24 May 2012

Derailment ahead?

Indonesia has huge potential. Its leaders aren't exaggerating either the natural resources or the human capital that could see the country taking its place at the table with the big guys. But — the author of this article is also not exaggerating. We all moan about the traffic here in Jakarta, but issues like this are a far greater problem.

From The New York Times, reprinted in the International Herald Tribune [capitalization or lack thereof for "the" copied from the Old Gray Lady herself].

Op-Ed Contributor

Indonesia's Rising Religious Intolerance

Published: May 21, 2012
He faces the possibility of up to six years in prison, charged with blasphemy, disseminating hatred and spreading atheism. Radical Muslims came to his office, beat him up, and called the police after reading about his views on Facebook.

Alex is the first atheist in Indonesia to be jailed for his belief, but his case is symptomatic of a wider increase in religious intolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The previous Sunday, I joined a small church in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta, for a service, but found the street blocked by a noisy, angry mob and a few police.

The church, known as HKBP Filadelfia, was forced to close a few years ago, even though the local courts had given permission to open. The local mayor, under pressure from Islamists, has declared a “zero church” policy in his area. For the past two months, the congregation has been blocked from worshiping in the street outside their building, and the atmosphere has grown increasingly tense.

When I was there, I felt it could have erupted into violence at any moment. The radicals in control of the loudspeaker shouted “Christians, get out,” and “anyone not wearing a jilbab (headscarf), catch them, hunt them down.”

World leaders and commentators like to point to Indonesia as a model of tolerance and pluralism and an example of how Islam and democracy are not incompatible. To a certain extent they are right — Indonesia does have a great tradition of pluralism, a generally tolerant brand of Islam, and has made a remarkable transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

The majority of Indonesian Muslims remain moderate, and are appalled by rising intolerance. But three factors are undermining religious freedom: the silence and passivity of the majority, growing radicalization, and the weakness of the government at every level.

It is not only religious tolerance and freedom that is under threat, but also the rule of law. Another church, GKI Yasmin in Bogor, an hour from Jakarta, has approval from the Supreme Court to open, but the local mayor, again under pressure from Islamists, refuses to allow it. A district mayor is in defiance of the Supreme Court, and no one says a word.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is perhaps the most persecuted. Violent attacks against this group, whose beliefs are considered heretical by many conservative Muslims, have increased significantly. Last year I met victims of one of the worst outbreaks of violence, an attack on Ahmadis in Cikeusik on Feb. 6, 2011, which left three people dead.

One man described how he was stripped naked and beaten severely and a machete was held at his throat. He was dragged through the village and dumped in a truck like a corpse. Another man fled into a fast-flowing river, pursued by attackers throwing rocks and shouting “kill, kill, kill.”

He hid in a bush, dripping wet and extremely cold, for four hours. A third suffered a broken jaw, while a fourth, pursued by men armed with sickles, machetes and spears, was detained by the police for three days, treated as a suspect not a victim.

Of the 1,500-strong mob that attacked 21 Ahmadis, only 12 people were arrested and prosecuted, according to The New York Times. Their sentences were between three and six months.

These are by no means the only cases. Earlier this month, radicals attacked a lecture by the liberal Canadian Muslim Irshad Manji. In Aceh, 17 churches were forced to close.

I met other church pastors who talked about their churches being closed, and a woman, the Rev. Luspida, who was beaten while one of her congregation was knifed. “We have no religious freedom here anymore,” she told me. “We need to give a message to the president. He cannot say the situation is good here. We need to remind him our situation is very critical, and he should do something for the future of Indonesia. Support from outside is very important to pressure the president.”

As Indonesia faces its Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council — a process applied periodically to every member state — serious questions should be asked about the country’s future. If action is not taken, Indonesia’s accomplishments over the past decade could be jeopardized.

It is not too late. There are some excellent Indonesian Muslim organizations such as the Wahid Institute, founded by former President Abdurrahman Wahid, and the Maarif Institute, whose work should be supported.

