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Lack of political will of Indonesian authorities leads to religious intolerance

13:30 | 07.07.2012 | Analytic

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7 July 2012. PenzaNews. The work of the Indonesian National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT), which has been on the frontline of the battle against growing religious radicalism for the last two years, can become less effective in the future. This is the opinion expressed by Baladas Ghoshal, Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, in his article “Religious Intolerance in Indonesia: Political Lassitude or Budgetary Constraint?”

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According to him, the recent budgetary rollback in Indonesia has particularly affected the National Counter-terrorism Agency and will undoubtedly force the agency to cut down many of its programs and its operational budget for uncovering terrorist networks, and preventive measures in its campaign to ‘de-radicalize’ government-supported schools and mosques through partnerships with moderate religious leaders and groups.

“Eventually it would affect Indonesia’s fight against terrorism and radicalism in the future,” the expert emphasized.

Moreover, the analyst noted that the BNPT attempts to curb extremism that is perpetrated by terrorist violence alone; and from his point of view, dealing with terrorists alone may not help much.

“There are extremist groups in Indonesia that are not known to have exploded bombs, but they practice violent moral policing and persecute minorities,” clarified Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Baladas Ghoshal shares the view of the Wahid Institute, which works towards “a just and peaceful world,” that “extremism that breeds terrorism needs to be checked.”

“A small minority can create havoc when the so-called ‘silent majority’ remains really silent for the fear of being branded as ‘not true Muslims’,” the article says.

The analyst reminded that since the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued its much-criticized ‘fatwa’ banning liberal concepts of Islam, secularism and pluralism, hard-line Muslim elements have been pushing for the eviction of JIL, a cultural complex set up by progressive and moderate Muslims and headed by noted Muslim scholar Ulil Absar Abdalla, who himself received death threats for publishing articles criticizing the conservatism of some Muslim leaders in the country.

“Even some “pondoks,” or religious boarding schools in Indonesia, have come under the influence of more extremist clerics. Islamists from the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh and ex-Mujahideen have taken control of the mosques and madrassas radicalizing the discourse on religion and trying to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims at the grassroots,” Baladas Ghoshal added.

According to him, government inaction and its soft attitude towards Islam are also contributing to religious intolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

“Bambang Yudhoyono’s tenure saw rise in radical Islam, which many view as the greatest threat to Indonesian democracy. Groups such as the Hizbut-Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam) have used strict and exclusive religious interpretations to justify the implementation of Shariah law and the infringement of rights of religious minorities,” the article says.

In the analyst’s opinion, these efforts undermine the spirit of moderation, tolerance and plurality of Islam that are embodied by Indonesia and enshrined in the country’s founding Pancasila principles of unity and democracy.

“Experts are beginning to wonder aloud whether the third-largest democracy could see its reputation for religious tolerance and freedom tarnished by this vocal and increasingly violent radical Islamic fringe,” Baladas Ghoshal added.

Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies believes that the suicide bombing of a church in Central Java on September 25 last year pointed not only to a new level of attacks on religious minorities but to a political bent that accommodates Islamist extremism.

“According to a human rights group in Jakarta, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were at least 75 incidents, including violent attacks, violating religious freedom of the Christian community in 2010. Last month was particularly dire for the country’s Christian minority, when about 100 Protestants were attacked by a Muslim mob at their Church in Bekasi on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta,” the article says.

Moreover, according to him, citing lack of permits, the ultraconservative government of Aceh in northern Sumatra has closed at least 16 Christian Churches.

“Again in May the issue of religious intolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia caught international attention when Islamic hardliners forced the cancellation of a sold out concert by Lady Gaga, an American pop star,” Baladas Ghoshal reminded and added that the most prominent name among these violent extremist groups was the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front or FPI).

“These groups oppose the doctrine of “Pancasila,” the Indonesian goal of “unity in diversity” in the Indonesian Constitution, which calls for religious freedom and democracy,” the analyst noted.

Meanwhile, extremist groups and officials close to them flout laws and violate the rights of minorities with almost complete impunity. For example, the Yasmin Church in Bogor, a suburb of Jakarta, remains sealed by the city mayor, Diani Budiarto, despite a Supreme Court order against his action and recommendation by the ombudsman to give the church back to the congregation. The church still remains sealed.

“The government seems to be extremely cautious in taking action thanks to the growing clout of extremist groups in street politics as well as in some mainstream Muslim organizations. With a lack of will on part of the government, extremism has constantly grown since the fall of the authoritarian President Suharto in 1999, who kept radical groups under control. A local Christian, a former member of the students’ movement that played a key role in the fall of Suharto’s government, said that while extremists used democracy to push their agenda, their goal was to eventually abolish democracy and establish an Islamic state,” the article says.

Moreover, the expert stressed that in 2010 the FPI and a new group, the Bekasi Islamic Presidium, launched a campaign against “Christianization” in West Java, accusing local churches of aggressively trying to win Muslim converts – a behavior that could be labeled blasphemous under Article 156(A).

“The hardliners pledged to set up a youth army in order to monitor and attack churches suspected of “Christianization.” While this act in itself could be regarded as “enmity” under Article 156(A), Yudhoyono simply appealed for tolerance and took no action against the organizers,” he emphasized.

Meanwhile, some Islamic vigilantes involved in a campaign against vice in Indonesia have turned into extremist militants.

“The International Crisis Group said in a new report that ideological and tactical lines within Indonesia’s radical community were blurring, making it harder to distinguish so-called ‘terrorists’ from hard-line activists,” the article says.

Sidney Jones, Crisis Group’s senior adviser, stressed that a group from the West Java city of Cirebon, which has been accused of being behind the 2011 suicide bombings of a mosque and a church, moved from using sticks and stones in the name of upholding morality and curbing ‘deviance’ to using bombs and guns, and this may become the common pattern.

Baladas Ghoshal believes that the Cirebon men represent a generational shift from militants trained abroad or those who fought a decade ago in two major communal conflicts pitting Muslims and Christians in eastern Indonesia. They were radicalized through public lectures by radical clerics; and the suicide bombers taught themselves bomb-making from the Internet, the expert thinks.

“The government needs to crack down on hate-speech and religiously-inspired crimes to stop the radicalization of such hard-line groups. This requires political will, rather than an expanded budget,” the analyst concluded.

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