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Politics Trump God in Indonesia? (Page 4 of 4)

Hasani says politicians in cities in West Java such as Bogor and Kuningan, have used the issue of the Ahmadiyah sect to recruit voters, promising to ban the sect if they get elected.

‘But we’ve followed several politicians who used religion-based issues such as calling for raiding stores and clubs that sell alcohol and things like that. But once they were elected to the House of Representatives, they no longer cared about religious issues,’ Hasani says. ‘It seems like their interest in these issues has nothing to do with religion. It’s all about political and economic interests.’

Muslim scholar Siti Musdah Mulia, co-founder of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), says their studies show that police at the local level sometimes take advantage of tensions to extort protection money from churches instead of keeping the peace. As a result, the violence often appears out of control.

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‘Our society has always been conservative, but it has never used the state to enforce its wishes like it has in the past few years,’ he says. ‘The government is the one to blame because they let it happen. They’ve never been proactive in issuing a warning (to radical Muslim groups).’

It’s unclear why Indonesian officials from Yudhoyono down to provincial district chiefs have wilted in the face of the tiny but vocal radical Muslim minority. Some say it’s reluctance by politicians who don’t feel they have the ‘proper’ Islamic credentials to speak up on the issue, while others believe it’s as simple as not wanting to lose Muslim voters.

Either way, civil society groups are attempting to step in and fill the void by acting as the conscience of the state.

‘The pressure is there, but it’s sporadic and only comes from the same group of people,’ says Mulia. ‘We aren’t yet a progressive and critical civil society. This is terrifying and dangerous. The silent majority must speak up.’

Catholic priest Benny Susetyo of the Indonesian Bishops Council says that the ball is now firmly in the government’s court.

‘Our culture is actually tolerant, and this violence has nothing to do with religion,’ he says. ‘The government must act now to counter this violence.’

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