AVOID MUSLIM INDONESIA
Catholic schools in Blitar agree to provide Islamic lessons
The Jakarta Post
January 17 2013
Six Catholic schools in Blitar municipality, East Java, have finally given in to a local ordinance and will provide Islamic lessons for their Muslim students.
The city ordinance requires all Muslim students to be able to read and write Koranic verses.
The head of the Religious Affairs Ministry’s office in Blitar, Imam Mukhlis, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that the six schools had finally agreed to provide Islamic teachers for their Muslim students.
“We met today [Tuesday] and everything is just fine and there is no problem. They are willing to carry out the city ordinance,” he said.
A representative of the Yohanes Gabriel Foundation confirmed the decision and said that the Islamic lessons would be delivered by competent teachers and conducted outside the schools.
The Blitar city administration previously threatened to close down Diponogoro High School, the Catholic Vocational High School, Santa Maria Kindergarten, Santa Maria Elementary School, the Catholic Elementary School and Yos Sudarso Junior High School for their refusal to provide Islamic lessons to their Muslim students.
The Blitar Mayoral Decree No. 8/2012 requires all Muslim students be able to read and write Koranic verses.
The decree is based on Government Regulation No. 55/2007 on religious teaching. The government regulation, in turn, is based on Law No. 20/2003 on the national education system.
Article 12 of the education law stipulates that every student in an educational institution is entitled to receive religious education in accordance with his or her religion, imparted by an educator of the same religion.
Article 55, however, allows community-based education to be held in accordance with the specific religious, social and cultural norms for the benefit of the community.
The law’s Article 12 is reiterated by Article 4 (2) of the government regulation while Article 6 regulates the provision of religious teaching at both state and private schools.
Article 6 (3) says that if a privately run school cannot provide religious teachers, the central government or regional administration is obliged to provide religious teachers for the school.
Commenting on the regulation, Aan Ansori, activist with the Islamic Anti-Discrimination Network and the GusDurian Network, demanded Blitar Mayor Samanhudi Anwar revoke his decree.
Speaking to the Post Aan posed the question, “If the regulation is upheld, will Islamic schools, which are more exclusive than Catholic schools when it comes to accepting students of different faiths, also be required to provide Buddhist, Christian or Hindu lessons for their non-Muslim students?”
He characterized the regulation as silly because it could not be implemented in Islamic schools. “We also demand the government revise Government Regulation No. 55/2007 to bring it into line with the 1945 Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of religion and faith,” Aan said.
Separately, the Indonesia Ulema Council’s East Java chapter chairman, Abdusomad Buchori, said his institution would urge other regions in the province to issue similar decrees so that all schools, be they state-run or managed by Christian foundations, provide Islamic lessons for their Muslim students.
Lady Gaga gagged in Indonesia after Islamic opposition
JAKARTA Tue May 15, 2012 (Reuters) - Pop star Lady Gaga has been refused a permit to perform in the Indonesian capital next month over security concerns, police said on Tuesday, after Islamic groups voiced strong objections to her "vulgar" style.Three Islamic groups have expressed their opposition to the concert on June 3, demanding it be stopped, national police spokesman Saud Usman Nasution said by telephone.
Indonesia, a secular state, has the world's largest population of Muslims as well as significant minorities of Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.
"She's a vulgar singer who wears only panties and a bra when she sings and she stated she is the envoy of the devil's child and that she will spread satanic teaching," said Salim Alatas, the Jakarta head of hardline Islamic Defender Front (FPI). "This is dangerous."
More than 30,000 concert tickets from a total of 40,000 tickets had been sold, said the Jakarta Post newspaper. Tickets ranged in price from 465,000 rupiah ($50.35) to 2.25 million rupiah ($240). ($1 = 9235 rupiah)
Obama urged to address Indonesia intolerance
By Staff Nov 16, 2011
Suicide bomber attacks packed Indonesian church
(AFP) – Sep 24, 2011
SOLO, Indonesia — A suicide bomber attacked a packed Indonesian church on Sunday wounding at least 27 people, some critically, and sending terrified worshippers rushing out into the streets in panic.
The morning bombing in the city of Solo, in Central Java, was the latest in a spate of attacks on minority religious groups in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Solo, a city of 500,000, is the home of militant Islamist spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir, who was jailed in June for 15 years for funding a terrorist group that was planning attacks against Westerners and political leaders.
Kristanto, a worshipper, said he and his wife were getting ready to leave at the end of the service at the Bethel Injil Church when the bomb rocked the building.
"I was about to head home when a very loud explosion shocked me. A crowd of people from inside the church rushed to the streets," he told AFP.
"They were screaming and very hysterical. The peaceful Sunday has quickly become a chaotic situation."
"I helped several people who were injured and lying weak on the ground," said the badly shaken 53-year-old, who goes by one name.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the bomber was part of a network based in Cirebon, 300 kilometres east of Jakarta, where in April a suicide bomber attacked a police mosque, killing only himself and wounding 30 with a bomb of nails, nuts and bolts.
"This suicide bomber was a member of the terrorist network in Cirebon we mentioned a few months ago. I have called for a thorough investigation to find out more on this group, including who funds and leads them," Yudhoyono said in a televised statement.
"On behalf of the country and my government, I strongly condemn terrorist acts as an extraordinary evil."
A doctor at Minulyo Hospital in Solo, who requested anonymity, said nails and bolts had caused injuries to the three victims he was treating.
The bomber was inside the church with worshippers when he got up and detonated the bomb on his way out.
"He let off the bomb and his guts spilled all over the floor. We are still trying to identify him," said national police spokesman Anton Bachrul Alam. He confirmed that only the attacker had died.
An AFP correspondent saw the bomber's body on the ground at the church's main entrance. He was wearing a white shirt and black trousers.
Most of Indonesia's 200 million Muslims are moderates, but the country has struggled to deal with numerous attacks by radical extremists, like the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
The April mosque attack in Cirebon revealed that while large networks such as JI had weakened, smaller terrorist cells that are harder to track were operating in scattered parts of the archipelago.
Indonesia's constitution guarantees freedom of religion but rights groups say violence against minorities including Christians and the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect has escalated recently.
In June, a Muslim cleric was sentenced to one year in jail for inciting hundreds of people to burn churches and attack police.
