Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Questioning the freedom of religion in Indonesia

Another incident related to the Ahmadiyah group erupted in Pandeglang, Banten, when a group of villagers attacked the home of a follower of the Islamic sect. In the raid three Ahmadis were killed, giving another bloody stain on religious freedom in the country.

This is another sad story of how religion in Indonesia can be violently attacked by a mob or a hard-line group — especially for Ahmadiyah. There were many other incidents targeting the group using the same modus operandi. For instance, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) attacked Ahmadiyah’s headquarters in the West Java city of Bogor in 2005. In October 2010 an Ahmadiyah mosque in Kuningan, also in West Java, was burned down.

The frequent attacks on Ahmadiyah leave questions about the state’s obligation to protect its people. Why is it so easy for people in this country to condemn one religion and then attack its followers because they follow a different faith?
What about the Constitution, which clearly says that “the state guarantees the freedom of everyone to adhere to their respective religion and to perform their religious duties in accordance with their religion and faith”?

Furthermore, Indonesia has also ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) into Law No. 12/2005. It is clearly stated there, especially within Article 18, that “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 choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Referring to those products of legislation, the state should take necessary actions to uphold the Constitution and laws that promote freedom of religion. Had this materialized Ahmadiyah followers would live freely in our country, upholding their faith and enjoying the freedom to profess, worship and practice what they believe.
In the case of attacks on Ahmadiyah, the state would have jailed the perpetrators and dissolved any group that condemned and attacked the sect.

The reality, however, does not always come true, especially in this country, at least for the time being. This happens because the state has so far never paid attention to this issue, or has considered the repeated violence against Ahmadiyah a non-issue.

As evident in the government’s response to the fresh attack on Ahmadiyah followers on Sunday, the state has barely taken a strong stance other than making a statement regarding freedom of religion.

The President said that enough is enough regarding violence in the name of religion, but we have heard such words many times before. He once said he would lead the fight against corruption in the country, but the judicial mafia and tax mafia cases centering on former taxman Gayus H. Tambunan recently showed a widening gap between words and actions.

The relentless violence against Ahmadiyah started from an edict issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in 2005, which declared Ahmadiyah a deviant sect and categorized the group as non-Muslim.

The edict has therefore given justification to Muslim hardliners to attack Ahmadiyah across the country. The condition was exacerbated by the issuance of the joint ministerial decree that put a halt to any Ahmadiyah activities in Indonesia. This decree surely reinforces the hardliners’ hostility against the minority group.

The edict and decree displayed the “authoritarian” face of both the MUI and the government, as the policies failed to take into account their impacts in society. Condemning or banning a group will justify attacks on its followers in the name of religion and law.

The government, as representation of the state, is responsible for protecting all citizens, particularly minorities, instead of facilitating avenues for people to batter others, in this case Ahmadis.

The Indonesian Constitution upholds the freedom of religion, promotes religious harmony and mutual respect among followers of different faiths.

Only a few months ago Indonesia was lauded by visiting US President Barack Obama as a model of a tolerant country where all religions were respected. Now, after the latest attack on Ahmadiyah, Obama might have to retract his statement.

By Muhammad As’ad lecturer at the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) Sunan Ampel, Surabaya.

1 comment:

  1. Indonesia’s State-sponsored terrorism
    The murder of three Ahmadiyah followers in Banten on Sunday is a concrete example of state-sponsored terrorism against the country’s own citizens. With the full — very sorry to say — backing of the state, bloody oppression and even the butchering of Indonesians will continue to haunt us. This street-side persecution of those with different views, faiths or backgrounds than the majority by those with swords in their hands will continue and even spread to other parts of society, and may do so without reason or pretext.
    All Indonesians, regardless of what group they belong to, should consider the killing of Ahmadis in Banten an emergency beacon, because such extremely discriminatory treatment could also happen to them in a different form or at a different time. What if other religions also had similarly violent responses to different sects or religions just because they differed from the mainstream?
    But, is this state terrorism? The Religious Affairs Ministry officially declared Ahmadiyah defiant of Islam and urged Ahmadis to repent. Yet the government was quick to criticize the killings on Sunday in Pandeglang, Banten. Every time Ahmadiyah followers are harassed or expelled from areas the government routinely expresses its regret and vows to conduct a thorough investigation.
    If state officials are honest enough to listen to their own consciences, then they will admit that state-supported discrimination has been developing rapidly in this country.
    We would like to remind President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as the head of state, of his constitutional obligation to protect all Indonesian citizens regardless of their faith, ethnicity or ideology, and to ensure equal treatment for all the shareholders and stakeholders in this nation.
    We strongly defend the right of Ahmadiyah to exist, not because we share or agree with their ideology, but purely because our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The state should not allow the prosecution and criminalization of citizens just because of their personal beliefs.
    To be honest, there is little hope the President will be determined enough to say “enough is enough” to those who attempt to impose street justice. The President, his ministers and other state officials will certainly defend their “do nothing” position on minorities.
    Hundreds of churches have been forced to close or were burned down in this country. But, it is just a matter of time before a similar thing happens in other areas where Islam is a minority religion.
    Mosques will not be allowed to open or Muslims will find it difficult to practice their faith. The majority — not just in terms of religious belief — will force the minority to follow their ways or else face brutal treatment.
    But, we should also remember what history has shown us. The more minority groups are oppressed, the more creative they will become to ensure their survival. Oppression can often be a blessing in disguise for those who are hunted down because they are different from people who think they command absolute truths. It is not difficult to find examples like this in our world.
    It is distressing that Ahmadis have had to face state-sponsored terrorism just because their personal faith is not recognized by the state. And, what is even more tragic, our head of state is reluctant to carry out his constitutional obligation to protect the country’s citizens as he vowed to do in his oath of office. Editorial, Jakarta Post