If President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono acted, he would have the silent majority behind him. His government made progress in tackling terrorism, but it should not shirk its responsibility to fight the ideology that underpins terror. His government should stop giving in to the radicals and start protecting the rights of all Indonesians to choose, change and practice their religion, as provided in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I went to meet Alex Aan because as a Christian, I believe in the freedom of religion, which includes the right not to believe.

Benedict Rogers works for the international human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, based in London.


I had half a suitcase full of oleh-oleh (souvenir gifts) to take back to London with me, but the largesse had to be whittled down to accommodate all the files I need for our tax returns — processing the raw material for our accountants is the reason I need to spend a month in the UK before heading to the States.

Unexpectedly, I found myself a recipient of oleh-oleh as well as a future distributor. Agus phoned the other evening to request that I drop down to Kem Chicks if I had time. I did and was presented with snacks and an extraordinary coconut shell handbag. With his wife and two daughters, he had been visiting Rajapolah, an area in west Java famed for its traditional handicrafts. The local artisans work mostly in natural materials, coconut, rattan, bamboo, and water hyacinth, considered an invasive weed in most places but creatively processed by clever Indonesians. For anyone who, like me, has no idea what woven water hyacinth fiber looks like, this is it, via Google Images:

Here is Agus when he met Myrna in March, in his usual smart shirt and tie:
And here he is in what could easily be Californian vacation mode:

Our snacks. The ones on the right are sweet, and one bite transported me instantly back to eating Sugar Smacks when I was a child. Wikipedia check reveals that this cereal appeared in 1953, when I was five; almost sixty years later, it's still around but now billed as Honey Smacks.

 I may have quoted this before somewhere, but there's a saying that the coconut is Allah's most useful creation. You can drink its liquid, eat its flesh, turn the shell into an eating vessel and then, if all else fails, use it as a begging bowl. As I now know, there's also the purse possibility. Ingenious use of materials!
 A close-up to show how painstakingly made this is.
I asked Agus for photos of the family on holiday. He obliged with the one photo of himself above and others of his wife and daughters, Vera,  Fathiya, and Athifa.

Myrna's visit: day 1, stop 2 — 29 February — Puncak, Taman Bunga

After the tea plantation, we had a choice: animal park or flower park. Because we still needed to grab a bite to eat and get to Dewi's by 3:30, we chose the latter, less extensive destination, even though Taman Safari has more spectacular views.

On the way to Taman Bunga Nusantara, we drove through Cipanas, Cianjur, home to the presidential palace renovated by Soekarno from a 1740 Dutch building. The wedding of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's son took place here last November: 1000 guests for this "intimate" ceremony, 3600 for the reception at Jakarta Convention Center.
 Rice fields dotted the landscape.
 Topiary at Taman Bunga.
 Unsurprisingly, crews of gardeners were hard at work.
Best photo of the day: Connie's snap at just the right moment.
American garden with split-rail fencing.
Mystery pods.

 Beautiful variety of lavender.
 Purwanto in Japanese garden.
Myrna with gardener in the orchid house.
 Another of Connie's perfectly timed pics:

On our way from the flower park to the restaurant Dewi had recommended, we came across an irresistible nursery:
 I came home with one of these cacti (photo by Connie).

 Lunch at Rindu Alam, Puncak Pass:
Ikan bakar (barbecued fish)
 Ikan goreng (fried fish)

 Two of Connie's photos at restaurant:

We failed to take photos at the antique shop where Connie bought her iron, Myrna picked up two old wayang kulits, and I found kue (cake) makers, an old metal box for Michael, and a crazed W: Loonen Batavia plate.
 An iron I bought later at the annual Jakarta Convention Center Inacraft exhibition in greedy imitation of Connie's purchase. From Yogyakarta.
Myrna's puppets, Arjuna and his brother Yudistira (thanks to Anggoro for identifying the latter), back in Pinnacle — a beautiful but costly framing job. Successful flattening, too; they'd been badly warped over the years.
Two scenes along the road Connie took from the car.