IF INDONESIA continues to descend into religious intolerance, the world will lose “an important potential force for good in the Muslim-majority world”, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) warned this week.
A report on Indonesia was published after a three-week visit to the country in April, which produced a “profoundly mixed assessment”, researchers write. On the one hand, CSW was “deeply concerned that the rise of religious intolerance, identity politics, and violations of freedom of religion or belief . . . has been further exacerbated by an election campaign”. On the other, it was encouraged that the election was held “smoothly, peacefully, credibly, legitimately, and fairly” (News, 26 April).
Indonesia is at a “crossroads”, the report says, “between a moderate, multi-religious, pluralistic Muslim-majority democratic society and a more extreme Islamist and intolerant society”. It urges President Joko Widodo, elected for a second term, to help the country to “return to being a role model of a moderate Muslim-majority nation in which the rights of people of all faiths are respected and protected. If not, then Indonesia will descend further on the path of intolerance towards extremism, and the world will have lost an important potential force for good in the Muslim-majority world.”
Among its recommendations is that the international community “stop describing Indonesia as a role model of tolerance”. Concerns listed include the use of blasphemy laws (News, 2 November 2018).
The April elections followed “the most divisive presidential campaign in the country’s recent history”, the report says, featuring “religious intolerance and identity politics as much more prominent themes”. But it notes that a majority of voters opted for a President who “clearly championed Indonesia’s diversity”, in contrast to his opponent, General Prabowo Subianto, who “has built a coalition of supporters that included radical-Islamist and ultra-conservative Muslim organisations”.
Featured in the report is an interview with a leader in the Ahmadiyya community who praised the President’s defence of minority rights; and praise for grass-roots interfaith initiatives, including the work of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Felix Supranto. One week before the election, a meeting of religious leaders was held in the capital, Jakarta, to build on the document on human fraternity signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azwhar earlier this year (News, 8 February).
The charity’s researchers spent time during Holy Week with Santa Maria Tak Bercela, one of three churches attacked by suicide bombers last year (News, 18 May 2018). It was “packed with thousands of worshippers, overflowing into the church compound and even into the street outside” on Easter Day. “A church that a year ago was a scene of terror and trauma was this year a place teeming with faith and life.”
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation: it is home to an estimated 13 per cent of the world’s Muslim population.