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The limits of Islamic democracy.
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To take another example, in May of this year, on the outskirts of Jakarta, a Muslim mob threw stones and bags of urine at a church on Ascension Day: the culmination of an intimidation campaign that had begun in January.
One could go on (a Christian center burned by a mob believing that a new church was being built in violation of traditional Islamic law), and the problem is that the government has failed to protect religious minorities, with violence against them on the rise.
For concrete statistics, one need only look at a Guardian report from last month, which points out that “last year, the local Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded 244 acts of violence against religious minorities — nearly double the 2007 figure.”
The Guardian article, which focuses on the case of a civil servant facing a prison sentence for posting “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook, also points to the Indonesian Communion of Churches, which says that around “80 churches have been closed each year since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took power in 2004, and an additional 1,000 congregations have faced harassment.”
This is exactly reminiscent of the security forces’ behavior not only in what is now East Timor but also in the Maluku Islands in 2000-2002, where many Indonesian soldiers cooperated with the Islamist militant group Laskar Jihad’s campaign against Christian Melanesians that killed up to 10,000 Christians.
The trend towards increasing intolerance was also noted by the liberal Muslim writer Irshad Manji, who faced harassment multiple times during her recent book tour in Indonesia to promote her book Allah, Liberty, and Love, which has now been banned in neighboring Malaysia.
Compared with much of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as countries like Pakistan, Indonesia is distant from Islamist theocracy. It should be noted that many of the reports linked to above come from Indonesian outlets like the Jakarta Post. This indicates a commendable degree of press freedom that is by contrast being increasingly eroded in Turkey, which is also upheld as a model for the Muslim world but leads the globe in the number of imprisoned journalists.
Nevertheless, the recent trends in Indonesia point to an environment increasingly intolerant of religious minorities and civil liberties: not only in Aceh, but also the nation in general.
Observers often point to an influx of Wahhabi clerics from the Middle East as the cause, but in my view one should also bear in mind that what Daniel Pipes terms the “Islamic revival,” which began in the 1970s on a global scale, is deeply rooted in issues of identity and cannot simply be put down to oil revenues flowing into Saudi Arabia, has not quite run out of steam.
In sum, one cannot put it any better than the headline of an op-ed by Andreas Harsono in the New York Times: Indonesia today is “no model for Muslim democracy.”
Update from June 6, 2012: Today comes a report in the Jakarta Post, in which an Indonesian think-tank called Charta Politika discusses encroachment of Shari’a into local politics, mentioning the specific case of the city of Taskimalaya in West Java that will soon require all Muslim women — visitors or residents — to wear veils. Again, it should be emphasized that the secular trend that was certainly apparent in the early 1970s is being reversed.
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