Here you go Bot, my opinion it is just more rhetoric from an ineffective and useless newspaper.
Freedom of religion remains major challenge for country
Dadi Darmadi, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Indonesia is often called the world's third largest democracy. You wonder: People in this country should be able to practice their religion freely, shouldn't they? Not really. Not in our recent memory, with unforgettable flashing images of religious persecution and fiery politics: burned churches, vandalized mosques and angry mobs pelting worshipers. Religious harmony and dialog, anyone?
Indonesia has taken a long and winding road to freedom and democracy. The state has endured but the self-proclaimed nation, with its "imagined" religious harmony, is probably long, long gone. Sadly, reality bites -- at least given the current picture of religious harmony and freedom of religion here. Probably the biggest irony ever: In recent years, this once tolerant country has continuously been placed on a watch list by international monitoring groups for violating religious freedom.
In 2006, Indonesia was in the hot seat, again, with Nigeria, Egypt, Cuba, Belarus, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. So, are there reasons to believe that it still is worth addressing the issues and predicting the prospects of both religious harmony and freedom of religion in Indonesia in the next few years? Is there still hope for religious freedom here?
The prospect looks rather bleak indeed. In the last few years, or soon after the riots and conflicts broke out, both central and local governments were too busy with their domestic and cosmetic jobs. While social upheaval and riots were easily ignited -- and they were often not easy to handle -- the government has been too slow, too lenient in dealing with the perpetrators and the culprits behind the unrest. If this trend continues, we will witness one of the most glaring shortcomings in our social and religious life; when the government is too apathetic to address the social issues, while the citizens are too indifferent to the suffering of others. Some might suggest that this condition is already here.
The authorities have increasingly failed to prevent or punish criminal offenders. As a country that was hit by the worst of the economic crisis, and was once under harsh military rule, this kind of government attitude is shocking. But as Indonesia is also often hailed as a success story in the transition to democracy, this is just downright awful. This indifferent response is probably a political choice to achieve stability in national politics. But as anarchy at the street level continues to be tolerated, the privatization of crime on a larger scale is just a matter of time. The toxic residue of 30 years of official violence will continue to poison the legacy of "imagined" religious harmony we inherited from the previous order.
As if this was not bad enough, religious radicalism began taking root -- and continues to do so. The growing political power and influence of religious extremists has been followed by the imposition of religious-based laws in several regencies. The consequence? Pressure, harassment and intimidation by radical groups is rampant, while violence in the name of religion, as in the case of various extremist Islamic groups that often target fellow Muslims, has continued to increase. When the staunchest defenders of moderate and progressive Islam came under fire, the overwhelmingly silent majority hopelessly looked like jumping on the bandwagon with the staunchest defenders of God -- as they imagined they were.
In what might be a setback to already worsening religious harmony, a newly revised government regulation, signed by the minister of religious affairs and minister of home affairs, supposedly to make it easier to build houses of worship, was met with caution. Some minority groups continue to complain and share their concerns that the new rule is more a hindrance than a relief.
Unless the government keenly listens to the concerns of these groups on the margins, the new ruling will continue to restrict the construction and expansion of places of worship.
It is not surprising that, in August 2006, Indonesia fared quite badly on an index of the level of government and state intervention in religious affairs -- even compared with other states in Southeast Asia.
Another major issue is the state's failure to protect freedom of worship. Just a few months ago, members of the Ahmadiyah group had to flee in order to observe the Islamic holiday of Idul Fitri, while a few others prayed in isolated places.
Is this more evidence for those who are of the opinion that moderate Islam in this country is simply a myth? This is not encouraging at all for the general Muslim population, which often proudly assert themselves as practicing moderate Islam, let alone for the religious freedom for the whole nation. Have the lessons been learned from Maluku, Poso and other places? Last month, in Garut, West Java, an angry mob acting in the name of "preventing anarchic actions", demanded Ahmadiyah members demolish their mosque with their own hands.
This condition is sickening. Unless the government shows its political will to uphold the Constitution, the prospect of freedom of worship is bleak, from the top to the bottom.
With the arrest of Lia Aminuddin of Jakarta, the cult leader and Archangel Gabriel impersonator, and Yusman Roy of Malang, who was imprisoned for two years following his use of Indonesian when leading Muslim prayers, it is difficult to expect any major progress in the protection of all citizens, regardless of their views.
However, in times of crisis, things we often overlook are in fact positive signs of recovery. Early this year, in the conflict-ridden Maluku islands, several latupatis, local traditional chiefs, established a council to assist in reconciling the local Muslim and Christian communities, who were previously involved in a bloody conflict. It was also reported that some Catholic schools were reopened, and, overall, it was expected that peace in Maluku would gradually return. But for how long? We do not know. It is still too early to generate any definitive prediction that the costly conflict will not make a comeback. But these positive signs are definitely something to cherish, and part of the reasons that make us believe that things may change for the better.
It is also worth noting that in the last few months the government has courageously stepped up with stronger arguments in implementing effective law enforcement, and at times has come up with unpopular decisions. In rather surprising legal and political moves, the Poso Three -- Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu -- were executed last September as they were found guilty by the court of inciting religious violence. Despite the outcry from many, including a written objection from the pope to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the government was firm enough to say that this was the product of the legal system.
Now the question is whether the government is also serious in upholding the law to bring the other culprits in Poso to justice, and execute the three main suspects of the Bali bombings -- Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Ali Gufron, who are on death row.
The government should combat criminal and violent acts emanating from both street level crimes and organized terrorist groups. The popular mandate and strong legitimacy of the Yudhoyono-Jusuf Kalla government should be used to strengthen law enforcement and religious freedom.
If this succeeds, the image and confidence of the government will be enormously improved. Religious leaders also need to take an assertive role in preventing religious tension. At this point, religious harmony is not merely a state affair; it is in fact everyone's responsibility, including religious leaders and their followers. At any rate, religion is about differences, and a religious conflict is often justified simply by these religious differences.
It is expected that, instead of relying heavily on state initiatives, informal and religious leaders, such as the local chiefs in Maluku, need to work hand in hand with the authorities in combating religious persecution in the name of the sacred and the social order. The leaders of major religious organizations, especially in urban areas, have continuously shown great interest in religious harmony. But if the government continues to deny these basic rights, there is no guarantee that there will not be more cases of blasphemy, heresy and religious persecution in the future. The writer is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM), a lecturer at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN), Jakarta, and currently a PhD candidate in social anthropology at Harvard University, Massachusetts, the U.S.