Sidney Jones, Jakarta | Wed, 01/19/2011 10:45 AM | Opinion
A recent International Crisis Group (ICG) report entitled Christianization (Kristenisasi) and Intolerance has been misinterpreted by some commentators. The essence of the report was that the activities of some Pentecostal groups aimed at conversion of Muslims are exacerbating — not causing — interreligious tensions and are being used by hard-line Muslim organizations to stigmatize a much broader range of Christian activities, including church construction.
We wrote the report because we thought there had been insufficient attention to the Christian side of the intolerance problem, and that while there has concern expressed about “fundamentalist” Islamic groups that receive funding from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, there has been very little about “fundamentalist” Christian groups funded from abroad, mainly the US. The rise of religious intolerance in Indonesia has many aspects, and we listed evangelical proselytizing in Muslim strongholds as only one among six.
It is important to understand that not all Christian activity is proselytization (penginjilan), in terms of reaching out to congregations beyond one’s own, and not all proselytization is aimed at winning converts from Islam (pemurtadan). Just as some Muslim organizations like Jamaah Tabligh are aimed at making mainstream Muslims more devout, rather than seeking to convert Christians, much evangelical activity is aimed at mainstream Christians, not Muslims.
While it is true that some foreign-funded groups are looking for converts, it is important to note that there are also Muslim organizations like at-Turots undertaking dakwah in strongly Christian areas of Indonesia such as NTT and Papua. Therefore, if there are moves to enforce the 1978 guidelines from the Religious Affairs Ministry that ban the followers of one religion from directing their activities at followers of another, then it is critical that the guidelines be enforced evenhandedly and through a formal process that is more than just a response to pressure from mass organizations.
The issue of church construction is a separate issue. Christians build churches for the same reason Muslims build mosque — to worship, not to convert. Whatever the resistance to HKBP activities, it is an ethnically-based congregation, and if it is targeted by anti-apostasy groups, they are knocking at the wrong door. It is true that the Joint Ministerial Regulations of 2006 governing construction of houses of worship has discriminatory aspects, but it is important to note that the requirement of getting community support is one that was welcomed by non-Muslim communities in areas such as Bali and Flores.
So if Kristenisasi is not the main cause of rising religious intolerance — a phenomenon well documented by groups such as Lembaga Survei Indonesia — what is? There are several factors.
Since the end of the New Order there has been little effort on the part of the government to emphasize that six religions are equal under the constitution. Instead, what we see are large mosques built as part of government offices, as if separation between religion and state was narrowing; the intervention of the state in defining what is orthodox and what is deviant; and little effort to review local ordinances that discriminate against religious minorities.
Democratization has created more political space for organizations with all kinds of narrow political and religious agendas and neither the government nor civil society groups have paid sufficient attention to what constitutes “hate speech” or where the line should be drawn between freedom of expression and criminal incitement.
Particularly after the eruption of conflict in Ambon and Poso, anti-Christian sentiment has been growing among hard-line Islamic groups who see Christians as kafir and intrinsically a threat to Islam.
This attitude, fuelled by international developments such the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon and the burgeoning of hard-line websites and publications, is undermining religious relations.
Decentralization has brought with it the ability to influence local politicians, take part in campaigns, secure promises of aid. That’s all part of the democratic process, but hard-line organizations have proven to be far more strategic than their pro-pluralism counterparts in pushing their agendas at the local level. Local elections have also all too frequently produced weak leaders who all simply capitulate to the loudest voices.
The failure of the police to stand up to religious vigilantes encourages new confrontations. The most generous explanation for this failure is the lack of clear guidelines from their superiors on when to act or what constitutes a serious threat to public order. The FPI routinely warns the police and local officials three times that they are going to take action before they do so. There is no excuse for failing to prevent violence and intimidation.
There are several steps the government can take:
The president should oversee the development of a national strategy for strengthening religious tolerance. He publicly condemns officials who fall asleep at meetings; he should publicly condemn — or replace — those who blame the victims instead of the perpetrators for violent attacks, or who welcome religious vigilantes as potential security partners. He should set a clear policy for his Cabinet that no one is to attend meetings or provide government funding to organizations that preach hatred, discrimination or intolerance or that have a record of attacks on religious gatherings.
He frequently refers in speeches to the need for tolerance and to pluralism as a cornerstone of democracy, but there is little effective follow-up. A presidential taskforce could be appointed to examine recent attacks on places of worship; review existing laws and regulations including the 1978 guidelines and the so-called Perda syariat and how they are applied; make recommendations for improving police performance; and make suggestions for how values of tolerance and pluralism can be inculcated from primary school levels on up.
Many of the solutions proposed by members of the House of Representatives and others involve new or amended laws: stronger provisions in the criminal code against attacks on religious gatherings or a new law on religious freedom and harmony. The problem is that laws are only as good as the people who enforce them, and until government decision-makers and law enforcers are more courageous about applying existing laws, then new ones are not going to solve the problem.
The writer is Crisis Group senior adviser.