A bomb exploded in a Buddhist temple in West Jakarta, injuring three people last month. Not long after, a Christian female ward chief in South Jakarta, Susan Jasmine Zulkifli, was forced to step down after a petition signed by 2,300 locals. It is imperative we ask ourselves what is causing this violence and discrimination, and what can be done to stop it in order to reclaim Indonesia’s long history of religious diversity and tolerance.
A 2012 study by the Wahid Institute reports 278 cases of religious rights violations of minority groups, particularly Christians and groups considered deviant by the Sunni Muslim majority, such as the Shiites and the Ahmadiyya (a Muslim community founded by Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 in India), by state and non-state actors.
One of the main causes is the Indonesian administration’s failure to consistently enforce laws that guarantee religious freedom, such as Article 28E of the Indonesian Constitution which says, “Each person is free to worship and to practice the religion of their choice.”
Perpetrators of brutal violence against minority groups often do not receive just punishment for their actions. In the case of the Cikeusik tragedy in Banten, in which a group of local people killed three Ahmadis in February 2011, most of the perpetrators only served a few months in prison, while most of the victims and the families have yet to receive reparations.
Indonesia is blessed with a plurality of religions and beliefs, something that our founders sought to maintain by accepting Pancasila (Indonesia’s state philosophy, which consists of five moral principles) as the foundation of the state. Pancasila integrates, accommodates and acknowledges the universal values in every religion and faith in Indonesia. It is – along with our national slogan, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) – the foundation of our religious tolerance.
As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in his state speech on August 16 to commemorate the 68th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence, “The spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is required to strengthen tolerance and prevent communal clashes and violence.”
Some encouraging progress shows that there’s hope for Indonesia. The Jakarta City Administration refused to respond to the petition asking for Zulkifli’s removal and another petition gathering support for the Christian ward chief was issued. The police managed to stop Islam Defenders Front members from attacking an Ahmadi mosque in Cianjur, West Java on July 25, 2012. And after a period of government inaction, displaced Shiite Indonesians are preparing to return home to Sampang, Madura (East Java) as on-going reconciliation efforts led by Abdul Ala Bashir, the rector of the State Institute for Islamic Studies Sunan Ampel Surabaya, between the Shiites and local Sunni residents of Sampang make headway.
But besides embodying the spirit of our national philosophy and slogan, we need to take a number of important steps to stand for and promote pluralism.
First, discriminatory laws and policies in several provinces should be reviewed and revoked. One such example is the East Java governor’s regulation (a rule of order having the force of law) that forbids religious activities considered deviant and punishes people who violate religious norms and practices as defined by the Sunni majority.
Second, ensure just and open law enforcement. There are many cases where security officials treat the victims of violence as culprits to justify evacuation or relocation, instead of rightfully serving justice by prosecuting perpetrators.
Third, guarantee the absence of faith-based discrimination in public services. Civil servants should not let their personal religious beliefs affect the way they treat and serve citizens who do not share their beliefs. As Law 43/1999 on the Ordinance on Civil Service says, “[The] state apparatus must give public service professionally, honestly, justly and equally.”
A number of organizations have taken steps to address these issues, and the government might seek their assistance more.
For the last few years, Kontras, an organization that advocates missing persons and victims of violence, has been giving trainings for the police force and holding discussions on the principles of religious freedom protection.
Several organizations concerned with religious freedom issues such as the Wahid Institute, the Setara Institute, the Human Rights Working Group, and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundations have held dialogues and hearings with government and security officials regarding cases of discrimination against religious minorities.
Much can still be done to reclaim our dignity as a nation that has embraced its diversity and has been capable of coexisting peacefully.
Alamsyah M. Dja’far is a research fellow at the Wahid Institute in Jakarta, an organization dedicated to promoting peace and pluralism in Islam, and a lecturer at the Fahmina Institute for Islamic Studies in Cirebon, West Java.
THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service