Seventeen men were also jailed for up to five months for February attacks on churches in the town of Temanggung, on Java.
Police have also been investigating a Good Friday plot to blow up a Jakarta church and a book bomb campaign targeting Muslim moderates and counter-terrorism officials.
No one was killed in those incidents.
Yudhoyono's government has faced growing criticism over its failure to respond to the spate of religious hate crimes.
Human rights groups also expressed outrage after a member of the Ahmadiyah sect, which are regarded as heretics by some conservative Muslims, was sentenced to six months for defending himself and others from a lynch mob which killed three of his friends.
The sentence was the same or stiffer than those handed out to 12 Islamic extremists who led the mob in the February rampage.
Indonesia's Islamic Vigilantes
By AUBREY BELFORD
May 19, 2011
The New York Times
CIREBON, INDONESIA — Before he strapped on his suicide vest, walked into a crowded police station mosque and blew himself up last month, Muhammad Syarif was typical of the scores of angry young men who pass their days at fundamentalist mosques in this coastal Javanese city.
Mr. Syarif, 31, was a familiar face at often-violent protests, organized by local clerics, against alleged places of immorality, like karaoke bars and unregistered Christian churches. Last year, he joined mobs wielding sticks, staves and machetes who clashed with members of Ahmadiyya, a minority Muslim sect deemed heretical by fundamentalists.
But to the police, Mr. Syarif was of little interest. Like many members of a small and vocal fringe of Islamist vigilante groups in Cirebon, Mr. Syarif operated with near-impunity as the local authorities turned a blind eye to — or even tacitly condoned, liberal Muslim leaders say — an atmosphere of intimidation against minorities and others deemed un-Islamic.
No one, it seems, saw it coming when Mr. Syarif slipped into the police station mosque during Friday Prayer and detonated his bomb, killing himself and wounding 30 people, including the local police chief.
The attack, which shocked Indonesians by occurring in a place of worship, points to what some analysts say is a disturbing trend. Across the country, they say, the authorities have largely stood by as fundamentalist vigilante groups have increasingly used street-level violence and intimidation in an attempt to turn Indonesia — a nonsectarian democracy where moderate Islam predominates — into a conservative Islamic state. Now, emboldened by a lack of official action, it appears some Islamist vigilantes are turning to terrorism.
“I think there is a merging of extremist agendas,” said Sidney Jones, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, “and that’s why it becomes imperative that the government address the issue of intolerance.”
“Because if we have a merging of the moralist agenda with the terrorist agenda, then ignoring the hard-liners that use blunt physical force in the effort to impose their views of morality, you are giving a green light to people who move one step further in using terrorism,” she said.
Conservative Islam has exploded in influence in this Muslim-majority country since the 1998 protests ended the three-decade dictatorship of Suharto, which held political Islam firmly in check. For the most part, this has manifested itself in the growth of private piety and the development of a significant minority of Islamic politicians in local and national government. But there has also been growth at the fringe.
At the most extreme end, terrorist groups have staged a series of deadly attacks, including the 2002 bombings in Bali, which killed 202 people. Successive police crackdowns have seen hundreds of militants arrested and key leaders killed. Terrorism is now at a low ebb, although militants still plan attacks — in April the police also uncovered a group that was alleged to have planned to bomb a church at Easter and to have sent mail bombs to prominent figures deemed “enemies of Islam.”
Much more successful have been above-ground fundamentalist groups that use strong-arm tactics to push for Indonesia’s Islamization. Emerging after 1998, these groups have mounted raids against vices like gambling and prostitution and led mobs that have burned and ransacked churches. In politics, they have seen success by allying themselves with more mainstream conservative Muslim politicians, lending their muscle to campaigns to ban pornography and Ahmadiyya. For the most part, they are rarely arrested.
In a striking example of official reluctance to tackle vigilante violence, video footage taken in February showed the police in West Java standing by as a mob killed three Ahmadiyya members and mutilated their bodies. Rather than lead to a crackdown on vigilantes, the incident prompted provincial and local governments to issue decrees curtailing the rights of Ahmadis to worship.
In the case of the Cirebon bombing, it appears that Mr. Syarif was one person drawn from vigilante violence into terrorism, amid an atmosphere of official tolerance for hard-line intimidation, said Marzuki Wahid, co-founder of the Fahmina Institute, a Muslim human rights group.
“My impression is that the authorities are letting this happen,” Mr. Marzuki said. “They’re cowards when it comes to facing these groups. Frankly, they’re rearing a tiger that wants to jab its master.”
In Cirebon, a coalition of extremists grouped under an alliance called the Islamic Community Forum has during the past decade taken control of the city’s imposing central mosque and Islamic center, drawing power from a smattering of nearby mosques and boarding schools. From offices financed in part by the city government, the Forum-allied vigilante groups have mounted their campaigns, with the police often seeing them as an aid in maintaining local order, said Nuruzzaman, the local leader of Ansor, the youth movement of Indonesia’s largest mainstream Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama.
Local vigilante groups, however, see themselves as a last resort in the face of democratic Indonesia’s growing Westernization and official corruption, said Andi Mulya, a bearded cleric who heads the city’s most active group, the Forum’s Anti-Apostasy and Anti-Heresy Movement, also known as Gapas, whose protests Mr. Syarif attended.
Like other Indonesian groups of its kind, Mr. Mulya said, Gapas documents cases of vice and blasphemy and reports them to the police. It is only if the police do not follow up, he said, that Gapas takes action. “What gets branded ‘radical,’ ‘anarchic’ or ‘violent’ is due to the failure of the government and the police to fairly enforce the law,” Mr. Mulya said.
It was into this world that Mr. Syarif drifted several years ago as a poor, young man upset by his parents’ divorce, according to a younger brother, Muhammad Fatoni. Falling under the spell of Forum-aligned preachers, Mr. Syarif denounced less religious family members as “infidels,” Mr. Fatoni said.
Although the police initially portrayed the bombing as the lone act of a self-starter jihadi, they now say Mr. Syarif was part of a larger terrorist cell that had planned further attacks and was linked to Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid, or J.A.T., the above-ground organization of Abu Bakar Bashir, an elderly cleric who is a founder of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network and is currently on trial for overseeing another terrorist network in Aceh.
