Religious Tensions Rise in Indonesian City
Update (Apr. 2, 2013): Indonesia's religious affairs minister has blamed Christians for bringing discrimination upon themselves, saying they have politicized a problem that is primarily administrative, not religious, in nature.
Update (Mar. 21, 2013): A Protestant church near Jakarta was bulldozed this week after a 13-year struggle to obtain a permit. Members of the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) in Setu, Bekasi, plan to file suit.
The Setara Institute expects further trouble, according to Agence France-Press, because only 10 of Bekasi's 39 HKBP congregations have permits for their buildings.
CT noted last September when a church in Bogor drew international attention for a similar struggle over its own building. The Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI Yasmin) was ordered to relocate, despite a Supreme Court ruling in its favor.
Radical Muslim groups in Bekasi on the Indonesian island of Java have made the latest move in Indonesia's ongoing religious tensions, reports Compass Direct News.
Leaders from nine groups announced on June 27 that the hard-line groups had agreed at a meeting of the Bekasi Islamic Congress to unite the city's Islamic groups with a youth army and a joint mission center to halt what they see as a growing "Christianization" of the Jakarta suburb.
"We are planning to station members [of the group] in every mosque in the city," said Tunggal Sawabi of the Bekasi branch of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and one of the "field commanders" of the new movement, according to the Jakarta Post.
Christianity has been making significant gains in Indonesia, according to Time magazine, which reports that the number of evangelical Churches in communities like Temanggung in Central Java have gone from zero in the 1960s to more than 40 today. While Indonesia's government and most of the nation's Muslims are more moderate, more radical groups like the nine in Bekasi have become increasingly agitated.
According to the Post, Bekasi's radical Muslim leaders say that area Christians have broken an unwritten rule against attempting to convert people who have already chosen a religion.
"If they refuse to stop what they're doing, we're ready to fight," said Murhali Barda of the Islamic Defenders Front, according to the Associated Press.
The groups have also been pushing to but Bekasi under Islamic religious law, known as Shari'a, the Post reports.
"We will urge the [Bekasi] regency and municipal administrations to produce more and more Sharia-based bylaw and regulation so that there is no more room for apostasy," said Sulaiman Zachawerus, who leads the Islamic Ummah Guards and the Bekasi chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).
Christian/Muslim tensions in Bekasi have been growing in recent weeks. In May, Bekasi's St. Bellarminus Catholic School was attacked because of its supposed connection to a Bekasi 16-year-old who posted pictures of himself stomping on a Quran and placing it in a toilet. In June, the Bekasi administration agreed to take down a statue of three West Javanese women after radical Muslim groups protested the figures' bare arms and alleged that the three women represented the Trinity.
The Post report says that the Bekasi Islamic Congress wants to "propose the new vision of Bekasi as the city of Syuhada" – a word meaning "martyr" or "person who dies because of Islam."
The paramilitary group is also well underway—one local Islamic group has asked each of its 56 subdistrict branches to send at least 10 people to join it, another Post story reports.
"If the Muslims in the city can unite, there will be no more story about us being openly insulted by other religions," Ahmad Salimin Dani, who leads Bekasi Islamic Missionary Council, according to Compass Direct.
The groups plan to go through with their plans with or without the sport of Bekasi's local administration.
Nationally, the Indonesian government is less than enchanted with hard-line Islamic thought. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently criticized groups intent on "building an Islamic state, something that is now history for us." He said this after police captured several members of a group planning to assassinate several government officials, including Yudhoyono himself.
Recent elections, according to the Economist, suggest that political Islam is not having much success in the general Indonesian population. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds up Indonesia as a model of a nation where "Islam, democracy, modernity and women's rights can co-exist."
On the other hand, Indonesian Christians have been feeling pressure from both radical groups and the legal system, and Bekasi isn't the only part of the nation where hard-line Islamic thought is making an impact. Indonesia's Constitutional Court recently upheld a blasphemy law generally used to protect mainstream Islam, and the parliament of Indonesia's Aceh province passed a law permitting stoning as a penalty for adultery.
Militant Islamic groups in a number of places harass Christians and churches, and Time reports that it is much easier to get a permit to build a mosque than a church. The Post reported in May that more than half of Indonesia's provinces currently have Shari'a law.
"For centuries, Muslims and Christians have been living in harmony and have been co-existing peacefully, but agents [from outside] of extremism and uniformity based on Islamic Shariah law are threatening the peace and harmony of our country," the Rev Gomar Gultom, General Secretary of Indonesia's Communion of Churches, said in a report from Ecumenical News International.
But Jakarta Post readers offered generally unfavorable feedback to the Bekasi declarations.
"Ahmad Salimin Dani's words….are just the empty ravings of a rabble-rouser who conveniently forgot that he and his ilk insulted the Christians, not the other way around," retorted Tami Koestomo, a West Java resident.
"The sharia cannot be forced on people other than Muslims," said Ahmad Ghozali, also from West Java.
"There are many moderate Muslim[s] in Indonesia and around the world that are peace loving and will be a great neighbor for anyone," said Richard from Jakarta. "The problem is those aggressive hard-line Muslims with a narrow mind and limited understanding of the world."