Having blogged about and expressing my support for the proposed Cordoba House near the former World Trade Center site in downtown Manhattan, I read with interest the developing story of a similar situation taking place in Indonesia. Only this time, the roles of majority and minority religions have changed.
From this BBC article:
For the last few weeks, a group of Christians have been holding their Sunday prayer services on an empty plot of land - resulting in violent clashes between them and the majority Muslims.
The Christians say the land belongs to them, and they were given permission by the local government to pray here.
Violence has already broken out over this matter.
Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak, and a church elder, Hasian Lumbantoruan Sihombing, were attacked as they, along with HKBP worshippers, were on their way to a Sunday service at the church’s construction site at Ciketing village. Building plans a were halted following protests from residents and hardline groups.
As with the Cordoba House project, also known as Park51, there have been calls for the Christians to move to another location in the hopes of putting a stop to further Muslim attacks.
In response, "[t]he church’s spokesman, Judianto Simandjuntak, said the congregation would continue holding their services at the current location in Ciketing."
“We will remain in Ciketing because we have the constitutional right to perform religious services.”
The already tense situation has the potential to get uglier. The BBC reporter who wrote the article linked to above interviewed "Khairul Fuad, a long-time resident,... a devout Muslim [but of course, right?], and a family man."
The article quotes him as saying, "The land belong to us, and the majority of the people who live around it are Muslims. There was a rumour that to get that land, those Christians didn't tell the people they wanted to build a place of worship." Switch Muslims and Christians and what does that remind you of?
More menacing are the words of Murhali Barda, described as the local leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders' Front.
"There is no problem with praying. But when they are there with a mission to build a place of worship, it is unacceptable," he told me as he showed me around Bekasi's oldest mosque.
"If we start calling for Holy War, it doesn't matter if we live or die," he said, smiling. "If there is violence that results from this, then the Christians only have themselves to blame."
It wouldn't surprise me if this story is starting to make the rounds of the wingnut echo chamber here in the United States. I can almost here them declaring "You see, we're supposed to bend over for a mosque at Ground Zero and the Muslims are attacking Christians for wanting to have a church in a Muslim country!"
If so, I would say they have it backwards. One of the points I raised in my post on the Cordoba House is that letting it be built near the World Trade Center can give us the moral standing to forcefully condemn the lack of reciprocity in Muslim majority countries. Allowing the intolerant to prevail in our own country emboldens the intolerant elsewhere. It also plays into something I have observed among religious believers, which is the zero-sum mentality they have with regard to other religions. Allow members of Religion B to openly worship, and somehow it is seen as a loss by members of Religion A.
Furthermore, for those here in the United States who might try to use the situation in Indonesia as justification for opposing the Cordoba House, they would do well to notice that there are Indonesians of all faiths, including Muslims, who condemn the behavior of the militant Muslims.
From the same BBC article:
The problems in Bekasi have caught the attention of the entire nation.
In Jakarta, Indonesians of different faiths joined forces, raising their voices in unison in support of a more secular Indonesia.
The constitution guarantees the rights of citizens to practise their religion freely.
The protesters say they want their government to take action and uphold the principles of this country.
Nevertheless, the Indonesian government could probably use a little more prodding to give it some backbone in cracking down on the militants. There is always the temptation to give in to the militants in the hope that it will appease them, but as the shopworn argument goes, appeasing them will only embolden them further. Here is the link to the Indonesian Embassy in the United States. Tell them, politely, of course, that the principle of religious freedom should be upheld.