So far the police have arrested 13 people in connection with the bombing, killed two suspects and recovered 14 additional bombs. One of the arrested was a brother of Mr. Syarif, Muhammad Basuki. The police have not yet said when and how they believe Mr. Syarif joined the terrorist cell, but a pattern of increasing radicalism and violence is clear.
Despite a reputation for violence at Gapas protests, Mr. Syarif largely stayed off the police radar until last September, when he joined a group of 11 people who smashed bottles of alcohol in Cirebon convenience stores. Those raids were organized by the local leader of J.A.T., Agung Nur Alam, who operates in alliance with other clerics at Cirebon’s city mosque. The police now say that Mr. Syarif was a member of J.A.T., although Mr. Nur Alam has denied this.
Among the items seized when the police arrested six members of the group was a laptop containing video showing Mr. Syarif being trained for a terrorist attack, the police said. Whether this piece of evidence went unnoticed, or was simply not acted on, is unclear. In early April, Mr. Syarif’s driver’s license was found at the scene of the fatal stabbing of a soldier. Less than two weeks later, Mr. Syarif carried out his bombing.
For Mr. Nuruzzaman, the local youth movement leader, it is no surprise the police missed the budding terrorist group in their midst.
“Because the government is letting things go, groups like this are doing ‘sweeping’ operations on minorities, so they feel they’ve got the power to do anything,” Mr. Nuruzzaman said. “If the state was acting firmly against them, I’m convinced this wouldn’t go on.”
The police, however, deny there is any broader connection between the rising tide of vigilante violence and the uncovered network.
The man who became police chief after the bombing, Lt. Col. Asep Edi Suheri, denied that the police condoned Islamic hard-liners, or that the latter presented a security risk. “Not everyone in these Islamic organizations is a radical,” he said. “It’s a just a few rogue individuals.”
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.
Islamic mobs in burst of anti-Christian violence in Indonesia
February 8, 2011
Thousands of Muslims attacked three Christian churches, an orphanage, and a health-care clinic in Indonesia on February 8.
A Catholic priest was badly beaten as he sought to protect the tabernacle in his church from the marauding crowd. After damaging that church, the crowd went on to torch two nearby Protestant churches and other Church institutions.
The mob violence in Java was prompted by a court decision sentencing a Christian evangelist to 5 years in prison, rather than the death sentence, after his conviction on blasphemy charges. Richmond Bawengan Antonius had been arrested last October, charged with distributing pamphlets that mocked Islam.
The burst of violence came, ironically, as Indonesia celebrated Interfaith Harmony Week. Indonesia, which is the world’s most populous Muslim country, has an official ideology that emphasizes religious tolerance.
Archbishop Yohannes Pujasumarta of Semarang said that the violence reflected a disturbing trend, as in recent months “the intolerance of that group of fanatics has mounted.”
Indonesia jails American man for blasphemy
(AFP) – December 15, 2010
PRAYA, Indonesia — An Indonesian court on Wednesday sentenced a US retiree to five months in jail for blasphemy for pulling the plug on a mosque's loudspeaker during a prayer reading.
The August 22 incident during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in retired Californian engineer Gregory Luke, 64, needing a police escort from his home on Lombok island as a mob tore it to pieces around him.
"He was found guilty of committing blasphemy, carrying out an act of violence and hampering people in Kute village from doing their religious activities," chief judge Suhartoyo told a court in Praya, Lombok.
Luke had previously denied pulling the plug, but in a brief comment Wednesday said he was "satisfied" with the judges' ruling.
The verdict was two months lighter than the jail term sought by prosecutors a day earlier. The Indonesian criminal code stipulates that an act of blasphemy carries a maximum five-year jail term.
Setting out mitigating circumstances, the judge said: "The defendant has never committed a crime before, acted politely during the trial and expressed regret for his act. He also participated in promoting tourism here."
Luke, who runs a guesthouse for tourists on the islands, will get his freedom back in mid-February 2011.
Wearing a sarong, polo shirt and black Muslim hat, he said outside the courtroom that he accepted the ruling.
"I'm quite satisfied with the judges' decision," he said with a smile.
Luke has previously denied pulling the plug on the loudspeakers used to broadcast the call to prayer -- a feature on most mosques in Indonesia.
In comments to local media, he has said he went to the mosque to ask for the volume to be turned down and was set upon by a group of local youths, who pushed him to the ground and pelted him with rocks.
A mob then chased him to his home and ransacked it as police looked on, apparently unable to intervene, he said. No one has been charged with any offence related to the mob attack on his house.
Indonesian police uncover plot to kill president
By ALI KOTARUMALOS (AP)
May 14, 2010
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian police announced Friday they had uncovered and foiled a plot to assassinate the president and other top officials, massacre foreigners in Mumbai-style attacks and declare an Islamic state.
The attackers planned to launch their assault during this year's Independence Day ceremony to be attended Aug. 17 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the country's top dignitaries, national police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri told reporters.
The plot also included taking over hotels and killing foreigners, especially Americans, in violence that would have been reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, he said. The plot was revealed during interrogations of dozens of suspects arrested since a February raid on a terrorist training camp in the western province of Aceh, Danuri said.
"They were confident that all state officials and dignitaries would be there," Danuri said. "Killing all the state officials would have accelerated the transition from a democracy to a state controlled by Islamic Shariah law."
Some of the newest information on the plot came from a series of raids this week on militant hideouts in and around the capital that yielded 20 arrests as well as a supply of assault rifles, ammunition, telescopes and jihadist literature. Five suspected militants were killed in those raids.
Most of those arrested were believed to have trained at the Aceh camp, run by a group called al-Qaida in Aceh, a new splinter of the Southeast Asia terror network Jemaah Islamiyah.
"If we had not detected them and their military training had been successful, then they would have assassinated foreigners ... as well as police and military posts in Aceh," Danuri said.
"Their plan was also to launch attacks in Jakarta against foreigners — especially Americans — and attack and control hotels within certain communities, imitating what happened in Mumbai," he said.
In November 2008, a group of young Pakistanis attacked luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station in India's financial capital, claiming the lives of 166 people.
Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, stipulates religious freedom in its constitution. The country has been engaged in a long battle against militant extremist groups.
