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The state’s failure to prevent two back-to-back attacks on religious minorities signals a rise in intolerance and impunity.
After a 2008 clash in Jakarta during a religious pluralism rally, the government issued an anti-Ahmadiyah ordinance that bars the group from worshiping in public and spreading its teachings. The decree is a step below a 2005 fatwa from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) that orders the government to outlaw the Ahmadiyah.
As long as the MUI supports the decree, however, Anwar says moderate Muslim groups will be reluctant to defend the rights of the Ahmadi.
Amidhan, the chairman of the MUI, disagrees. “The Ahmadiyah are insulting to Islam,” he said. “The fatwa that the Ahmadiyah are kafir [disbelievers] is universal among Islamic scholars, so the escalation [in violence] is not because of the MUI.”
Citizens stunned by the ghastly nature of the Ahmadiyah killings have criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his puny response. Following the Ahmadiyah attack he said he “regretted” the incident and called for inter-religious problems to be solved in a peaceful way.
More recently he promised to look into disbanding any organization that advocates or engages in violence, his strongest condemnation since the Feb. 6 attack. Leaders of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) — one of whom was accused of inciting the attack on the Christian congregation — saw those comments as a direct attack, and thousands of them rallied last week to call for the president’s resignation.
Still, Yudhoyono has failed to condemn the sectarian violence outright, or mention the rights of the Ahmadiyah in his many public speeches. His recent assurances of justice appear aimed more at investors who poured billions of dollars in to the country in 2010.
“SBY lives by the polls, and two-thirds of the public don’t support the Ahmadiyah, so that’s a conclusive argument for why he should keep doing what he’s doing,” said Greg Fealy, a professor of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University. (A recent survey on attitudes toward religion conducted by the Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom, found that more than 60 percent of respondents said they could not accept Ahmadiyah and 45 percent said it should be disbanded.)
Some officials are taking a more proactive defense of religious minorities by pressing the passage of a religious harmony bill that would shield them from violence and intimidation. Other lawmakers, however, blame the Ahmadiyah for provoking the violence.
The roughly 200,000 Ahmadiyah followers in Indonesia consider themselves Muslims. But their interpretation of the Quran irks Islamic hard-liners who say the sect should repent and return to true Islam. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali also the chairman of the Islam-backed United Development Party, wants the group dissolved.
“Our constitution is not based on Shariah [Islamic law], but Pancasila,” he said, referring to a doctrine that recognizes only six official religions, but also allows for the creation of religious organizations. The Ahmadiyah was listed as an official organization with the Department of Justice in 1953.
Indonesia has made progress since opening up to democracy after the fall of long-running dictator Suharto. The government helped negotiate peace accords that quelled bloody sectarian conflicts in Ambon and Poso, which led to the deaths of thousands in the late 1990s.
At that time analysts considered police key to hunting down Islamist militias, such as Laskar Jihad, that were terrorizing Christian communities. Now they worry that a new regulation allowing police to fire live ammunition on rioters could open the door for human rights abuses among a force with an established record of brutality.
“The Ahmadiyah are afraid because of this trauma, so they view any outside force as a threat to them, including the police and the legal system,” said Firdaus Mubarik, an Ahmadiyah spokesperson.
He fears this latest incident could have far-reaching tentacles.
Although the community warned the police that an attack was coming, they took no action, he said, either out of fear or an inability to separate between their duties to the state and their personal views of the Ahmadis.