Extremism Advances in the Largest Muslim Country

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The Muslim Times is promoting secularism and human rights in every country of the world

Source: Wall Street Journal

By Benedict Rogers, who is East Asia Team Leader at the international human-rights organization CSW and author of “Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril—the Rise of Religious Intolerance Across the Archipelago” (2014).

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, has long stood as a role model for religious pluralism. That’s changing. Political Islam and violent extremism have been taking root in society and may soon do so in the government. President Joko Widodo’s choice of Ma’ruf Amin, a 75-year-old cleric, as his running mate in next year’s election marks an ugly turn for Indonesian politics.

Religious minorities had regarded Mr. Widodo as their defender. His rival, retired general Prabowo Subianto, was expected to play the religion card, questioning the incumbent’s Islamic credentials and building a coalition supported by radical Islamists. By choosing Mr. Amin, the president’s defenders argue, he not only has neutralized the religion factor, but might have prevented it from spilling over into violence against minorities. In office, they believe, Mr. Amin will be contained.

Yet Mr. Subianto is unlikely to be deterred from playing identity politics, and rumors that Mr. Amin is reaching out to radical Islamists for support are troubling. Mr. Amin has a history of intolerance. He signed a fatwa that put a Widodo ally, Jakarta’s former Gov. Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, in jail on blasphemy charges. Ahok, who is Christian and ethnically Chinese, was a symbol of Indonesia’s diversity, and as a popular governor was expected to be re-elected. Instead he lost after rivals told Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim.

Mr. Amin also signed the anti-Ahmadiyya fatwa in 2005, which led to severe restrictions and violence against the Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect some Muslims regard as heretical. I met recently with Ahmadis in Depok, a Jakarta suburb, where their mosque is closed. The previous week they were visited by 15 local officials ordering them to stop all activities.

Mr. Amin has been behind other repressive measures, including restrictions on the construction of places of worship, proposals to criminalize homosexuality, support for female genital mutilation and local Shariah laws.

Indonesia’s pluralism has come under increasing threat. Local authorities, under pressure from Islamic extremists, forced hundreds of churches to close. While there have been few closures since Mr. Widodo took office, the Rev. Gomar Gultom, general secretary of Indonesia’s Communion of Churches, says “there has been no justice for old cases.” Authorities continue to misuse blasphemy laws. A Buddhist woman in North Sumatra was jailed for 18 months for asking a mosque to turn down the volume on its loudspeakers.

Last month a foreign scholar who has lived in Indonesia for more than half a century told me of a Muslim man who asked his 12-year-old son what he had learned at school one day. “We learned about kafir”—infidels—his son replied. When the father asked what they had learned, the boy replied: “We learned that they must be killed.”

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