Indonesia under fire for upholding scripture over rights
By Stephen Coates (AFP) – Apr 19, 2010
JAKARTA — Human rights groups pilloried Indonesia's constitutional court Tuesday after it upheld a 1965 blasphemy law, ruling in favour of orthodox religions over basic freedoms.
The court on Monday rejected a petition by moderate Muslims, religious minorities, democracy advocates and rights groups against the law, in a case seen as a major test of the mainly Muslim country's pluralism.
By a margin of eight to one, the judges ruled that the law was imperfect but did not contravene the constitution of the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, which guarantees freedoms of belief and expression.
The law carries a maximum punishment of five years for beliefs that deviate from the orthodox versions of six sanctioned faiths: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a non-partisan body that advises the US government, said the ruling may embolden religious extremists and foster sectarian strife.
"Hopefully, the Indonesian government will recognise that overturning the blasphemy decree advances its fight against terrorism and extremism, and enhances its reputation for religious tolerance and pluralism," commission chairman Leonard Leo said.
The law -- which effectively outlaws blasphemy as well as heresy -- was used in 2008 to force followers of the Islamic Ahmadiyah sect to go underground and is often cited by minorities as a source of discrimination and intimidation.
Islamic extremists packed the court throughout the hearings, heckled witnesses for the petitioners and allegedly assaulted their lawyers on the last day. They greeted the ruling with shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greater).
About 500 police were deployed around the court due to concerns that a ruling against the law would trigger violence by militants from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a vigilante group.
Several of the judges said they agreed with the testimony of Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar that the law was needed to protect minorities from violence.
FPI official Sobri Lubis also claimed the law was vital to maintain religious harmony in the vast archipelago of 234 million people, 90 percent of whom are Muslims.
"We're very happy with the verdict... This will bring peace of mind to the people," he said.
US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) however said the ruling "dealt a severe blow to religious freedom" in the world's third-largest democracy, which President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit in June.
"Indonesia?s laws should protect those who peacefully express religious views and punish those who threaten to use violence against others, not the other way around," HRW deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson said.
"If the government wants to prevent violence, it should send a message by punishing violent behaviour."
US expert Professor Cole Durham, who testified via videolink on behalf of the petitioners, said the decision "represents a missed opportunity" to reconcile the law with Indonesia's international treaty obligations on human rights and bring the country into line with the trend in other democratic countries.
"This legislation empowers those in dominant religions to persecute and discriminate against those holding divergent views, and this in turn will exacerbate religious tensions in society," he told AFP.
Moderate Muslim scholar Ulil Abshar Abdallah said the court did not seem to understand the constitution.
"Our constitution clearly guarantees freedom of expression. The law will become a time bomb in the future as it will muzzle minority groups that are different from the six mainstream religions," he said.
Bombing at Christian market in Ambon city kills one, wounds
25 May 2004, AMBON - A bomb killed one person and injured 13 people in the Christian sector of Indonesia's Ambon city and police defused another device planted near a church. The blast at Batumeja market at around 10:30 am -- the third in the city in three days -- sparked panic among residents and shoppers. A nurse at Bakti Rahayu hospital nine injured people were being treated, of whom three were in serious condition. A nurse at the Maluku Protestant Church Hospital said five people were admitted and one of them later died.
City police chief Leonidas Braksan said officers defused a bomb planted in the grounds of Maranatha church. He said a suspected bomb at the tax office turned out to be a false alarm. The city in the eastern Maluku islands is still recovering from an outbreak of Muslim-Christian violence which began on April 25. Some 38 people were killed and hundreds of homes and other buildings were torched. Sporadic violence is continuing even though the government has sent in hundreds of extra troops and police.
Two blasts on Sunday injured five Christians in what national police chief Da'i Bachtiar described as an attempt to provoke more trouble. "It is regrettable that there are still people who want to provoke trouble. But thank God, people can no longer be easily provoked," Bachtiar said on Monday, adding that police would search for weapons in the city. Ambon and some other parts of the Maluku islands were ravaged by three years of sectarian clashes which killed more than 5,000 people before a February 2002 peace pact took effect.
Islamic edicts rattle Indonesians
By Kalinga Seneviratne
JAKARTA - Ever since Indonesia's highest Islamic authority, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), issued 11 fatwas or edicts against liberal Islam, a fierce debate has begun raging in the world's most populous Muslim nation on what constitutes an Islamic society.
Though Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation, in these once-Hindu and Buddhist societies the practice of Islam is colored by the liberalism of the older faiths. Many urban middle-class Indonesians define their liberal interpretation of Islam as "secular". But, MUI's fatwas have thrown a direct challenge to both the government and to liberal Muslims in this country of 200 million people, of which 88% follow the Islamic faith while 8% is Christian and 3% Hindu or Buddhist. The 11 edicts, issued in late July, include one that states that Islamic interpretations based on liberalism, secularism and pluralism "contradict Islamic teachings".
Also banned are inter-faith prayers performed with people of other religions and the intonation of amen to prayers that are led by a non-Muslim, a ritual deemed to be haram (forbidden under Islamic law) as also are interfaith marriages.
Analysts say that MUI's stance is a reaction to the aggressive proselytizing by foreign-funded Christian evangelical sects in the country in recent years and the onslaught of globalize Western culture coming in through media channels and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"Challenges for the Muslims do not come from Christian evangelism only, but also others, such as the proliferation of pornography, gambling, the spread of religious liberalism, pluralism and secularism," argues Mustofa Kamil Ridwan, a researcher at the Islamic think-tank, the Habibie Center in Jakarta.
In an Inter Press Service interview, Ridwan said suspicions were being created by the activities of some Western-funded NGOs that were "using Islam as their basis but with questionable implementation that is contradictory to the true teachings of Islam - and sometimes too radical".
One such NGO is the Jaringan Islam Liberal (Liberal Islamic Network) an organization that is located within Institut Studi Arus Informasi (Center for Studies on Information Flows) and plays an important role in spreading ideas on democratic reformation in Indonesia.
Like other NGOs, funded by Western donors, this one, too, is in the forefront of campaigns against attempts by the government to enact laws to restrict the spread of pornography, gambling and night clubs.
"Most progressive Muslim thinkers would not be very happy to be portrayed as liberals," suggested Ade Armando, a member of the Association of Indonesian Moslem Scholars.
