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by Jennie S. Bev

The recent harassment of visiting Canadian author Irshad Manji, police refusal to grant a permit for a Lady Gaga concert in Jakarta and ongoing attacks against worshippers at GKI Yasmin church in Bogor and HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi are the latest proofs that Indonesia’s central and local governments are unable and unwilling to protect religious minorities and are blind toward the growing influences of Islamofascism and extremist ulemas. Such ignorance will only give Indonesia a black eye abroad, and at home it will prolong and cultivate the “politics of holier than thou,” which we already can observe from the behavior, reactions and inactions of the country’s politicians.

As the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia isn’t very Islamic, according to Scheherazade S Rehman and Hossein Askari in their paper, An Economic Islamicity Index, which was published in the Global Economy Journal. The paper ranked 208 countries on the basis of their adherence to Islamic principles. Indonesia is ranked 104, following Aruba, Antigua and Barbuda, Georgia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Overall, countries with Muslim majorities didn’t do well in the study: the highest ranked was Malaysia at 33rd, followed by Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Brunei, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

While the rankings are based on policies, achievements and realities in accordance to Islamic economic principles, sociologists confirmed that individual decisions are partly influenced by belief systems. And economic indicators serve as measurable variables valuable for further analysis on “how Islamic” a society is.

A simple Google search provides hundreds of news hits about ongoing attacks and
harassment by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), two notorious Indonesian extremist groups. The Indonesian government is condoning this through its ignorance, silence and inaction. Indonesia is supposedly secular, where separation of mosque and state is expected, but any cursory observation shows it is not at present.

More political parties are becoming “religious” as well. For instance, a poster hanging in front of the ruling Democratic Party’s office in Central Jakarta declares it is a “nationalistic and religious” party. The Democrats are led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and since its foundation in 2001, the party had been nationalist and based on Indonesia’s secular Pancasila ideology.

It doesn’t take a pundit of the caliber of Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz to read between the lines: Indonesia is becoming more religious, and political parties are working hard to make themselves popular among religious individuals and groups. And by “religious,” it means “more Islamic.” How far political parties and Indonesia’s national and local governments are planning to take religiosity is still a question mark. But this is less important than how far violent attacks on and harassment of religious minorities, namely Christians and the Ahmadiyah Islamic, sect will go.

It is a fact that individuals who don’t belong to the “approved mainstream majority” — minority religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations — do not receive adequate and de facto legal and police protection in Indonesia. According to the SETARA Institute, 244 incidents related to religious freedom and 299 violent incidents related to religious freedom occurred in 2011 alone. That same year, Navanethem Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, wrote to the Indonesian government concerning the increased number of violence against religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyah.

The UN is being urged by human rights groups to call on the Indonesian government to protect minority rights. On May 23 in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Commission, in conducting a Universal Periodic Review on Indonesia’s performance, said Jakarta must ensure that assaults against religious minorities are investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.  

Last year, I served as an expert witness in an asylum case in the United States. An Indonesian transgender person expressed concerns about living a lifestyle that made her felt like an outcast. It reminded me of the harassment of Manji received during a visit to Indonesia in early May to promote her latest book Allah: Liberty and Love.

Manji is a lesbian, which infuriated Islamic fanatics, who sent mobs to her book discussions in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Jakarta police, seemingly acting on the orders of the radicals, shut down the discussion, while Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta cancelled a scheduled Manji event there.

Lady Gaga’s scheduled June 3 concert may also be cancelled for the  simple reason that “her performance isn’t suitable for Indonesian culture.” So, what is “Indonesian culture”? The “holier than thou” culture? Or, is it simply a political maneuver? What is the exact relationship between the silent Indonesian government, vocal radical groups and the impotent police?

On the global stage, Indonesia is an emerging player with strong GDP growth and membership in the G20. It would make more sense for the government to show leadership by creating a comprehensive political, legal and economic environment that fosters both growth and a strong civil society.

Strong leadership can only result in further growth across the board in Indonesia. Sadly, the momentum may wane quickly if we don’t act soon enough.[]

Strategic Review, May 25, 2012

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