Lombokschwitz, Indonesia’s Ahmadi Shame

By Vyt Karazija

The rising tide of religious intolerance continues unchecked in the great “secular democracy” of Indonesia. Diani Budiarto, the mayor of Bogor, only 60 kilometres from Jakarta, thumbs his nose at the government, the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the essence of Pancasila itself by continuing to victimise members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church.

“No church should be on a street named after a Muslim,” he said. Scholars are apparently still poring over the 114 Suras in the Koran to find any which might support his bigoted stance.

Elsewhere in Java, and Sumatra and Sulawesi, Christian churches are burned, parishioners attacked and anyone who does not adhere slavishly to Islamic orthodoxy is marginalised. The police stand by and watch. The president, his hands tied by fundamentalist coalition partners, does nothing, thereby condoning the attacks.

In Cikeusik, West Java, 17-year-old Dani bin Misra was released from jail to a hero’s welcome. He had received only a three-month sentence for the violent murder of Roni Pasaroni, a member of the Ahmadiyah sect, during a vicious siege of their home. Their house was torched by a fanatically screaming mob, two of its occupants set upon as they tried to escape, then clubbed and slashed to death.

In a stunning example of Indonesian jurisprudence, one of the survivors was sentenced to six months’ jail “for provoking the attack,” simply by being in the house. The police stood by and watched. The president called for the perpetrators to be caught and punished, but as is usual in Indonesian courts, the pressure from hardliners ensured that prosecutors didn’t even bother to call eye-witnesses.

Hardline Muslims don’t approve of the peaceful Ahmadis. Oblivious to the irony of her words, one resident of Cikeusik said, “We had to clean our village. This is no place for the followers of a cult.” The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a fundamentalist band of uneducated thugs for hire, don’t approve of the Ahmadis either. In fact, they don’t seem to approve of anything that deviates from the ideology being forced upon Indonesians by the fundamentalists’ Arabic masters.

The FPI operates with impunity because the police let them. “As a part of society, the FPI is our partner … in a positive way,” said national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar. What else can he say? His boss, Timur Pradopo, is reported to be a foundation member of the FPI. And despite knowing this, the president still appointed him national police chief. What does that tell you about SBY’s commitment to tolerance?

But all of these violations of religious freedoms, all of this intolerance, violence and bigotry, don’t really impact Bali, do they? We can all relax in paradise because these insanities perpetrated in the name of religion are a long way away in West Java, North Sumatra and Sulawesi, right?

Wrong.

Just 35 kilometres away lies Lombok, touted as “the new Bali” and a fledgling tourist destination. Lombok, which is predominately Muslim, also is home to a population of Ahmadiyah – Muslims who have so offended fundamentalists by their belief in a variant of mainstream Islam that they are not even permitted to call themselves Muslims.

This peaceful sect, which has been in Indonesia since 1925, has grown in numbers worldwide by 400 percent in the last 10 years. In Lombok, their numbers have been savagely reduced by violent persecution by the local population. Their homes have been destroyed, their land and possessions stolen. Forcible conversions to the “true Islam” have decimated their numbers. Those who have asserted their right to freedom of worship have been hounded into a ghetto in Mataram.

The run-down Transito shelter in Mataram is now home to 140 Ahmadis, crammed into a shelter where sanitation is non-existent and where the government cut off electricity three years ago. The government has banned them from returning to their homes and has refused to register them as residents of Lombok. Because they are not residents, their food aid was stopped last year, and they are denied the free gas stoves supposedly distributed by the government to all citizens. They are the forgotten people of Lombok. Presumably everyone is waiting for them to die off in poverty and squalor so that the problem will go away.

What motivated the Lombok population to begin to destroy their own neighbours? Well for a start, maybe the 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) against the Ahmadis started the ball rolling. The government, which had every chance to reinforce the propaganda that Indonesia is a secular nation by nipping this in the bud, dropped the ball and did nothing until 2008. At which time, inexplicably, a ministerial decree ratified the unconstitutional religious decree by making it law. Since then, fuel has been poured on the fire by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali’s call for a complete ban on Ahmadiyah. To the uneducated and the poor, the message is clear. The Ahmadis are fair game.

The latest lame attempt at controlling religious thought comes from the government’s draft Religious Harmony Bill. This masterpiece of bad drafting requires the consideration of “the local community’s wisdom” prior to the construction of a place of worship. Wisdom? It also wants to specifically regulate how people should spread their faith, celebrate religious holidays, construct places of worship, hold funerals and organise religious education. Have any of these intellectual giants considered the impact of a national law like that on a place like Bali? It sounds like a law to promote intolerance, not eliminate it.

And once intolerance takes root, it’s hard to eradicate it. In Lombok, it’s not just the Ahmadis that are targets now. Ask any expat unfortunate enough to have a villa with Hindu iconography as part of the design. Ask them about the vandalism. Ask expats who have been brazen enough to politely ask their village chiefs to turn the volume down on the 4.30am to dawn hyper-amplified call to prayer. Oh wait, you can’t ask them – they’re now in jail.

And ask poor, deaf Sadarudin, a harmless disabled Ahmadi resident of the Lombokschwitz concentration camp, who was the target of an attempted beheading by an intolerant coward with a machete. Ask him what he thinks about the politics of religious intolerance in Indonesia. Ask him what he thinks about Pancasila, and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of choice of worship. Ask him what he thinks of the president of a “secular democracy” who allows his country to slide into a fundamentalist theocratic regime while his pious, hypocritical elites grow fat on graft.

Oh wait, you can’t – he’s fighting for his life in a Mataram hospital and can’t talk to anybody. Shame, Lombok. Shame, Indonesia.

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