"I think the term reformist will be more appropriate to refer to progressive groups that try to reinterpret the Islamic teaching in a more contextual approach, that unfortunately challenges the traditional Islamic teachings by the ulamas [clerics]," Armando said.
Ridwan explained that from the "conservative point of view liberalism is really a challenge" because of the fear "liberalism will make their children and the Muslim community leave Islamic values they uphold highly".
MUI has asked non-Muslims not to be upset with the July edicts as they are only aimed at Muslims, and are not the law of the land.
But MUI is gearing up to promote its edicts in regions where people are more religious, conservative and impoverished. It is these poor communities that have become the target of Christian evangelical groups for proselytizing and some ulamas have reacted by including the MUI edicts in their sermons.
Armando argues that it is wrong to portray those who support the ulamas as radicals who believe in using violence to achieve their aims. "They believe it is their sacred duty to create a new Indonesia as a respectable Islamic country," he explained.
"Many [MUI] groups are working in the institution-building level. They introduce alternative models of schools - modern Islamic schools which differ from the madrassas - new Islamic banking system, special novels for Islamic youth, and they also publish magazines, new media - such as CD, CD-ROM, VCD - that teaches Islamic values," Armando said.
Yet, Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of Nahdhatul Ulama (NU), which has about 40 million members and is considered the world's largest Muslim organization, has warned the MUI that its edicts may have a detrimental impact of the development of a civil society in Indonesia.
Muzadi has asked the ulamas to define precisely what they mean by interfaith relations and nationhood, as "we live in a diverse society and this country is not an Islamic state".
Muslim scholar Ahmad Syafii Maarif, a former chairman of Indonesia's second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, also warned that the edicts may encourage radical groups to take the law into their own hands.
"Although fatwas are not binding, radical groups who have a thirst for power will make use of them for their own interests. It is as if they have been given religious justification,'' he told the Jakarta Post.
But, Ridwan argues that the "edict functions as a provision for the ummah [Muslim community] to decide what they would do" and the ummah itself has the "the last say for themselves".
Thus, the MUI's fatwas play a very important role in the ummah decision-making process. "With the fatwa the ummah feel they have strong hands and are more certain of overcoming the challenges in the midst of very uncertain situation and full of upheaval,'' he told IPS.
Armando blamed the regimes of former presidents Abdurrahman Wahid (a liberal Islamic thinker) and Megawati Sukarnoputri (a woman) for allowing reformists within the Muslim community in Indonesia to gain in popularity.
"Very progressive books were being published in these past several years and progressive radio talk shows were launched. And in these movements, the forbidden organizations [during the Suharto era] dared to also openly surface," he noted.
"These developments, I believe, provoked reactions from the conservative groups. And now, they see SBY [President Yudoyuano] as a new president that they can perceive of as an ally or godfather.
"They [conservatives] also see these movements as being provoked by the activities of [Christian] evangelists."
(Inter Press Service)
Outrage as Jakarta cuts jail term of Bali bombs cleric
August 18, 2005
Indonesian authorities have cut by more than four months the 30-month jail term imposed on Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for his role in the Bali bombings, sparking outrage in Australia.
Bakir, sentenced in March for involvement in a criminal conspiracy that led to the October 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, was one of 53,000 inmates whose term was reduced to mark Indonesian independence day.
He was cleared of more serious charges of planning terrorist attacks.
Dedi Sutardi, head of the Cipinang penitentiary in Jakarta where Bashir is being held, said Wednesday Bashir's term was cut by four months and 15 days. ``Abu Bakar Bashir deserves a remission because he is behaving very well,'' Sutardi said.
``All he does in prison is devote himself to religious service.''
Prison officials in Bali also announced sentence reductions of an average three months for 19 of 24 militants imprisoned on the resort island for the bombings.
Three of the plotters on death row and two others jailed for life are not eligible.
Relatives and friends of the victims in Australia condemned the move.
Bashir's remission ``belittled'' the lives of those who died, said a spokesman for a Sydney rugby league club that lost six players in the attack.
Adelaide lawyer Brian Deegan, whose son Joshua was killed in the bombing, called the decision "outrageous, an absolute disgrace.''
Prime Minister John Howard said he regretted the early release but understood it was an automatic step linked to Independence Day celebrations.
An Indonesian minister ``has pointed out this is something that automatically happens under Indonesian law,'' he said. ``I'm sorry - and so, I think, is the minister - that because of the relative automaticity of the law no change can be made.''
But the Australian government would still seek ways to have the remission revoked, he added.
Sutardi said prison authorities had not been aware of Australia's concerns, though that would not have influenced them anyway.
Bashir is accused by some foreign governments of being the spiritual leader of the Southeast Asian extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for the Bali attack and a suicide bombing outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta last September that killed 11 people as well as a string of other attacks.
Both Canberra and Washington expressed disappointment at the initial length of the jail term handed to Bashir.
The militant cleric was arrested a week after the Bali bombings and was first put on trial the following year, but the terrorism charges were thrown out. Then he was found guilty of immigration offences and jailed.
Police rearrested him in April last year as he left prison after serving the immigration sentence.
Meanwhile, Sardona Siliwangi, a militant jailed for eight years in Sumatra's Bengkulu province for the 2003 Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah also received a four-month remission. Twelve people died in that bombing.
Less controversial among the releases and remissions was the freeing of about 450 Aceh rebels and reduction of sentences for more than 1,500 others as the 60th independence anniversary went off peacefully in the province days after a new peace deal was struck.
Hopes are high that the accord, signed Monday between the government and the Free Aceh Movement, will finally turn the page on three decades of violence that has left around 15,000 dead. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Copyright 2005, The Standard, Sing Tao Newspaper Group and Global China Group.
Three Teenage Christian Schoolgirls Beheaded in Indonesia
The beheaded bodies of three teenage Christian schoolgirls were found near a Muslim town in east Indonesia Saturday morning.
Saturday, Oct. 29, 2005
The beheaded bodies of three teenage
Christian schoolgirls were found near a Muslim town in east Indonesia Saturday
Officials said that the victims found in the town of Poso in the province of Central Sulawesi were beheaded two hours prior to the time their bodies were discovered at the site of attack according to Reuters. The killings are now under investigation.
