Indonesia’s image as a poster child for pluralism has been tarnished – the actions of Islamic radicals are increasingly controlling the agenda. In the opinion of some observers, the moderate majority must display a greater sense of unity and overcome the authoritarian heritage of the country. By Anett Keller
A question mark is currently inflaming passions in Indonesia – especially among conservatives. “?” is the title of the latest film by the Indonesian director Hanung Bramantyo, in which the renowned filmmaker tackles some explosive issues. The plot begins with a pastor being stabbed and develops with one of the female protagonists divorcing her polygamist husband and converting from Islam to Catholicism. A Muslim man sacrifices his life to save a church from a bomb attack.
Indonesians have been flocking in droves to see the film, while protests from radical Islamist groups were not long in coming. In the large city of Bandung, the film has already been removed from cinemas on the order of the local government. The Council of Indonesian Muslims Scholars (MUI) has since demanded that the filmmaker remove all scenes in which pluralism and tolerance are positively portrayed.
Unresolved relationship between the state and religion
“No religion can soil another.” Poster of the film “?” by the Indonesian director Hanung Bramantyo Thirteen years after the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship, the discussion raging around “?” mirrors that of the struggle within Indonesian society to find the proper place for religion in a democratic state. At issue is which interpretation of Islam, adhered to by 85 percent of Indonesians, has majority appeal.
The number of religiously motivated violent attacks have recently shown a dramatic increase. In 2010 alone, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace has registered 216 cases in which freedom of religion has been violated. In 59 cases, houses of worship belonging to minority groups were either attacked or threatened. In West Java in early February this year, three followers of the Ahmadiyah faith were brutally murdered by a mob of young men.
The Ahmadiyah, as well as other religious minorities in the country, are increasingly being targeted by potentially violent groups. In recent months, there have been an increasing number of attacks on Christian churches by militant Islamists. Critics of Islamist hardliners, such as Ulil Abshar Abdallah, the founder of the Liberal Islam Network, have received letter bombs.