even permitted to call themselves Muslims. This peaceful sect, who have been in Indonesia since 1925, has grown in numbers worldwide by 400% in the last ten years. In Lombok, their numbers have been savagely reduced by violent persecution by the local population. Their homes have been destroyed, their land and possessions stolen. Forcible conversions to the “true Islam” have decimated their numbers. Those who have asserted their right to freedom of worship have been hounded into a ghetto in Mataram.

The run-down Transito shelter in Mataram is now home to 140 Ahmadis, crammed into a shelter where sanitation is non-existent and where the government has cut off electricity three years ago. The government has banned them from returning to their homes and has refused to register them as residents of Lombok. Because they are not residents, their food aid was cut off last year, and they are denied the free gas stoves supposedly distributed by the government to all citizens. They are the forgotten people of Lombok. Presumably, everyone is waiting for them to die off in poverty and squalor so that the problem will go away.

What motivated the Lombok population to begin to destroy their own neighbours? Well for a start, maybe the 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) against the Ahmadis started the ball rolling. The government, which had every chance to reinforce the propaganda that Indonesia is a secular nation by nipping this in the bud, dropped the ball and did nothing until 2008. At which time, inexplicably, a Ministerial Decree ratified the unconstitutional religious decree by making it law. Since then, fuel has been poured on the fire by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali’s call for an complete ban on Ahmadiyah. To the uneducated and the poor, the message is clear. The Ahmadis are fair game.

The latest lame attempt at controlling religious thought comes from the government’s current draft Religious Harmony Bill. This masterpiece of bad drafting requires the consideration of “the local community’s wisdom” prior to the construction of a place of worship. Wisdom? It also wants to specifically regulate how people should spread their faith, celebrate religious holidays, construct places of worship, hold funerals and organize religious education. Have any of these intellectual giants considered the impact of a national law like that on a place like Bali? Unbelievable. Sounds like a law to promote intolerance, not eliminate it.

And once intolerance takes root, it’s hard to eradicate it. In Lombok, it’s not just the Ahmadis that are targets now. Ask any expat unfortunate enough to have a villa with Hindu iconography as part of the design. Ask them about the vandalism. Ask expats who have been brazen enough to politely request their village chiefs for the volume to be turned down on the 4.30am to dawn hyper-amplified call to prayer. Oh wait, you can’t ask them – they’re now in jail.

And ask poor, deaf,  Sadarudin, a harmless disabled Ahmadi resident of the Lombokschwitz concentration camp, who was the target of an attempted beheading by an intolerant coward with a machete. Ask him what he thinks about the politics of religious intolerance in Indonesia. Ask him what he thinks about pancasila, and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of choice of worship. Ask him what he thinks of the President of a  ‘secular democracy’ who allows his country to slide into a fundamentalist theocratic regime while his pious, hypocritical elites grow fat on graft.

Oh wait, you can’t – he’s fighting for his life in a Mataram hospital and can’t talk to anybody. Shame, Lombok. Shame, Indonesia.

— ooo —

UPDATE:
15 November 2011: FPI, MUI and FKUB harass Ahmadis in Bekasi, just East of Jakarta

RELATED POSTIndonesia’s Silent Majority Silent While Country Is Hijacked [10 October, 2011]