According to state-run news agency Antara, the three high school students were believed to have been murdered while they were on their way to school, about nine kilometers from their homes, on Saturday morning.
Another three students, who were walking together with the three victims, had suffered serious stab wounds in the attack, the report added.
The detailed account of the incident currently remains unclear. While most of the news agencies reported that two men armed with machetes riding on a motorcycle had slashed out at the girls, attempting to chop off the students’ heads, Reuters reported a slightly different account of the incident. According to a statement from the National police spokesman cited by Reuters, up to six men were responsible for the murders in Bukit Bambu village of Poso.
National police spokesman Aryanto Budiharjo told reporters in Jakarta, "The perpetrators wore black attire and veils and they used machetes to slash (the victims)."
Reuters reported three headless bodies, dressed in brown uniforms, were left at the site of the attack. Three heads were found at separate locations two hours later by local residents.
According to the Italy-based news agency AsiaNews, the three deceased have been identified as 15-year-old Yusriani Sampoe, 16-year-old Theresia Morangke, and 19-year-old Alvita Polio.
Rais Adam, the provincial police spokesman for the province of Central Sulawesi told the Agence France Presse (AFP) that two of the victims' heads were found near a police post while the third was discovered outside a local Christian church.
"We are still waiting for results from investigation in the field. We are still trying to determine whether this case is religiously-motivated or not," Adam said.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his pressing concern about the killings, which he condemned as "sadist and inhuman crimes," according to Reuters. Yudhoyono immediately called an urgent meeting with the high security officials, including his vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, and heads of the army, police and intelligence departments.
"I forcefully condemn these attacks against civilization and I call on the local people to collaborate with the government to guarantee a successful outcome of the investigations and to maintain security," stated the Indonesian president, as quoted by state-run news agency Antara.
Sources say that Poso, which is 1,500 km (900 miles) northeast of the capital Jakarta, had been stricken by three years of Muslim-Christian conflicts until the peace deal in late 2001. 2,000 people were killed in the riots.
In addition, the province of Central Sulawesi has a roughly equal number of Muslims and Christians, representing a unique community in Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Sources say the killings of the three Christian students have reignited the tension between Muslims and Christians in Poso. Around 400 policemen have been sent to the troubled area to maintain security, fearing that a new wave of violence may break out, according to Reuters.
President Yudhoyono called for calm and pledged to hunt down the attackers as saying, "I want to tell all my brothers and sisters in Poso that such violence cannot be tolerated, and the police with the military will make sure that it will not happen again."
October 28, 2005
The United States has warned its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Indonesia, saying a suicide bombing on Bali island earlier this month shows terrorists are still active.
"The possibility remains that terrorists will carry out additional attacks in Bali, Jakarta or other areas of Indonesia in the near future," the US Embassy said, adding that it had received reports Americans could be targeted.
The last time Washington issued such a terror alert for Indonesia was in May.
The warning came hours before Jakarta Police chief Major-General Firman Gani disclosed at least 18 sites in the capital were potential targets of bomb attacks ahead of and during next week's celebration of the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
"Police posts will be set up at malls, railway stations, airports, shopping centres and other places," Firman said. He did not identify the places by name.
The world's most populous Muslim nation has been hit by deadly terrorist attacks every year since 2002, when twin nightclub bombings on Bali killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
The October 1 suicide bombings on the same island targeting three crowded restaurants killed 20 people, including four Australians, and injured more than 100.
On Friday a bomb exploded on a minibus in the Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi, a region that has for years been plagued by sectarian violence, said Major Sambas Kurniawan, a police chief in the town of Parigi.
A 54-year-old man was hurt in the blast, he said, adding that 11 people were in the bus, which was travelling from the predominantly Muslim provincial capital of Palu to the largely Christian town of Tentana.
The bomb was a low-intensity device that was apparently placed under one of van's seats, Kurniawan said.
Central Sulawesi was the scene of a bloody war between Christians and Muslims in 2001-02 that killed around 1,000 people from both communities. In May, an attack at Tentana Market in Poso killed 22 people.
The fresh US warning said Americans who do visit Indonesia should "be aware of their surroundings at all times, and vary their routes and times in carrying out daily activities".
Terrorists could target places frequented by Westerners, including hotels, clubs, restaurants, shopping centres, places of worship and schools, the warning said.
The Bali bombings and the 2003 and 2004 blasts at the Marriott hotel and the Australian Embassy, both in Jakarta, have been blamed on the al-Qaeda-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiah.
Separation of Mosque, State Wanes in Indonesia
By Richard C.
Times Staff Writer
March 20, 2006
MALANG, Indonesia — Yusman Roy, a former boxer and a convert to Islam, is serving two years in prison because he believes that Muslims should pray in a language they can understand.
Roy, who led bilingual prayer sessions at his small East Java boarding school, is seen as a heretic by conservative Muslims here. They believe true prayer can be conducted only in Arabic.
Roy's desire to pray in Indonesian has sparked such an outrage that he was convicted last year in criminal court of "spreading hatred." Animosity toward Roy ran so high that police posted guards to keep an angry mob from torching his house and school.
Now, he is kept in a cell by himself at overcrowded Lowokwaru prison, and the warden has warned him not to preach to his fellow inmates in any language.
Roy is one of at least 10 Muslims incarcerated in recent months for what the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the country's most influential Muslim body in setting religious policy, has deemed deviant thinking.
"The government and the council have been working together to suppress my ideas," Roy said during an interview in prison. "But this will not stop me from doing what I believe."
Indonesia is a democratic, secular country, and there is no constitutional basis for using Islamic law in court in most regions. But insulting a religion is a crime, and a fatwa, or religious edict, issued by the Council of Ulemas can carry great weight as evidence of an alleged offense to Islam.
Indonesia, which has more than 190 million Muslims, the world's largest Islamic population, has become increasingly conservative since the 1998 collapse of President Suharto's military regime. In recent years, the government has grown more active in enforcing religious law.
In recent months, fatwas issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulemas and its regional councils denouncing clerics and cults as deviant have been followed by arrests, prosecution and sometimes mob violence against the accused.
Sumardi Tappaya, 60, a high school religious teacher on the island of Sulawesi, was locked up in January after a relative told police he had heard Sumardi whistling while he prayed. The whistling was declared deviant by the local ulemas, and Sumardi is now in jail awaiting trial on charges of religious blasphemy. He faces five years in prison.
