Jihad, Orthodox Islam and Religious Intolerance in Indonesia
Dozens of green military tents dot the vast campground and jamboree site at Cibubur, a suburb just half an hour’s drive from the center of
Attack on the
On July 25, 2008, armed gangs from
In August 2008, 650 female students were housed in Cibubur – dozens of girls shared each of the huge tents while the water supply and access to toilets in the camp were limited. 600 boys were housed in a so-called transit hotel, inside the city. There was no professional psychological help available, despite the fact that many of the students were recovering from trauma. International coverage was sparse. The
Entris, one of the victims of the attack, recalled the events of July 28: “They broke into our place in the middle of the night. For 3 days we tried to hide in the dormitory. We were surrounded and couldn’t do anything. Attackers used stones and firebombs and they even had guns. Some press tried to play it down: claiming that this was not a religious attack, but we all heard what the attackers were screaming: “Go get their people. Fight for your religion.” And the crowd was responding: ‘Jihad! Let’s go – let’s do jihad against SETIA students! Let’s fry them – let’s make satay from them!’ I spoke to the press. We told exactly what happened. We explained everything to TV-One, to RCTI and to other channels and publications. They only wrote and showed what suited them and never anything about the religious nature of the attacks.”
Another girl, Erna, confirmed her friend’s testimony: “They attacked the male dormitory first and later the female dormitory. They shouted from the mosque: “Jihad, Allahu Akbar, attack, kill them, burn them!”
Several eyewitnesses report that police stood by and watched the attack on 1,200 children and young people, some left on the ground bleeding.
Suharto, in the years after 1965, forced a merger of the Muslim parties (PPP) leaving them emasculated alongside his Golkar Party and the military. Now the Muslim majority is once again flexing its political muscle; sending direct signals to increasingly frightened minorities of other officially recognized religions including Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.
In June 2008, before the attack against SETIA students, members of the radical Islamist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) attacked secularists at the National Monument (Monas) in
According to eyewitnesses, some 1,200 police officers at the scene when the clash occurred refused to intervene. To the outrage of the human rights groups and minorities, police later claimed that arresting attackers would have been counter-productive, as it would fuel even wider riots.
For years, FPI had been attacking bars, pork-selling outlets and “deviant and blasphemous” groups and sects under the nose of the police, which in most cases did nothing to protect victims. Even after the Monas attack, despite the pressure from human rights organizations, government Attorney General Hendarman Supandji made clear that the FPI would not be outlawed: “First, we issue them reprimands, then we go to the Supreme Court”, he said. President Yudhoyono condemned the attack but refused to take any decisive action to crack down on FPI violence.
At the press conference one day after the attack, FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab showed no fear or remorse. Instead of apologizing to AKKBB, he turned his wrath against the members of the Ahmadiyah sect, declaring: “We will never allow the arrest of a single member of our force before the government dissolves Ahmadiyah. We will fight to our last drop of blood.”
Ahmadiyah and Muslim Minorities
He was referring to an old and well-established Muslim sect with more than 500,000 members – Ahmadiyah – that in recent year had been subjected to repeated attacks, its members threatened, harassed and beaten. Thousands of Ahmadiyah followers in all corners of the country are living under threat after several groups, including the Council of Ulamas, declared the sect blasphemous. Their sin seems to be that they believe Mohammad was not the last prophet (according to them the last prophet was Ahmad), contradicting fundamental Muslim dogma. The government, and particularly President Yudhoyono, refused to protect the sect from the attacks led by the radicals, eventually yielding to the ulemas and banning Ahmadiyahs from preaching in public.
“Ahmadiyah arrived in
While Ahmadiyah was effectively banned from preaching in public by the government, FPI despite hundreds of attacks against individuals and property was allowed to exist as a legally unsanctioned movement (although Justice and Human Rights Minister Andi Mattalata recently would not answer whether FPI was a legal entity registered with his office). Critics say that the Indonesian state is determined to protect criminals, especially those belonging to the religious majority, and punish the victims.
“There is nothing we can do to stop this”, declared Ditasari a political leader and former head of PRD, the only progressive opposition party in
A 2008 survey conducted by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace in Bekasi, Depok and Tangerang shows that 56% of the young people in Greater Jakarta support sharia-based laws. And Sharia-based laws are mushrooming all over the country, especially in
“This Presidency is the worst that could have happened to
The Anti-Pornography Law
Faithful to his course of non-confrontation with religious majority, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed in December 2008 the anti-pornography bill, ratifying a law that criminalizes any sex-related materials deemed to violate public morality. Signing of the bill provoked an outcry from civil society groups, human rights activists and regional leaders.
According to The Jakarta Post: “…resistance to the law remains widespread, with some provinces — including Bali, Papua, North Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara — rejecting it out of hand… The bill has survived protracted protests from rights activists and pluralist organizations, warning that it could lead to national disintegration. An article that allows members of the public to take action to destroy pornographic material has raised fears that several groups will take the law into their own hands, using it as grounds to justify the use of violence and intimidation.”
Critics warn that the bill is not really about pornography, but about the dress code and lifestyle of several non-Muslim minorities all over the archipelago.
Park ranger I Gede Santika working at Taman Hutan Raya - the largest mangrove protected area in
The Electronic Information and Transactions Law
This was not the first bill of its kind in 2008. On March 25, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning all pornographic websites, threatening to jail users and providers who will now face up to three years in prison or a substantial fine.
While everyone was discussing pornography, legislators quietly passed the bill, which allows the state to control the flow of information and to persecute any writer, filmmaker or journalist. "False news?" What is false news? In the Indonesian context, based on the country's tradition, "false" will be any news that is disliked by the establishment. And one shouldn’t expect a law that prohibits "racial and religious hate messages" to protect minorities from racial abuse and religious discrimination. The bill seems to be designed to protect the majority.
The Ascendancy of Orthodox Islam
In recent years,
The ongoing government-sponsored “transmigration” project (with similarities to the one used by the Soviet Union in the
The Islamic Defender's Front (FPI) and other radical Islamic groups have won their "struggle" to assure that there are almost no bars left in Yogyakarta or
While in the Middle East and North Africa mosques broadcast only short and often artistic calls for prayer,
“There is practically no assistance from the government”, explains 22 years old Santa Maria Perangin-angin, one of the victims. “I think they think of us as the lowest human beings. We don’t ask for many things, but why don’t they treat us differently? President Yudhoyono came to this park to open the ASEAN Jamboree but he did not visit us here although they must have told him that we are living in this compound. At that time, I felt very sad and cried; I felt desperate that we were not given any attention. The President has done nothing for us. There is no justice. I can see this only as a test for my faith.”
“Our people get the worst treatment”, explains one Papuan student who declined to be identified for safety reasons. “Many of us are not Muslim and we are black. As a result, we have to suffer both verbal and physical abuse.”
In August 2007, more than 70,000 members of a hard-line Muslim group held a rally in
Throughout Southeast Asia, and even in
As economic crises inevitably hit Indonesian shores with full force, there is a danger that 2009 will witness an upsurge of religious orthodoxy that targets the nation’s vulnerable minorities.
ANDRE VLTCHEK – novelist, journalist and filmmaker, author of several novels including Point of No Return and director of a documentary film about Suharto’s dictatorship: “Terlena – Breaking of a Nation”. From March 1st he will be teaching an online course on “Indonesia – 1965 To Today”. He is presently living in Southeast Asia and
He wrote this article and provided the photographs (except those otherwise identified) for The Asia-Pacific Journal. Posted on February 9, 2009.
Recommended citation: Andre Vltchek, “Jihad, Orthodox Islam and Religious Intolerance in