Indonesia’s Rising Religious Intolerance

The NewYork Times- The opinion pages

JAKARTA — Just a few days after Lady Gaga’s concert in Indonesia was canceled after protests by Islamic groups, I flew 1,370 kilometers from Jakarta to Padang, West Sumatra, and drove a further 130 kilometers, a four-hour journey along rough, winding roads, to Sijunjung, to visit an Indonesian atheist jailed for his beliefs.

Alex Aan, a 30-year-old civil servant, is a gentle, soft-spoken, highly intelligent young man who simply gave up his belief in God when he saw poverty, war, famine and disaster around the world.

He faces the possibility of up to six years in prison, charged with blasphemy, disseminating hatred and spreading atheism. Radical Muslims came to his office, beat him up, and called the police after reading about his views on Facebook.

Alex is the first atheist in Indonesia to be jailed for his belief, but his case is symptomatic of a wider increase in religious intolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The previous Sunday, I joined a small church in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta, for a service, but found the street blocked by a noisy, angry mob and a few police.

…….

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is perhaps the most persecuted. Violent attacks against this group, whose beliefs are considered heretical by many conservative Muslims, have increased significantly. Last year I met victims of one of the worst outbreaks of violence, an attack on Ahmadis in Cikeusik on Feb. 6, 2011, which left three people dead.

One man described how he was stripped naked and beaten severely and a machete was held at his throat. He was dragged through the village and dumped in a truck like a corpse. Another man fled into a fast-flowing river, pursued by attackers throwing rocks and shouting “kill, kill, kill.”

More

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