Ardhi Husain, 50, who ran an Islamic center in East Java that treated drug addiction and cancer with traditional medicine and prayer, was sentenced in September to five years in prison for writing a book that the ulemas said contained 70 "errors," such as claiming that Muhammad was not the last prophet and that non-Muslims could go to heaven. Five editors of the book also received five-year terms. An employee who sold a copy to a neighbor received three years.
After Husain's arrest, a mob burned down his facility. No one has been arrested in the attack.
Lia Aminuddin, 58, who claims to be the Virgin Mary and leads the quasi-Islamic God's Kingdom of Eden cult, was arrested in December on blasphemy charges after thousands of angry protesters surrounded her headquarters in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. The ulemas and demonstrators accused her of insulting Islam by claiming that she was married to the archangel Gabriel and that God spoke to her through him. (In Islam, Gabriel, or Jibril, is revered as the archangel who communicated God's word to Muhammad.)
Prominent human rights lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution, whose Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation represents several of the accused, says the government is ignoring zealots who commit religious violence and instead prosecuting the targets of religious hatred.
"The intolerance is becoming worse," Nasution said. "Why are the victims being punished?"
Fighting between Muslims and Christians has claimed thousands of lives in Indonesia in recent years, and Islamic suicide bombers have staged high-profile attacks in Bali and Jakarta that have killed hundreds. Less visible has been the effort by conservative Muslims to compel other members of their faith to hew to a more traditional line.
The Indonesian Council of Ulemas, which is made up of 43 Muslim scholars and leaders of major Islamic organizations, was formed in 1975 to guide Muslims on how to live in accordance with Islamic principles. Muslims make up more than 85% of the nation's population.
The council has recently issued fatwas banning women from leading prayers if a man is present and prohibiting Muslims from praying alongside members of other religions. Provincial and local branches of the council also have issued numerous fatwas regulating Islamic practices.
Ma'ruf Amin, a vice chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas and the chairman of its fatwa committee, says the ulemas' role is to define proper behavior for Muslims and to set boundaries that protect the purity of Islam.
He denies that the ulemas are promoting hatred, and says Muslims who engage in deviant practices are bringing violence upon themselves.
"These kinds of people are the ones who cause all the trouble, and the people wouldn't bother to riot if there was no one who deviated," Amin said. "These kinds of people should not exist."
Some moderate Muslim leaders charge that the Council of Ulemas has been infiltrated by hard-line groups, particularly the Islamic Defenders Front.
Defenders Front Chairman Habib Rizieq, who declares himself a follower of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, says it is important to keep Muslims from being swayed by ideas deemed to be heretical, such as bilingual prayer. "All deviant teaching has to be banned," he said.
It is clear that Roy, 51, is not a conventional Muslim.
An eagle carrying a red heart is tattooed on the back of his left hand. His Koran is in Indonesian as well as Arabic, and on nearly every page he has highlighted passages in yellow and marked them in pen. A flattened nose and a cauliflower ear testify to his days as a professional boxer. He says he once held the Indonesian lightweight record for the fastest knockout: 59 seconds.
Sitting cross-legged on a thin mat on the floor of the prison visiting room, the father of nine contends that he is a victim of religious persecution. He says he is being silenced for challenging the Islamic establishment, particularly the Council of Ulemas, with his effort to ensure that all Muslims understand the principles of their religion.
"My original thinking has made them jealous," said Roy, wearing his prison denims and sporting a few short whiskers on his chin.
Born to a Dutch Catholic mother and an Indonesian Muslim father, Roy chose Catholicism as a teenager but converted to Islam when he was in his early 30s. He says Islam helped save him from a life of a crime and violence.
Even as he boxed professionally, he says, he hired himself out to businessmen and politicians to beat up rivals and critics, collect money from debtors and recruit thugs to carry out mayhem. He avoided prison by bribing police whenever he was arrested, he says.
Roy embraced Islam but, like most Indonesians, never learned Arabic well.
The disadvantage is greatest when it comes to salat, the prayers performed by the faithful five times a day while facing Mecca. Many scholars interpret Muhammad's guidance to "pray like you see me praying" to mean that salat can be performed only in Arabic. But other scholars disagree, saying there is nothing sacred about Arabic itself.
In theory, Indonesian Muslims learn the meaning of their prayers in their own language as they memorize the Arabic words. But Roy estimates that at least 70% of Indonesia's Muslims don't know what their prayers mean. Most Indonesians defer to Arabic speakers in interpreting the Koran, he says, which can make them vulnerable to the teachings of militant Muslims.
"Because of their lack of understanding, they do not have high-quality prayers," he says. "That is why there are people who are angry and commit violence. If they had high-quality prayers, they would not become terrorists."
At his small boarding school and residence on the outskirts of Malang, Roy quietly began three years ago to lead salat in Indonesian for a few of his followers. His practice might have gone unnoticed, but in his zeal to spread his idea, he made a video of himself praying in Indonesian and Arabic and distributed copies at nearby mosques.
Word of Roy's practices soon reached members of the Islamic Defenders Front, whose white-robed members confronted him during a debate at his school. The local and provincial ulema councils issued fatwas against him. Some in the community became outraged, and Roy was put on trial.
Prosecutor Ahmad Arifin, 39, who tried the case against Roy, presented nine witnesses, including three from the local and provincial ulema councils. The fatwas were entered as evidence that Islam rejects bilingual prayer and that Roy had insulted Islam.
"He distributed his video, and it spread hatred in the community," Arifin said. "People hated Roy for spreading his ideas in a public way."
In August, the judge acquitted Roy of the charge that his teachings deviated from Islam, but found him guilty of inciting hatred by challenging the views of local clerics.
Roy seems to accept his fate with equanimity. Serving two years in prison for his faith, he says, helps atone for his violent crimes that went unpunished. He says prison has only affirmed his belief in bilingual prayer, and he plans to continue pushing for its adoption once he is freed.
Roy's sentence is only six months shorter than the term given radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the purported spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah. The Southeast Asian affiliate of Al Qaeda is believed to have killed at least 225 people in suicide bombings in Bali and Jakarta.
Yet some think two years behind bars may be too short for Roy.
