IBRAHIM ISA'S – FOCUS
ON INDONESIA'S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Friday, April 08, 2011
Bagus BT Saragih, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Thu, 04/07/2011
The rising number of attacks against minority groups in Indonesia is a sign that the country, which aims to play a greater role on the global stage, is moving in the wrong direction, Amnesty International says.
“The Indonesian government still has not accomplished its promise to deal with the prolonged problems related to the persecution of minorities. I just heard that the Ahmadis in Lombok continue to be dismissed from their homes. This is not the direction Amnesty is hoping for. This country is going in the wrong direction,” Saman Zia-Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty said in Jakarta on Wednesday.
“We are here to call on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to fulfill his responsibility to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, benefit from the human rights enshrined in the 1945 Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005,” he added.
London-based Amnesty was delivering a joint statement along with a number of Indonesian human rights groups, namely the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Imparsial, Elsam, the Wahid Institute, the Setara Institute and the Bhinneka Tunggal Ika National Alliance (ANBTI).
Zia-Zarifi cited documentation collected by local NGOs showing that attacks against Ahmadiyah communities across the country had increased sharply in 2011 compared to the previous two years.
A particularly alarming development was the involvement of the Indonesian Military and police
officers in intimidating and forcing the conversion of Ahmadis in villages in West Java in the last two months.
“Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries and becomes a model for international communities. However, the central government’s inability or lack of desire to address this issue is potentially catastrophic,” Zia-Zarifi said.
During his short visit to Jakarta, Zia-Zarifi met with National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. Nanan Soekarna and visited Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, and the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) a few days earlier.
“We had very open discussions and we share similar concerns that attacks and violence cannot be justified,” he said.
Zia-Zarifi also said the 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree forbidding Ahmadis from propagating their beliefs could justify vigilantism and lead to increasing violence.
“Regulations like this, especially if they are implemented differently by administrations at regional and district levels, could instead provide green lights to extremist forces to attack religious communities targeted by the regulations,” he said.
According to the coalition, there are already 20 regional regulations and decrees banning followers of Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion publicly.
Last month, 27 US congressmen signed a letter to President Yudhoyono to revoke “prosecuting” bylaws.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos from Setara said Yudhoyono’s reluctance to address the issue was linked to his party’s political preparation ahead of the 2014 elections.
“Yudhoyono will not contest again and his charismatic figure will no longer help the Democratic Party gain an enormous amount of votes. That is why the party’s politicians really take what radicals want into account because they are wary about losing votes from hardline Muslim communities,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, five houses belonging to Ahmadiyah followers in Ciaruteun Udik village in Bogor, were severely damaged due to a series of mob attacks. Those attacks were the third in the last two month
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Thu, 03/17/2011
The plight of Indonesia followers of Ahmadiyah has once again caught the attention of international human rights groups.
Amnesty International has urged the Indonesian government to “investigate reports that the military in West Java were involved in the intimidation of Ahmadiyah followers and had forced them to renounce their faith”.It was previously reported that soldiers had tried to convince West Java Ahmadis to convert to mainstream Islam.The military has denied that soldiers were ordered to influence people's decisions, adding that its involvement was acceptable provided no coercion was involved.
In a press statement sent to The Jakarta Post on Thursday, Amnesty also urged the government to “take steps to ensure that all religious minorities are protected and allowed to practice their faith free from fear, intimidation and attack”.hey added that freedom of religion was guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
RELIOUS TRAGEDIES IN CHANGING INDONESIA
Khairil Azhar, Jakarta | Fri, 02/18/2011
If you are traveling through the highway between Cikarang in Bekasi and Jakarta, you will find a big billboard on the left side with an Indonesian state minister on it dressed in green with a dominantly green background. On the top right corner, the billboard reads “Islam Untuk Semua” or “Islam for all”.
The billboard then reminded me of the bloody attack over Ahmadiyah people in Cikeusik, Banten, the arsons on churches in Temanggung, Central Java, and the raid on an Islamic boarding school belonging to a Shiite foundation in Pasuruan, East Java. The minister vociferously conveys negative sentiments over the presence of “other-than-Islam” religious beliefs in Indonesia. With his statements since taking office in 2009, we know that he has no empathy at all with the suffering Ahmadis in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, or in any other locations.
