Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Unrest in Indonesia

For those who have been following this story in the news in Indonesia:

"On June 9, 2008, Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni, Home Minister Mardiyanto, and Attorney General Hendarman Supanji signed a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities which deviate from the principal teachings of Islam,” including “the spreading of the belief that there is another prophet with his own teachings after Prophet Mohammed.” Violations of the decree are subject to up to five years of imprisonment."

From the same press release from Human Rights Watch:

"The Ahmadiyah faith was founded in what is now Pakistan in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Ahmadiyah community is banned in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and has come under attack in Bangladesh. There are approximately 200,000 Ahmadis in Indonesia."

The Ahmadiyah community also has its own web site here. In a press release issued by the sect, they lament that, "[t]his decree belligerently violates the human rights of every Ahmadi Muslim in Indonesia and ignores the principles of religious freedom enshrined in the country’s Constitution."

To their credit, not all Muslims in Indonesia support the decree. From Al Jazeera English, "[a]n Indonesian Muslim group is planning to file a lawsuit against the government saying it is undermining religious freedoms by deciding to impose special curbs on a minority religious sect condemned as "deviant" by some protesters."

Sadly though, "a demonstration in support of religious freedom was attacked by supporters of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) wielding bamboo sticks – injuring a dozen people."

From the aforementioned Human Rights Watch press release:

“The Indonesian government needs to show it takes attacks on religious minorities seriously by prosecuting those responsible,” said Adams. “If Munarman remains at large it will fuel suspicion of support in some government quarters for his aims. The government has a duty to protect Ahmadis and other religious minorities – that’s a bedrock principle of modern Indonesia.”

"Indonesia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in February 2006. In doing so, it agreed to comply with all the provisions of that treaty, including that, “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” (Article 18(2)), and “persons belonging to ... minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion” (Article 27)."

According to the web site for the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia to the United States:

"Six world religions are formally recognized in Indonesia: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Nevertheless, other faiths can be found, especially in isolated societies. These religions, called traditional faiths, are also accepted. According to recent counts, approximately 85 percent of the population is Muslim, 11 percent is Christian (Protestants and Catholics), and 4 percent is Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, or traditional."

The official philosophical foundation for the Indonesian state is Pancasila, which translates into "Five Principles". The first principle of Pancasila, much to the chagrin of those of us who are atheists, stresses belief in a one and only supreme God. However, when you look at the six formally recognized religions listed above, you might notice that one very well known religion is missing. If you haven't figured it out yet, I will give you a hint: it starts with the letter "J"!

The second principle is much more admirable, proclaiming a just and civilized humanity, while the fifth principle calls for social justice for all of Indonesia's people. Surely, the treatment of the Ahmadiyah sect by the government and by the extremist radicals who commit violence against them goes against the second and fifth principles of Pancasila.

Now why is an atheist like me blogging about the persecution of a marginal Muslim sect in Indonesia? Well, I for one believe that pluralism and tolerance is something worth defending, even if it means standing up for the right of followers of a religious minority to practice their faith free from persecution in a country on the other side of the world. Extremists are bullies who must be fought and defeated wherever they raise their head, because if they are allowed to win, it strikes another blow to the principle of secular government. While those of us who are atheists probably wish all religious people would become atheists too, just as Christians and Muslims wish all people would follow their creeds, it's just not going to happen. Therefore, the best society one can reasonably expect to have is one like we have here in the United States where all can exercise freedom of religion or freedom of no religion. It might not be perfect, but it sure as hell beats the alternative.

If you are all not tired of my advocacy and activism yet, I plan to post a letter I will be sending to the Indonesian Embassy regarding the Ahmadiyah sect. I also sent an e-mail to the address provided on the Ahmadiyah web site offering my support. I am interested to see if they reply, especially since I mentioned in my e-mail that I am an atheist.

1 comment:

tina FCD said...

Can't wait to hear what they have to say.