"Whether it is enough depends on whether he realizes his error," said Rizieq, the Islamic Defenders Front leader. "If he doesn't, not even a life sentence is enough."
edition of US adult magazine Playboy has moved its headquarters to the
predominantly Hindu resort island of Bali.
The Detikcom online news service reports the local company publishing the magazine was forced to suspend its operations in April.
It follows violence by Muslim hardliners, including attacks on the magazine's head office in the capital Jakarta.
Detikcom reports that the company has moved its base to Denpasar, after a resident handed over some land to the company for free.
Only one issue of the local edition was published.
ABC Asia Pacific TV / Radio Australia
Ahmadiyah and crisis of Indonesian Islam
Thomas Barker, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post
July 11, 2008
It has been said of Indonesia's Muslims that they constitute a majority with a minority mentality -- a contradictory situation in which Muslims, while comprising 90 percent of Indonesia's population, have felt unjustly restricted from politics, especially from the strongly Pancasila-based governments of Sukarno and Soeharto.
This observation may not hold true today, but what we see is worse: Islam in Indonesia is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy.
It has been seven years since September 11th, after which Islam became synonymous with violence and terrorism. Although this orientalist fallacy still persists in some quarters, our perceptions of Islam have broadened. That it is as diverse as any other system of human belief should not be surprising, as its history is as rich, varied and tumultuous as any other.
However, in Indonesia -- often referred to as the world's largest Muslim nation -- the specter of violence in the name of religion has returned. Persistent attacks against and vilification of Ahmadiyah by fundamentalist Islamic groups acting in the name of a unitary Islam. Continued harassment of Christians and the destruction of their churches in Bekasi.
And one month ago, only a stone's throw away from the presidential palace, a violent attack on a rally for religious freedom and tolerance. This newspaper, like many others, has been filled with articles expressing outrage at these vigilante groups.
In broader geopolitical terms, Islam is having trouble proving to the world that it is not a religion of violence. This is the case even in Indonesia -- often seen as the poster boy for Islam and democracy working together.
While the rhetoric surrounding Islam and violence is wrong, Islam itself has failed to prove otherwise. It will continue to be plagued by the specter of violence unless it can take on a more constructive role in civil society.
This argument may seem to lump together mainstream and fundamentalist Islamic groups. But recent events have tended to blur the distinction between the two. While mainstream groups have made obligatory statements against violence, this is only the tip of the iceberg: The controversy surrounding violence points to disarray and a deeper crisis of legitimacy in Indonesian Islam.
Ahmadiyah's mistake was perhaps rather simple. By professing to be Islamic while at the same time acknowledging a prophet after Muhammad, they engaged in heresy. The sect could have avoided this situation if it had withdrawn from Islam. While Christianity, another Abrahamic religion, tolerates splinter beliefs, branches and other prophets, Islam requires the acknowledgment of Muhammad as God's true and only prophet.
However, the issue is not merely one of Ahmadis exiting Islam because certain vigilante groups have made it their mission to obliterate the sect from the archipelago, but rather: Why draw attention to them now? Ahmadis have been in Indonesia for more than 70 years, quietly building a religious community.
According to a recently quoted statistic, Ahmadiyah in Indonesia comprises 242 branches. It is understandable that smaller fundamentalist groups started to notice these branches and, feeling threatened, took action.
However, the problem does not lie with Ahmadiyah itself. Many have pointed their fingers at the government's inability to handle incidents surrounding the sect.
For example, Fahri Hamzah of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) strongly criticized the government's immature response and said the government should seek a solution in the form of an inter-Muslim dialogue. Likewise, the police have been severely criticized for failing to protect Ahmadis and their property and for being benign toward vigilante groups.
The debate has also turned to the two mainstream Islamic organizations -- Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) -- and their inability to provide a moderate response to both the question of Ahmadiyah and to the actions of fundamentalist Islamic groups. In fact, NU has started training its own militant group, Ansor, without realizing this is a recipe for disaster.
These events and responses to it all point to a religion deep in crisis. Islam in Indonesia has never been homogeneous but instead characterized by a diverse range of interpretations -- from orthodox to the particular Javanese syncretic forms.
What we see, however, is a religion that has turned (in) on itself, albeit led by its more extreme wing. Unable to effect change in society more broadly, certain groups within Islam have started to attack members of their own religious community. The move to "purify" is emblematic of a religion in crisis.
The failure of Islam, more generally, has been its failure to deal with this problem. Although it has now become the state's problem, alarm bells should have gone off long ago within the Muslim community. A political Islam, ready to take on a more active and constructive role in civil society, has not emerged from the instrumentalist policies of the New Order. Instead, the New Order accustomed Muslims to complacency and powerlessness while Islam as a moral system has failed to dominate political discourse, leaving the task to the often arbitrary and incoherent decisions of individual Muslims.
After decades of being politically repressed, mainstream Islamic groups have failed to take up the mantle of responsibility. Even today, the political arm of Muhammadiyah -- the National Mandate Party (PAN) -- is still engaged in reactionary and populist politics, just like the majority of political parties.
No coherent political platform exists to marry Muhammadiyah's ideology with its vast experience in the democratic process. Likewise the Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI), whose only activity seems to be releasing fatwa, provides little in the way of religious leadership or example.
Despite arguments from within Islam against the "Islam equals violence" fallacy, it is hard to see where the community of Muslims has made concrete efforts to substantiate its claim. There are certainly individual cases of charity and assistance -- the spate of responses to recent natural disasters being the most obvious example.
However, with current concern over food scarcity and the recent hike in fuel prices, Islamic groups have been conspicuously absent from programs of social aid and poverty alleviation. Likewise in the political arena, they have been missing from constructive discussions of possible policy solutions to these current problems.
Instead, we have seen reactionary politics from moderate Islam and violent intimidation from fundamentalist Islamic groups acting in the name of the people. Sharia law, introduced in some areas to address social problems -- so it was argued -- has become nothing more than a set of laws governing public morality, laws that unfairly target women and society's vulnerable.
Unfortunately these events reflect negatively on the entire Muslim community. The opportunities afforded by the reform era to improve governance and social conditions in Indonesia are being squandered by Islamic groups and their dearth of leadership.
WORD FAITH INDEX
CATHOLIC CHURCH INDEX