I am quite sure that “Islam for all” in this minister’s mind means not more than Islam as he understands and the way he understands it. There seems to be no room for diversity. There is only one “true” Islam and no other different textual interpretation building blocks. Looking at the expensive billboard tells us that Islam in green is the only one blessed and therefore has to be obeyed.
Still, despite that his guardianship as a public official should be for all different beliefs, his controversial avowals acquaint us with symbolical “Islamization” that he deeply wishes. Much earlier, in the beginning of the 19th century, in a village in West Sumatra, Tuanku Nan Renceh, started his religious-puritan jihad bloodcurdlingly through murdering his aunt for chewing tobacco leaves. To this raging-eyes man, there should be a rigid religious order in his society with swords acting as unbending guardians. Whoever tried to traverse differently or cross the arrogantly-defined border was a traitor who deserved death.
In the following years, the outraged leader executed more lives in imposing his law: no tobacco and alcoholic drinks; all people had to be attired in white; women must cover their faces; men should be bearded; and etcetera. Every village had its own jurist to decide the verdicts to implement the law. Tuanku Nan Renceh was then categorized as more extreme than the Wahhabi sect itself in Saudi Arabia.Yet, more than a century later, Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia’s first vice president and a devout Muslim, sharply criticized the so-called “Islamic movement” led by Tuanku Nan Renceh and his followers. It was never something Islamic since Islam itself in Hatta’s view meant “peace-building”.
What they had done was more an attempt to legitimize their movement for their own belief. If we read more, it was linked to a rapid and unstable change in the peasant’s economy (Christine Dobbin, 1992). In the self-regulating highland villages, social order had been determined very materialistically before it was unsettled by the political economy inflicted by Dutch colonialism. There was, therefore, focal social fretfulness.
Coincidentally, Wahhabism, one of the most radical sects of Islam in history, came offering an “imagined” stability with heavenly promises if holy borders were drawn uncompromisingly. To Tuanku Nan Renceh, this choice suited his intention to chastise the “chaotic” society diversely from the more peaceful approach drawn on by his religious teacher, Tuanku Nan Tuo, the one he called “an already worn-out monk”.
Nowadays, pro-violent Islamic radical revival seems to occur in a similar uncertain changing in modern Indonesian politics and economy. More particularly, it is a transitional face of democracy in Indonesia which stands side by side with its unpreparedness as a state (or a nation) to face a speedy change of contemporary world.
What results is the spreading of acute hesitancy, mostly with the ignorance feature, in deciding where the state will head to. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for example, could never enforce definite and operational policies since he himself is too cautious to sacrifice his political assets: The “assumed” Muslim voters and Islamic political parties. Despite of his last term of presidency, securing the crown for his political group is seen better than risking it with more courageous moves.
In fact, as it is proven by the consecutive defeats of Islamic political parties, Indonesian voters are actually more moderate than they are commonly presupposed. Regardless of the escalating religious conflicts, tolerance still could be experienced in most parts of Indonesia. Accordingly, we could not also hope too much for the brace of the legislatures or judicative bodies. The failure to review the blasphemy law, which prohibits alternative interpretations of the six officially recognized religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism) proves that their presence in the bodies never equivalently represents the moderate majority.
Back to the story of Tuanku Nan Renceh, it was then the society itself that had him defeated. In history we read that the Dutch army would mean nothing if the unrestful small communities had been settled thoroughly by the irritated Muslim leader. Here, the society had its own law, that beyond any supra-structural institutions, tried to recover itself sooner or later with its own logic. What we need, therefore, for today’s world, is continuous empowerment of the people who have been destined to live in multicultural circumstances. I myself believe, for instance, that education with touchable democratic features, in formal or non-formal educational centers, will mean more in the not-too-distance future. Too, if our TV screen is free from hate preaching and ignorant religious programs, our minority fellows will not suffer as they do nowadays.
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.
UNDERSTANDING RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOMThe Jakarta Post | Fri, 02/25/2011 Harison Citrawan Attacks on Ahmadis in Cikeusik, Banten, and on three churches in Temanggung in Central Java a few weeks ago have once again sparked public debate. Subsequently, the debate leads the nation to a crossroad on whether or not Ahmadiyah should be banned.In my view, this can actually serve as momentum for us to enhance a progressive discourse on human rights now that the government is working on the bill on religious harmony. Thus, this article attempts to construe the idea of religious freedom from a human rights point of view, particularly concerning the two problematic issues of limitations of such freedom and the concept of proselytism.
Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights mentions that: (1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching; (2) No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
I would like to emphasize the state’s protection of individual’s freedom of religion. Nevertheless, on some occasions many Indonesians mix up the terms of religious tolerance and religious freedom. It appears that when we tolerate one’s religion along with his/her religious activities, it demonstrates the degree of freedom of religion; and vice versa, the degree of tolerance depends on how free people are to hold and practice their religions. But, in my view both terms differ fundamentally from one another.
Religious freedom is a legal right. The Human Rights Committee in its General Comment on Article 18 elaborates such freedom as “the freedom to manifest religion or belief [that] may be exercised ‘either individually or in community with others and in public or private’.”
The concept of worship extends to ritual and ceremonial acts giving direct expression to belief, as well as various practices integral to such acts, including the building of places of worship, the use of ritual formulae and objects, the display of symbols, and the observance of holidays and days of rest. In addition, the practice and teaching of religion or belief includes acts integral to the conduct by religious groups of their basic affairs, such as the freedom to choose their religious leaders, priests and teachers, the freedom to establish seminaries or religious schools and the freedom to prepare and distribute religious texts or publications.
This interpretation should be quite clear to implement and certainly Indonesia could adopt this authoritative interpretation made by the Committee as the Covenant has been enacted into national law in 2005.Nevertheless, on the other side, religious tolerance signifies the acceptance of differing views of people in religious matters. Such concept of toleration emerges mostly in a religious authority state, and further it presupposes preferential treatment of a predominant religious group.
Thus, it is also worth noting that the law preserves individual freedom, not individual tolerance, to a different view or faith. In many religious violence cases around the country, it seems that the state merely preserves the predominant religious group’s toleration; hence all religions are not equal.
With the law enforcement officers reluctant to prosecute perpetrators of the violence, predominant religious group toleration would likely prevail over individual freedom.Second is the issue of proselytism. I would base the argument from a liberal democracy perspective which provides freedom to all individuals to a marketplace of ideas. Freedom of thought, opinion and religion are to be put on one bucket list of ideas and the human rights law indeed protects individuals to exercise such freedom.It is interesting to highlight a debate in the case of Kokkinakis v. Greece (1993) in the European Court of Human Rights. In this case, the claimant defended proselytism by stating that “religion was part of the ‘constantly renewable flow of human thought’” and it was impossible to conceive of its being excluded from public debate.
From the court’s assessment I conclude that there should be a distinction between bearing witness and improper proselytism. The former relates to true evangelism and is likely to be inherent to some major religions, and the latter refers to the form of activities offering material or social advantages with a view to gaining new members for a congregation or exerting improper pressure on people in distress or in need; it may even entail the use of violence or brainwashing.
In addition, Judge Pettiti in his concurring opinion went even further by mentioning that freedom of religion and conscience certainly entails accepting proselytism; a believer must be able to communicate his faith and beliefs in the religious sphere as in the philosophical sphere. He also mentioned that the only limits to the exercise of this right are “those dictated by respect for the rights of others where there is an attempt to coerce the person into consenting or to use manipulative techniques”.The use of violence in proselytism is clearly not covered under freedom of religion, but proselytism per se cannot be regarded as a direct infringement of one’s right. Moreover, the mere discussion of religion, or to try to convince one’s neighbor about his belief by “proper” means are not contrary to the current human rights law regime.
An important aspect of these legal reasonings conveyed above is that the state has to assess the existence of possible interference in an individual’s right to freedom of religion upon two considerations: first, the maintenance of public safety, order or morals or importantly the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, and second, such interference should be proportionate to the
legitimate aim necessary in a democratic society.
These two assessments consequently require the current government to define or to set criteria of religious freedom and adjust the bill on religious harmony to make it in line with the international human rights law.It appears that in many aspects, the current bill is unlikely in accordance with the freedom protected in international human rights rules conveyed above, particularly concerning the issue of the limits of religious practice and proselytism.
Finally, as we still lack positive development of human rights — both in terms of system and practice — in construing the right to religious freedom the government and lawmakers may also have to take several human rights practices in well-established democracies into account.
In many religious violence cases around the country, it seems that the state merely preserves the predominant religious group’s toleration.
