Republic of Fanatical Islam

The Indonesian judiciary places a very low value on human life – at least the life of people who happen not to be a certain type of Muslim. That was the message judges made clear last Thursday, when they sentenced a 17-year-old to just three months’ jail for the manslaughter of a member of the disapproved Ahmadiyah sect.

Dani bin Misra was found guilty of smashing the victim’s skull with a stone and will be free by now due to time already served in detention. Misra was one of a dozen Muslim extremists sentenced last week over their violence in February towards Ahmadiyah members in Cikeusik, West Java, in which three Ahmadis died and five others were injured.

The leader of the thousand-strong militant mob, Idris bin Mahdani, was given a five-and-a-half-month prison spell after he was convicted of the illegal possession of a machete. The others received similarly light terms.

Human rights organisations at home and abroad condemned the sentences and said they sent a “chilling message” that the judiciary ruled at the mercy of Islamist groups. These token sentences certainly do not represent justice.  Instead, it seems there is one, favourable, rule book for Islamists and another, less favourable, for those of other beliefs.

In a pluralistic society built upon the bedrock of diversity and recognising six official religions, this is tragic. What is worse is the government’s continuing ineptitude and outright unwillingness to strike Islamist militancy on the head, due in no small part to the existence of conservative Muslim elements in its delicate structure.

More intolerance was unfortunately seen in this country again this week, with the torching of homes used as churches in Riau.

Indonesia is making progress on many fronts, including on the political world stage; and its economy is performing well. It is in the key area of rights and tolerance that the country is fast flipping backwards, and this wave of shame threatens to unravel advancements.

President Barack Obama is due in Bali later this year, after a trip to Jakarta last November. Will he echo his speech then of Indonesia being renowned for its upholding of “unity in diversity,” the founding motto, or will he have to backtrack and strike out at those hardliners who seek to turn the country on its head?

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