In the summer of 2004 I was a lanky missionary kid who didn’t always realize how fortunate I was to be spending my teenage years growing up in Asia. In fact, I took it completely in stride when my family announced we would be taking a week-long vacation at a church member’s vacation home in Indonesia. After all, didn’t everyone go on vacation to Indonesia at some point or another?
Little did I know that this would be my first experience in a Muslim-majority country. At first the mosques were simply fascinating, but as we left the more populated areas and traveled into the countryside I remember starting to feel slightly uncomfortable at the attention we were getting. I was long used to getting curious glances (thanks to my Western appearance), but this was somehow different. I had been a missionary kid for over 10 years and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I realized that it might just be possible my family, and my faith, were not welcome in this part of the world. At the time I had never really heard much about Wahhabi Islam and never connected the radical terrorist organizations in the Middle East with Indonesia. Like so many people, including Christians, I was completely oblivious to the fact that over a thousand Christians had been killed in clashes with Muslims in Indonesia just a few years before.
Nor did I recall even seeing the news when, on Christmas Eve 2000, a series of explosions across nine cities in Indonesia blasted holes into churches and Christian homes, killing at least 18 and wounding more than 100. This high-level and well organized terrorist plot turned out to be a coordinated effort between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist organization based in Southeast Asia. Sadly, the world didn’t pay much attention to this group until they killed over 200 people (including 88 Australians) at a popular night club in the resort city of Bali. It took the events of Sept. 11 and a large death toll of foreigners before the international media decided Muslim fundamentalism in Indonesia was worth paying attention to.
Today, the same thing seems to be happening again. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have alluded to Indonesia as a model for how a “tolerant” and pluralistic Muslim democracy should function. The violence of a decade ago is forgotten, and, outside of domestic news sources and Christian organizations like ICC, little attention is given to hardline groups like the Islamic Defenders Front when they push for the imposition of Sharia law or hurl rotten food and bags of urine at Christian worshippers trying to make their way to church.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the group did manage to make a small splash on the international media radar a few weeks ago for threating to cause “chaos” at a planned Lady Gaga concert. The sold out concert was cancelled and, if you looked closely, some articles even mentioned that the group also had a history of violence towards Christians. Suddenly, for a week at least, news outlets began asking if not all Indonesians seems to be as tolerant as their government would have us believe.
For those of us who noticed that nearly two dozen churches have been closed down over the past few months and at least 20 more are being ordered to shut their doors, the answer to this question is obvious. Local authorities have blithely ignored vague statements from the countries president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, about non-violence and even dismissed rulings from the Supreme Court to re-open sealed churches. When the federal government is too weak or too apathetic to address a rising wave of oppression against minorities, in this case Christians, the stage is set for even greater conflict. With an estimated 20 million Christians versus more than 200 million Muslims, such a conflict will no doubt be heavily one-sided.