Making a Holy Show of Themselves

By Richard Boughton

Here we go again, folks. It’s the story that will not die. The sad epic saga of the Yasmin Church and its tired yet tireless sidewalk-sitting congregation. Yes, it’s a sit-in. Remember those? It’s back to the 60s tonight in Bogor. Shoo-bee doo lang-lang.

Why are they sitting on the sidewalk? Because they have been for the last year and more locked out of their church building by order of the mayor of that city, who in the meanwhile has been ignoring an order from the Supreme Court of the country to reopen the same.

But here the plot thickens – for the mayor himself is captive, whether willing or no, to FORKAMI – not a sushi dish to be eaten with utensils but an abbreviation standing for The Indonesian Communication Forum, although what this organisation communicates other than intolerance and religious bigotry is not known.

For their own part, FORKAMI is holding a stand-in – for every Sunday, and just as religiously as the Yasmin Christians sit, the FORKAMI extremists gather to stand, shout insults and otherwise make pests of themselves. But all in the name of God, mind you. There’s a difference. One can be just a plain old pest or he can be a pest for God.

With so much religious sitting and standing going on, a holy sort of stasis sets in. People grow monolithic. It is rumoured that some have actually turned to stone. Missions become habits and habits become dear. This is what we do. We sit and we stand. And by God we will not be moved.

What ever happened to the Sunday drive, a picnic in the park, a trip to the zoo?

The trouble is no one in power really wants to be officially associated with this problem. Where government and religion in Indonesia are concerned, one needs to cover his own ass, such that he himself may not be accused of doing any more than the Yasmin Christians or the FORKAMI Muslims have done. In other words, it is unanimously considered important and safe to maintain a record of doing nothing constructive, and doing it ever so officially.

Take the recent statement of Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, for instance, that the Yasmin Church dispute does not come under his jurisdiction. No? No. The issue involves a building permit, he says, and is therefore a legal matter, and legal conflicts should be settled by the law.

It was this same Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the same Suryadharma, that just last week issued a statement condemning the entire Shiite branch of Islam as heretical. This, I imagine, will be both a surprise and an affront to the faithful in Shiite majority countries such as Iran and Iraq – countries from which one might be best advised to keep his distance. The statement is, at the very least, distinctly unhelpful in a time where religious tensions are already high, and of course it provides a pretty good hint of how ineffective the ministry would prove even if it were to become involved in the Yasmin standoff.

A Shiite compound in Madura, by the way, was burned to the ground by a mob of Sunni followers in late December of last year.

Lest I seem to single out Muslims for censure, let me be quick to mention as well the Florida pastor, for instance, who last summer decided his church should have a Koran-burning party. And then there are the ultra-orthodox Jews who recently tormented and terrified a little girl over the clothing she had decided to wear to school.

How continually saddened God must be by these hopelessly petty creatures he’s made.

In the meantime, back at the old corral, Bogor mayor Diani Budiarto sings the same silly, bogus tune. This Yasmin kerfuffle is not about religion; it’s about a building. Something seems irregular about the permit. It’s not an issue of tolerance but of stone and mortar. Well, I’ve not seen the place, but it must be one hell of a magnificent palace, some sort of national treasure, I guess, like the Taj Mahal or the Dome of the Rock, to have inspired such fervour and attracted such faithful crowds. Even government legislators, on a recent fact-finding tour to the Yasmin site, were jeered at and jostled by the ever-present Islamic hardliners. All this because of a building permit?

What is clear about what’s happening here, in fact, is that the Indonesian government at all levels, from the bargain basement to the serenading summit, is hopelessly unequal to running its own affairs, let alone providing solutions to the conflicts of its people. Disingenuous dodging is the preferred response.

 

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