Anti-Christian extremism in Indonesia is rising. The Setara Institute, a human rights think tank based in Jakarta, recorded 17 anti-Christian incidents in 2008. In 2009, the number was 18. In 2010, the number jumped to 75. It is important to recognize that the vast majority of attacks and incidents are not reflected in these numbers. They are only an indicator of a very disturbing trend.
In 2010, there were some very disturbing incidents that set the context for this increase in extremism.
- In Bekasi, a gathering of Islamic Organizations at the Bekasi Islamic Conference led to the creation of a group called the Bekasi Islamic Presidium. This group was tasked with preparing local mosques for a religious war through the training of paramilitary units.
- Churches were burned and shut down, and the construction of new Church buildings was stopped. Sadly this was not exceptional, but widespread. Areas of Indonesia which had previously been peaceful saw an outbreak of religiously motivated violence.
- Perhaps most alarming is the stance of local authorities who have both failed to restrain extremist groups and overtly stopped Christians from meeting. In 2010, the police were responsible for or condoned 56 violations of religious freedom.
Sadly, in 2011, there has been a continuation of this pattern.
The Indonesian constitution provides for freedom of religion and accords “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion and belief.” Despite the legal protections, provincial and local laws have been used to restrict religious freedom.
One example of this is when a local law requires Christians to obtain a certain amount of signatures from the community to build a church. In one case, the church obtained the necessary signatures to build. Later, Islamic hardliners intimidated people into withdrawing their signatures, and police blocked construction. The right to worship freely must include a place to worship freely.
Indonesia has been known for its diversity and openness. But with rising extremist groups, there has been a corresponding rise in religious-related incidents. The Indonesian government needs to realize that its non-confrontational approach towards extremists is only disrupting the peace instead of establishing it.
The question is still unanswered, “Which Indonesia will emerge?” A modern, democratic defender of human rights, or an intolerant, quasi-Islamic state that uses mob rule and terror?