When I learned that the Christian governor of Jakarta had been convicted and imprisoned for blasphemy, I was stunned. So were my dinner companions: four senior Indonesian political leaders—three Muslims, one Christian.
We were celebrating the end of a grueling six-week tour, traveling the United States and Europe to promote the archipelago’s religious pluralism. We hoped to persuade political, military, academic, and religious leaders to work with Indonesians to overcome extremist Islamist ideology.
Earlier in the trip, we had received the dismaying news that Basuki Tjahaja Purnama—universally known as Ahok—had lost his election bid. But since we were laying a foundation for working with many in the West, at the time we were still encouraged.
With the news of Ahok’s sentencing to two years in prison, a pall fell over our gathering. Our very well-informed companions believed this victory for radicalism might be a prelude to the demise of democracy in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
But there are also reasons for hope.
After years of working on issues of religious persecution, principally in the Islamic world, I became convinced that little would change unless the dominant interpretations of Islam in the region changed.
That led me to pay more attention to Indonesia, a country I have long loved, since it is the largest source of democratic and open Islam. I became a senior fellow at the Leimena Institute, a Christian think tank in the capital, Jakarta, working with Christians and Muslims.
Here is my assessment of the situation, and why American Christians like me should care.
1) The Bad News
The conviction of Ahok culminates a bizarre election for the governorship of Indonesia’s ...1