As they are not representative of the majority, such “Islamists” are pushing an agenda akin to the Thai political elite who demonstrate reluctance to recognize non-Buddhist Thais, the southern Muslims; or, similar to those in Myanmar giving minimal recognition to the non-Burmese ethnicities. Tales of discrimination against religious, ethnic or other minorities here do not match reports of oppressed minorities like the southern Thais, the non-Burmese or Myanmar’s murdered Muslims.
But we are getting there — with the refusal or inability of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to take a crystal-clear stance with his ministers, and the general public.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has denied accusations that the Shiites of Sampang, Madura in East Java, must convert to the “proper” form of Islam before they can return home. As the official leading reconciliation between the Shiites and the Sampang community, Suryadharma said Monday that local Muslim clerics had agreed that the displaced community could return, as long as they engaged in dialogue on “enlightenment and to align perceptions”, including on religious teachings.
However, the Shiites’ lawyer had claimed that 34 of some 235 Shiites could return after pledging, among other things, to return to “the true teaching of Islam”. The Madura Shiites have been stuck in state-sponsored housing in Sidoarjo following last year’s attack on their village, during which one Shiite and another resident were killed.
We can dismiss such problems with reasons like the initial family feud involving the Sampang Shiite leader, to legal technicalities of church permits in Bekasi, east of Jakarta, or Bogor, West Java, and elsewhere. Yet Indonesia needs a clear presidential stance on what constitutional freedom of worship implies. Thus, ministers remind us that the Constitution also spells out that this freedom does not impinge on that of others.
Also, ministers, clerics, regents and local thugs cite justifications — the 1965 Blasphemy Law, regulations on the Ahmadi and church permits and the 1984 fatwa of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) on Shiite teachings — to restrict, intimidate, attack, murder and ban such minorities.
A leader immersed in the urgent respect for our diversity would not merely say that underlings had defied his orders on encouraging nonviolence, as Yudhoyono’s advisor earlier said, while stressing that social conflicts are for local administrations to settle .
Our laws and regulations must be changed to help ensure peace amid diversity. But the East Java clerics command millions of precious votes coveted by gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming election, and in the presidential and legislative elections next year. Voters must loudly voice preference for leaders who clearly condemn bullying — to drown out the bullies sharing prominence alongside a president and his pretty New York ornament.