The writer is an alumnus of Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands
Al Makin, Yogyakarta | Fri, 01/21/2011
We Indonesians regard religion as vital in our life. It is difficult to imagine life without religion here. If you are frustrated when faced with harsh reality (judicial mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and irresponsible dishonest politicians), where do you go to cry out for hope?
Most Indonesians have a subtle answer — praying rooms, be they mosques, churches, viharas, temples, or any other places where you can convey all of your discontent. Unsurprisingly, musallas (prayer rooms) are mushrooming in shopping malls, offices, stations and other public places.Perhaps building many musallas is aimed at anticipating whenever, and wherever, reality does not side with people, they will easily come to the places and pray.
As religion still plays a crucial role in Indonesian society, so do religious leaders. Indonesians still listen to their religious advice not only in ceremonies and rites but also in the media. Preachers appear regularly on TV, radio, and news portals. Their speeches are recorded on CDs, flash disks and even YouTube.
Religious leaders — ulema, priests, bikhu or any other preachers — occupy a special place in Indonesian society. Politicians are aware of this. Regent, governor, or presidential candidates want to appear in the media, accompanied by religious leaders. If not, they should look pious, wearing traditional black caps (kopiah) and collarless white shirts (baju koko). To show piety is a gambit that politicians must comply with, if they want to win the people’s sympathy.As for religious leaders in this country, there are many kinds. It depends on how you categorize them and it is based on what criteria the categorization is.
On the ground of popularity, there are two groups: Popular and unpopular religious leaders. The first category is preachers who often appear in the media and public and therefore gain fame. For them, being famous is capital, which can be bargained for both to their political and financial advantage. The second category is those who avoid crowds in order to contemplate religiously and deeply. Whatever they say results from a deep exercise of the mind.
On the basis of official position, religious leaders are divided into two categories: Those who hold positions in religious organization and those who do not. Due to their influential role in the society, in the eyes of politicians, these religious leaders are important.The formal religious leaders are invited by the politicians whenever the latter need the former’s justification and religious authority to legitimize certain political decisions. The second group comprises religious leaders who avoid any official position and are afraid of too big a responsibility. They, however, speak of the reality honestly, no matter how bitter it is, and whether or not it would please politicians.
From the perspective of politics, we can draw two categories — political and non-political religious leaders. The first groups those who easily utter verses of the Scripture to support a certain political stance or to please politicians, their counterparts. These religious leaders often show their religious authority. And, via religious edicts, they easily brand certain products or conducts as haram (forbidden) and halal (allowed). The second group consists of religious leaders who do not want to waste too many “sacred words”. Instead, they set virtuous conduct for the people. These leaders avoid politics and any political bargain with politicians.
From the standpoint of morality, and ethical criteria, we can perhaps also simplify two groups: Those who are dishonest and honest leaders. The first comprises religious leaders whose intention is political gain. They often maneuver when political opportunities arise. One can perhaps say that they are opportunists, as whatever opportunity comes they seize it as quickly as they can. Then, they will exploit their popularity in the media for political bargain. The second group is made of religious leaders who tell the truth and do not seek any political reward either from politicians or society. Their honesty is demonstrated in their siding with the weak and oppressed.
You can also propose other criteria and divide religious leaders in this country, if you like. However, do not apply too strict standards, as categories may overlap each other. Be ready for religious leaders with unclear positions, which can be moved from one category to another.Now support religious leaders who promote inter-religious dialogue but come under the threat of both hardliners and the local authority in East Java. Hail those who bravely unmask 10 dishonesties committed by the Yudhoyono government. Of course, there are religious leaders who defend the President blindly in radio and TV interviews. Do not forget those who move from one category to another, depending on which position offers more political advantages.The writer is a lecturer of Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.
Amika Wardana, Essex | Wed, 02/16/2011
The recent escalation of acts of violence perpetrated by some hard-line Islamic groups coupled with the police’s failure to protect the minorities has resulted in disgrace for all Indonesians, regardless of their religion.
The country’s reputation as a predominantly Muslim peaceful society with a high degree of tolerance whence people with different religions and ethnicities live side by side has come under the question as to what kind of tolerance is actually practiced in Indonesia.
