A new report released today by CSW concludes that “radical Islamist extremism, the politicisation of religion, and identity politics are contributing to a continuing and severe rise in religious intolerance in Indonesia.”
The report comes five months before Indonesia’s presidential elections, amid concerns that religious tensions will be a factor in the campaign. The General Secretary of the Communion of Churches of Indonesia (PGI), Rev. Gomar Gultom, told CSW: “The instrumentalisation of religion in politics is much more intense now.” He also stated that “the seed of radicalisation has spread throughout Indonesia”.
The report is based on a ten-day visit to Indonesia in August this year, which included meetings with civil society groups, human rights organisations and religious communities in the capital, Jakarta, and the second major city, Surabaya. CSW visited three churches in Surabaya which were targeted by a family of suicide bombers in May 2018, and met with survivors of the attacks.
CSW also visited the Ahmadiyya mosque in Depok, a suburb of Jakarta, which has been forced to close. The Ahmadiyya face restrictions and persecution because although they consider themselves Muslims, they are regarded by some other Muslims as heretical and are banned from propagating their beliefs under a 2008 anti-Ahmadiyya regulation in Indonesia.
The announcement by President Joko Widodo of his choice of Ma’ruf Amin, a 75 year-old conservative cleric and former head of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), as his vice-presidential candidate for next year’s elections, came while CSW was visiting Indonesia.
While CSW is politically impartial, the report notes that “Mr Amin had signed the fatwa (religious edict) which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of the former governor of Jakarta, President Widodo’s close friend and ally, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok) on charges of blasphemy”. The report also details Mr Amin’s responsibility “for other fatwas including the 2005 anti-Ahmadiyya edict … an edict which banned Millah Abraham (or Gafatar), a syncretistic spiritual movement ….proposals to criminalise homosexuality, and support for female genital mutilation … and for local shari’a laws.”
The report notes that “when Joko Widodo was elected president in July 2014, it was hoped that he would make it a priority to address religious intolerance” but that “while he has taken some welcome steps, it is clear that there is much more to be done both by the government and by the international community to protect freedom of religion or belief.”
CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said: “This report highlights the threats to freedom of religion or belief in Indonesia, and proposes recommendations for action, by the Indonesian government and the international community, to protect Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism, which is in peril. Religious intolerance is primarily coming from within society, rather than from the State, and we note the decline in State-sponsored incidents which we welcome. But attitudes of intolerance within society, and views that fuel extremist actions, must be countered, and hatred cannot be allowed to prevail with impunity. We welcome the examples, from the government and from civil society, to counter extremism and we urge further action. As the Wahid Foundation’s Alamsyah M Djafar told us, ‘Not every intolerant person is a violent extremist … But we also need to remember that if intolerance increases, the threat of radicalism increases, and it will change the face of Indonesia’.”