Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Indonesia - Persecution and inaction

The persecution of minority groups, including Shia followers, is becoming more blatant despite the nation being globally acknowledged as the third largest democracy in the world.

Instead of debating the root cause of the deprivation of the rights of minorities, we question the state’s inaction in the face of the long-standing practice.

After 16 years of making inroads into the country, democracy has instilled respect for freedoms and human rights. On other hand, democracy has, to some extent, allowed radical thought to grow in the name of freedom of expression, which often bursts into acts of violence.

This creeping radicalism has sown hatred against minority groups. The launch of the Anti-Shia National Alliance in Bandung on Sunday is just one result of the state’s failure to protect the rights of the Shiites, as well as other minority religious groups, to follow their beliefs.

The anti-Shia organization is dangerous. It justifies the use of violence against Shia followers and also challenges Indonesia’s image as a champion of religious harmony. The image of Indonesia as a nation abiding by the rule of law and human rights is at stake if the state apparatus not only allows but also condones this organized persecution.

Neither President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (who last year received the World Statesman Award from New York-based interfaith organization the Appeal of Conscience Foundation) nor security agencies appear able to deal with the anti-Shia organization. Their silence on the group’s pledge to propagate anti-Shia sentiment nationwide will open the door for the widespread disrespect of minority rights.

For the President, his reluctance to draw a line vis-à-vis the radical group will justify mounting protests against his acceptance of the international interfaith award. Since he was conferred the award, the President has frequently called for religious tolerance but has failed to walk the talk whenever acts of intolerance occur.

In the case of discrimination against Shiites, the President has never acted against Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who openly called for Shia followers — displaced from their homes in Sampang, Madura — to convert to the Sunni branch of Islam as a solution to protracted conflict between the two groups.

As the head of state, the President is a role model for the nation. His inaction sends the wrong message — it approves the majority group dictating its will on minorities.

Mainstream Islamic organizations are also contributing to rising religious intolerance. Despite their repeated calls for respecting freedom of faith, they have failed to condemn the persecution of the Shiites and other minorities like the Ahmadiyah.

Both the government and moderate Islamic organizations could be afraid of a backlash if they act against the anti-Shia group, which is also campaigning against the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) for nominating Shia figure Jalaluddin Rakhmat in the recent legislative election.

If that is the case, we hope he wins for the sake of respecting minority rights.

Jakarta Post

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