Are Indonesians Intolerant?

If you had asked me that question back in the era of Soeharto I would have replied “No”. During the regime of Soeharto Indonesians of all faiths lived in harmony and respected each others religious beliefs. I guess it had something to do with ‘having to’ as it was almost mandatory to do so for fear of the repercussions. But Soeharto has gone and the new Indonesia dawns. However, a lot has occurred since his [Soeharto] downfall, globally with massive changes in the psyche of religious views.

I was fascinated to read the Editorial in yesterday’s Jakarta Post on just this issue:

Intolerant Indonesia

At first, they attacked churches and prevented Christians from attending Sunday prayers — and the police largely turned a blind eye. Then they attacked mosques that didn’t comply with their version of the truth, but once again, the police did nothing to stop these acts of violence by people claiming to represent Islam.

And because the perpetrators seem to enjoy some degree of impunity, or even protection from the state, it’s just a matter of time before they pick their next target. Sit tight and watch the tragedy unfold as Indonesia increasingly becomes a failed state.

Welcome to a new and so-far unseen face of Indonesia. In spite of constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and the right to practice different faiths, the state seems largely inactive in the face of increasing attacks against religious minorities and their houses of prayer.

The silence of the majority is a disturbing sign of an increasing acceptance or tacit approval of these attacks by the general public.

The image of Indonesia as a tolerant nation is fast disappearing. A nation that once took pride in itself as a pluralist state where people of different races, ethnicities, languages and faiths could coexist peacefully and enjoy equality, is drastically changing.

Instead of a democratic nation made up of the world’s largest Muslim population, we now see an image of a country with a religious majority intolerant of religious minorities.

And Christians are not the only target today. Muslims who do not follow the “dominant” version of Islam have of late become targets of similarly violent attacks.

There is nothing wrong with the constitution or the law. There is something gravely wrong with the state, particularly in its failure to give protection to religious minorities and their right to practice their faith.

At times, there are even indications the state is part of the conspiracy.

During last week’s attacks against the housing compounds of Ahmadiyah in Majalengka and Kuningan, both in West Java, police removed Ahmadiyah followers “into safety”, but in doing so gave the attackers virtual free rein to vandalize that property.

Ahmadiyah, an Islamic sect with some 400,000 followers countrywide, has been the target of such attacks in recent years.
Earlier this month, the police arrested the leaders of Al Qiyadah al Islamiyah, an Islamic sect with some 40,000 followers, because they had caused public unrest.

But they and their followers were the real victims of attacks and acts of intimidation by a group of people claiming to defend Islam.
In all these attacks, the perpetrators were clear for all to see. Their actions took place before television news cameras, and their leaders went around boasting they were taking the law into their hands, because the police had failed to ban the followers of Islamic sects considered heretic by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).

Today, instead of being locked behind bars where they belong, these people are roaming free, probably planning their next attacks.

And very few people have come out in condemnation of the attacks. The best that Vice President Jusuf Kalla could come up with was an order for the police to crack down on the attackers and to make sure followers of Ahmadiyah could practice their faith.

The Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the two largest Islamic organizations that supposedly represent the moderate and tolerant mainstream Muslim in Indonesia, have also been largely silent on these affairs.

A strong condemnation from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or Vice President Jusuf Kalla would have gone a long way in assuaging religious minority groups in the country their constitutional rights would be protected and defended whenever they came under attack.

In the absence of such a condemnation, we are left to wonder whether or not our elected leaders have the commitment or will to uphold the constitution.

If religious differences are not tolerated in this country, what chance is there for differences of opinion to prevail.

The only thing worse than a tyranny of the minority is a tyranny of the majority.

As the largest religious community in the country, Muslims in Indonesia have an obligation to ensure religious minorities are given the freedom to exercise their rights and practice their faith.
Like it or not, the state, by and large, is reflecting the dominant view of society. Let’s hope it’s not too much a reflection of the current leadership.

These attacks against religious freedoms are an attack against the very foundation upon which this republic was built. Our failure to prevent these attacks marks the beginning of the end for this republic, as Indonesia silently but rapidly becomes an intolerant nation.