Sickness of the Spirit

Sickness of the Spirit

By Richard Boughton

What are they afraid of?

It is the first question that comes to mind when I read of reactionary religious mobs, shrill pronouncements, pushy protesters, violent vigilantes. What is it that they fear? If their religion is, as they say, the true way, the unassailable word of God, a sanctuary of eternal peace and assurance, why should what is therefore false become the cause of such a paranoid stir?

Should not the misguided, ignorant or otherwise obtuse among us be rather the objects of pity than hostility? If truth be truth, what legitimate threat can lie in falsehood?

Or is God Himself unsure and unable and therefore in need of human assistance? Is His a conditional truth, a weak-kneed stance which must teeter and wobble in the face of dissention? Is this what is truly believed, or rather feared, among the faithful?

Again and again we see the arm of man applied in the defence of an almighty God – whom, it seems, is after all more ostensible than almighty. The Ahmadiyah must be banished or put to death; the Shiite must be jailed or expelled or at least kept silent; the church must be closed, the parishioners harassed; the Jew must be denied and his passport disallowed. In fact, according to the list of the six recognised religions of Indonesia, he does not even exist.

In Bogor, an order of the Supreme Court of the nation is ignored and the Yasmin church there remains closed to this day, its doors locked by an obstinate mayor and an ever-redundant Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) mob which shows up every Sunday just as religiously as they might do at the mosque (and might have better done, for that matter).

In Sumatra, the longstanding Batak congregation is barred from the free use of land which they own, because their intention is to build a church, and the presence of a church would cause… well, who knows what horrors. “Not in my town!” one man declares. “If a mall instead, or a parking lot or a warehouse, okay.”

In Cikeusik, West Java, three Ahmadiyah sect members are killed, dozens beaten by locally sanctioned thugs and fanatics. These Ahmadiyahs, you understand, have departed from true Islam in the belief that traditional Islam itself has departed from Mohammad’s original teachings.

Therefore they must be killed? Why? What are the killers afraid of? How is it that the surety of their own belief is so fragile in the face of another?

Is it not ironic that a faith that so suffered from the Christian Crusades of old now embraces the same brutal and malicious agenda? No greater damage than this was ever done to Christ; and no greater damage can be done to Mohammad, wherein love becomes hate and truth its victim.

And during the holy month of Ramadan the hate increases. Not content with fasting for their own sake as a means of worshipping Allah, some believers (and I use the term loosely) take to the streets to attack businesses and other private parties which have failed to observe the fast.

Restaurants are trashed, bars destroyed, employees beaten. Some can fast from food, apparently, but not from bloodshed. What is the psychology behind it, if not fear? Do they imagine that violence will make their holiness apparent, or that people, once beaten, once injured, once ruined, will see the shining truth of their tormentors’ religious cause?

“Love thine enemy,” said Jesus, in whom the Muslims believe as a prophet. And Mohammad himself said: “If one amongst the pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure.”

He who has ears, let him hear.

I believe that a sickness of the spirit is clearly manifest in the capers of the extremist periphery and that most good people of any and all faiths are well aware of the evil contained therein. But mere awareness is not good enough. It needs action, education, proactive measures at the level of religious, government and law-enforcement sectors.

And yet what we get, so far, from the highest echelons is hypocrisy. Consider the recent statement, for example, from Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in reference specifically to violence done to Moslem Rohingya sect members in Myanmar. “Indonesia,” he said, “has consistently rejected discrimination based on religion, ethnicity or any other reason,” and would “emphasise its opposition to any kind of human rights violations.”

Really? You could have fooled the rest of us. What country are you living in, Marty? For while Indonesia, indeed, speaks out in favour of politically and religiously acceptable Muslim sect members such as the Rohingya in Myanmar, the intolerance proceeds apace at home where marginal people of different beliefs and cultures continue to be tirelessly bullied, discounted, molested and disinvested under the very noses of those who supposedly so fervently oppose such violations. High-level disingenuousness such as this is simply another aspect of the problem itself.

Let us be brave, then; let us be honest. And most of all, let us be active.

He who has eyes to see, let him see.

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