Posts Tagged ‘religious intolerance’

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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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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]

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Indonesia’s Silent Majority Silent While Country Is Hijacked

October 10, 2011

Shattering events in a country don’t seem to stay in the mind for long. People watch, aghast, as world-changing circumstances unfold all over the globe. But inevitably, after a short period of engagement, they get bored and wander off to have a cup of tea and a good lie down. An epidemic of Attention-Deficit Disorder washes over whole nations – and the events, no matter how momentous, fade from the collective memory.

The inability of many to register the world’s turning-points in anything other than short-term memory means that opportunities to recognise history in the making are passed over, and the chance of learning from these is lost. Even Arnold Toynbee must have forgotten that in 1919 when he famously paraphrased George Santayana’s 1905 words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and presented them as his own.

At a local establishment last week, three TVs were showing motorcycle racing, rugby and a documentary on Hiroshima. The assembled patrons’ attention was evenly divided between the two sports. The scenes from Japan went unnoticed. When the thirty-something sports fan beside me finally glanced at the documentary channel, I asked him: “What do you think of that?” He looked at the rubble and melted bodies for a second and said, “Ah, I don’t like horror movies.” I replied that it was real and that we were watching actual atomic warfare and its consequences. He dismissed me with “Mate, I don’t like that First World War stuff either.” I don’t think history has taught him much.

And it wasn’t that long ago that we all watched vision from media cameras attached to bombs in their horrifying trajectories of death. Gripping at first, it soon became just another high-tech middle-eastern war; another night’s entertainment on the tube. And after a week, it was back to the soaps and sinetrons, banal crime shows and Big Brother.  We apparently preferred Reality Shows to reality. Memories fade, events become irrelevant to our day-to-day lives.  Secure in our non-caring, non-engaged stupor, we ignore what is actually happening and become part of the silent majority that just lets bad things keep happening.

And so it is with Indonesia today. This wonderful country, populated with vast numbers of friendly, tolerant people, is losing its identity, its culture and even its reputation in the world. It once prided itself on being a secular democracy protected by constitutional guarantees of religious tolerance and guided by the principles of Pancasila. Now, dragged down by the twin dead-weights of religious fundamentalism and endemic corruption, Indonesia is sliding into an abyss of graft and Middle Ages theocracy. Its economy is being shaken by the astonishing hubris of scandal-prone political ‘elites’ motivated by greed and self-interest, and foreign investor confidence is being rattled by the jingoistic demands of inexperienced and incompetent ministers.

A small minority of Islamic zealots, tacitly supported by some police of dubious morality, continue to attack adherents of other faiths, including Muslims belonging to sects other than their own. They persecute those of the Ahmadiyah faith, branding them heretics, despite a peaceful Ahmadiyah presence in Indonesia for decades before the arrival of Arab-influenced Wahhabi fundamentalists in this country. A biased judiciary hands out 5-month sentences to murderers of Ahmadis, while giving their victims twice that for ‘inciting the crime’. They’ve probably forgotten, or maybe don’t even know that an Ahmadi wrote the Indonesian National anthem. Incredibly, in direct contravention of the constitution, a ministerial decree has even been passed which prohibits Ahmadi activities. Elsewhere, low-level officials even defy Supreme Court orders to stop their harassment of Christians, keeping places of worship closed by force and herding worshippers away as if they were animals.

At many pesantren – Islamic boarding schools – Saudi and Pakistani-trained clerics continue their jihadist indoctrination of Indonesia’s youth under the guise of religious education. Illegal vigilante groups, such as the FPI, continue to oppose anything except a strict interpretation of Wahhabi Islam, creating fear and unrest in the communities that they, and their sponsors, relentlessly target. Even iconic Wayang theatre figures, for centuries a part of the culture of Java, have been targeted as heretical by fundamentalists determined to destroy the rich traditions of Indonesia and replace them with an Arabic culture. Meanwhile, on religious issues, the silent majority stays silent.

They also say nothing about their government, where the corruption blatantly exhibited by many politicians and government officials passes completely under their radar. Blatantly biased judgements by corrupt elements of the courts don’t attract more than a mutter of protest either. Religious bias – in favour of one flavour of Islam – elicits no opposition for fear of being denounced as a ‘bad Muslim’. Lowering of educational standards, decay of infrastructure and lack of community improvements caused by embezzlement and theft produces a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders.

About 70 million Indonesians don’t vote at all, so they don’t even use their voices for dissent. By embracing GOLPUT – the Indonesian way of expressing disenchantment with the political process by choosing not to vote – or by just being apathetic, they leave the field clear for political parties to continue to hold ‘gift-giving rallies’ in return for votes, thereby creating toxic, self-serving elites who end up doing whatever they want. If this is democracy, I don’t recognise it. Isn’t it better to stand up, speak up and be counted? What a waste of opportunities to change the process for the better!

And what of the ‘moderate Muslims’ In Indonesia – those who do not embrace the retrograde views of the increasingly powerful fundamentalist factions? Do they really see Wahhabi demands as relevant to a modern Indonesia? Do they want a nation that can take its place on the world stage, or a controlling theocracy, masquerading as a pseudo-democracy, that is incapable of separating Church from State? Do they really want the creeping implementation of Shariah Law to continue with the continuing enactment of more stealthy, unconstitutional by-laws?

The changes occurring in Indonesia now are not a series of dramatic events that polarise people’s views and have them openly rebelling. They are instead symptoms of an insidious, creeping malaise that, while it may disturb the silent majority of Indonesians, does not seem to marshal enough concern or engagement to incite open rebellion. It should, because they are a threat to the very fabric of Indonesia itself. But to act against a threat, people must first perceive it as a threat. Maybe that has not yet happened because of the slow and stealthy nature of the changes.

Indonesia is at the cross-roads. Apart from Bali, where religion is still the domain of the spirit and not a political weapon, where religious tolerance is the norm, and where Pancasila is observed in practice rather than as a polemic, Indonesia’s silent majority needs to rise up and speak with one voice.  It needs to tell its politicians, public servants and religious leaders that it has had enough of incompetence, cronyism, corruption and religious bigotry. It needs to re-visit those lessons of history that chronicle the submerging of peaceful and tolerant cultures by foreign ones which are dominating, violent and crave control.

Unless of course, the silent majority agrees with the death of integrity in politics, supports a savage rise in religious intolerance and looks forward to the imposition of an Arabian culture. In which case, keep saying and doing nothing. Your wishes will be granted.

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Please, Someone In Indonesian Politics – Take The Final Step

September 25, 2011

I was going to write a thousand words on this.
But maybe a picture is better …