Saturday, August 4, 2012

Indonesia a Failed State? Fate of The Ahmadis Shows It Could Be

The protection of minority groups is part of the essence of democracy. Failure to do this is an indication that the democracy currently employed in this country is superficial at best
In June, the Fund for Peace issued a failed-states index. Of the 178 countries surveyed in this index, Indonesia was listed in the 63rd position, with a score of 80.6. What does that mean? Although Indonesia cannot technically be considered a failed state, its position in the index was in the “very high warning” category. That means that the country is relatively close to becoming a failed state.

One important factor that is used to determine Indonesia’s score in this index was what was called group grievance. Tension and violence in the state, as well as the failure of the country to provide adequate security for its people, played a significant role in ensuring Indonesia ended up where it did in the index.

The index talks more about the majority of populations in certain countries and sometimes hides the fact that a number of minority groups in certain countries experience constant persecution. The case of Indonesia can be used as an example. Although the majority of the population in this country is satisfied with the security they receive and feel, religious minorities like Ahmadi Muslims find themselves living in constant fear. Discrimination and persecution have been experienced at very high levels by this community throughout the last decade.

Actually, resistance and opposition to the Ahmadiyah has been occurring in Indonesia since the 1920s. Historically, the opposition was not only voiced by conservative organizations and persons, but also by moderate Muslim organizations including Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama. In 1929, Muhammadiyah issued a fatwa declaring that whoever believes the existence of a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad is a kafir (infidel). In 1938, NU demanded that the Majlis Islam A’laa Indonesia (MIAI — Supreme Council of Muslims of Indonesia) expel the Ahmadiyah group from this institution, otherwise NU would not be admitted to the MIAI.

One thing must be noted, however. Though there has always been opposition to the Ahmadiyah’s presence in Indonesia, violent attacks and persecution against it did not always exist. It is true that in the 1950s Ahmadis were hunted and killed, but it wasn’t done by the Indonesian government or other Muslim groups. Attacks were carried out by the Tentara Islam Indonesia rebel group. Moreover, when Media Dakwah, the official magazine of the Dewan Da’wah Islamiyah Indonesia, published a blasphemous picture of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (the founder of the Ahmadiyah Muslim community) in its October 1988 edition, the Ahmadiyah filed and won a lawsuit against Media Dakwah.

There was a shift in the resistance and opposition to the Ahmadiyah after 1998. It became more intense and the level of violence climbed steadily.

At the discursive level, besides old “guards of orthodoxy” like the Persatuan Islam, DDII and MUI (Indonesian Council of Ulema), there are other groups, such as Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), that vigorously oppose the Ahmadiyah.

Opposition by force has been committed mostly by a number of vigilante groups established with the main objective to attack Ahmadiyah. Among them are Garis (Muslim Reform Movement) in Cianjur, Gapas (Anti-Apostasy and Deviant Sects Movement) in Cirebon, Geram (Anti-Ahmadiyah Peoples Movement) in Garut and Gerah (Anti-Ahmadiyah Movement) in Kuningan. These groups, all based in West Java, are added to older, established vigilante groups that fiercely oppose Ahmadiyah such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

Other shifts in the opposition to Ahmadiyah that appear after 1998 is the attitude of the government, particularly the current regime under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. It seems that the government does not have the power to give security to its people and prevent violent attacks against the Ahmadiyah community. There are a number of cases related to Ahmadiyah that can be used to underscore the absence of the state in protecting its people, but two of the most serious ones took place in Mataram on Lombok, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara, and the Cikeusik subdistrict of Pandeglang, in Banten province.

Over a hundred Ahmadis have been living in the Transito building in Mataram since 2006, after vigilante groups destroyed their homes, looted their property and then displaced them from their villages. Some of them have been deprived access to education and health care. Most of the time, they have been treated like refugees. Almost none of the attackers who destroyed their houses have been brought to justice.

What is more surprising is the solution proposed by the local government. Rather than taking some sort of action, the local government asked Ahmadis to seek asylum in other countries. There was also the suggestion that they move to an isolated island about 40 kilometers from Lombok.

In the Umbulan village of Cikeusik, three Ahmadis were killed during the attack on an Ahmadiyah mission house on Feb. 6, 2011. The killers were sentenced to between three and six months. One of the injured victims, Deden Sudjana, was given a six-month jail sentence for provoking the attack.

So is Indonesia a failed state? In the most general terms, Indonesia cannot be put in that category. However, in the context of protecting the rights of minority religious groups like the Ahmadiyah, it is a different story.

The protection of minority groups is part of the essence of democracy. Failure to do this is an indication that the democracy currently employed in this country is superficial at best.

Ahmad Najib Burhani is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

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