‘The real pressure came from outside—the neighbourhood here has no problem with us building a church, even though the majority are Muslims,’ Bona says, adding that the congregation had approached the community with its plans back in 2001.
This wasn’t the first such case. Churches in Depok, Bekasi and Purwakarta—all in West Java—have been subjected to similar intolerance, threats and even physical violence. The most shocking incident occurred on September 12, when armed men alleged to be members of a radical Islamic group stabbed a protestant church leader in the stomach and beat his wife as they were leading their congregation to a Sunday service in Bekasi.
And the discrimination hasn’t been confined to Christians. The Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect, has been repeatedly targeted by hard-line Islamic groups that seem to have been acting with impunity over the past two years, burning down the sect’s mosques and members’ homes across the country.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In fact the Setara Institute, a Jakarta-based nongovernmental organization that promotes religious freedom and pluralism, has recorded hundreds of violations of religious freedom in a nation whose motto is ‘Unity in Diversity.’
Most of the incidents recorded by the institute were related to the building of new houses of worship, allegations of blasphemy and discriminatory government regulations and policies.
In the first half of this year the group says it recorded more than two dozen incidents of discrimination against Christian congregations as well as attacks against the Ahmadiyah sect and protests against Buddhist statues being placed in public places.
The main instigator of many of the attacks is widely believed to be the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), a violent radical group dedicated to toppling Indonesia’s democracy and replacing it with an Islamic state based on Shariah law. But despite their professed religious motivations, the FPI are frequently accused of being nothing more than a nationwide group of thugs who use Islam as a cover for extortion and protection rackets.
Yet despite the FPI and similar radical groups making up only a small minority of Indonesia’s Muslim population of more than 190 million, the central government, police and local leaders have largely failed to step in to stop the violence. The public, meanwhile, remains largely silent.
The seeming indifference to religious persecution among Indonesia’s Muslims could be down to a fear of being labelled ‘un-Islamic.’ But the silencestill begs the question of whether the majority of Indonesia can really still be described as moderate and tolerant. After all, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has failed to issue an official statement condemning the religious violence against minority Christians and the Ahmadiyah.