To answer that question, it is better for us to understand a bit the contour of Indonesian society in general. Thanks to John S. Furnivall (1948) for his classic analysis of pre-colonial Indonesian society that refers to Indonesia as a “plural society”, where people live side by side but separately, mingle in the same neighborhood but do not blend or belong to the same motherland but do not share common social-political goals.
Most importantly in this analysis, individuals are described as living in ethnically and religiously segmented communities with limited interactions except for economic activities. Although not identical, religious tolerance in contemporary Indonesia seems to reflect Furnivall’s description.
Tolerance tends to simply mean living together in an area, sharing the same social space, allowing others/minorities to remain different as long as it does not destabilize the majority or running rhetorical inter-community/faith dialogues but maintaining such strict religious boundaries, limiting the rights of minorities and embracing a different political vision in which some might agree to promote a religiously-neutral secular democracy while others keep dreaming of a religiously Islamic state.
This kind of tolerance can be identified as the “tolerance of fear”, adopted from Jacob Levy’s (2000) term “multiculturalism of fear”. The tolerance of fear situates followers of the majority religion to recognize the presence of adherences of different religions but keep an eye on the activities of members of minority religions for alleged proselytization or missionary programs. Simply put, the recognition of religious differences is overwhelmingly combined with the continuous reproduction of fear of losing fellow congregation through conversion.
Additionally, in the tolerance of fear, the majority is aware of the sovereignty of the secular democratic country, which tends to be religiously neutral and treat the entire population equally with respects to their religious differences. Hence, rather than directly challenging state power; in order to anticipate their fear, they make attempts to manipulate state rules for the benefits of their own group even though it may violate the legitimate rights of minorities enshrined in the Constitution.
Those characteristics are generally illustrated in current religious life in Indonesia. As the guardian of Islamic faith, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has tried to hamper religious tolerance by banning the idea of religious pluralism in one of its fatwas (edicts). The council only acknowledges plurality of religions adhered by Indonesians but theologically restricts the understanding in a narrowed definition between right or wrong; believers or infidels; Islam or kafir.
The depiction of other religions always looks unsympathetic as it considers them an immanent threat to the purity of Islamic faith. By doing so, the MUI by no means has reproduced fear in the hearts and minds of every Muslim of potential attacks from members of other religions. In the case of Ahmadiyah and/or other non-mainstream sects in Islam, MUI seems to react with much more harsh actions by condemning them with heresy, a religiously authoritarian and despotic act which in the past ended with a death sentence for those found guilty.
To some extent, having considered this case an internal Muslim matter, the MUI seems to think that the idea of religious tolerance is not necessary to be implemented. Its silence or lack of empathy for the victims of the recent deadly attacks targeting Ahmadiyah in Cikeusik, Pandeglang, Banten, is a display of conservatism and arrogance.
At the political level, the blind support of many Islamic organizations against a judicial review sought for the 1965 Law on the Prevention of Blasphemy at the Constitutional Court last year can be understood as part of the efforts of the Muslim majority to maintain a legal back-up from the state.
Again in the case of Ahmadiyah, the 1965 law has become the reference for the 2008 joint-ministerial decree that bans the Ahmadiyah from propagation activities. The prohibition has often been arbitrarily interpreted as forbidding the Ahmadis from practicing their religious beliefs in their own mosques. The interpretation of the decree in the field violates the Constitution, which protects freedom of religion and the right to worship. Another form of the fear is evident in the full-support from the Religious Affairs Minister, Suryadharma Ali, for a 2006 joint-ministerial decree on construction of houses of worship, which is in practice is intended to limit the growth of churches, temples or viharas.
The decree by no means discriminates against members of minority religions as citizens, despite the fact that the Constitution says all Indonesian people have an equal right to practice their religious beliefs peacefully.Nevertheless, to understand this tolerance of fear, we also have to be critical of the fact that some members of both majority and minority religions try to challenge the national/local inter-religious harmony.
The provocation initiated by an individual such as Antonius Richmond Bawengan, who circulated books and leaflets deriding Islam and Catholicism, is very disappointing.
To sum up, the practice of religious tolerance in this country faces daunting challenges from many sides. Members of both majority and minority religions must be aware of the vulnerability of Indonesian society to religious-related conflicts. The spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) requires the state to treat every citizen equally regardless of their religion. The writer, a lecturer at the Yogyakarta State University, is pursuing PhD degree in sociology at University of Essex, Colchester, UK.
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