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The below article demonstrates how the largest Muslim country in the world is becoming more fundamental in politics and beliefs, and thus more limits on Christians are sure to follow.

The

Michael Vatikiotis: Islamizing Indonesia

International Herald Tribune

http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=us&ie=UTF8&scoring=d&q=indonesia+christian

SINGAPORE – Amid global fears about the spread of Islamic militancy, the last thing anyone wants to hear about is creeping fundamentalism in Indonesia , the world’s largest Muslim nation. But these fears have become more palpable in recent weeks.

Indonesia ‘s highest Muslim body has issued religious edicts banning mixed marriages, religious pluralism and interfaith prayers. A series of attacks has forced the closure of Christian churches. And in the province of Aceh , where the government has reached an agreement with the pro-independence movement to end a long-running insurgency, a woman was publicly flogged and more than a dozen men have been caned in the past three months for breaching newly introduced Shariah, or Islamic law.

Some Indonesians are worried about the trend this pattern of events suggests. As many as seven districts in Indonesia , from West Java to South Sulawesi and Madura, already have enforced some kind of Shariah, something they can do under Indonesia ‘s wide-ranging autonomy law.

The liberal Muslim scholar Syafi’i Anwar complains about what he calls the “creeping Shariah-ization of Indonesia .” He frets that the country’s political leadership is paying no attention to the spread of Islamic law, which he believes is poorly understood and manipulated by local politicians to bolster their popularity. ” Indonesia has no credible religious leaders, and we don’t know where we are heading,” he laments.

Indeed, the untimely death on Monday of one of Indonesia’s most prominent liberal Islamic scholars, Nurcholish Madjid, leaves a huge gap in a country where crude religious rhetoric mixing dogma with mysticism finds a ready audience among people who have given up expecting justice from secular quarters.

Lately, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has sought to allay concerns that Indonesia was drifting toward fundamentalism. “You may read from time to time the voice of small radical groups,” Yudhoyono said. “But this voice will not change the fact that mainstream Indonesia will continue to be moderate, tolerant and democratic.”

Democracy means that extremists can express themselves more freely. One of the 11 fatwas issued by the influential Council of Ulama at the end of July states that Islamic interpretations based on liberalism, secularism and pluralism “contradict Islamic teachings.” The fear in conservative Islamic circles is that political openness will erode religious values and allow proselytizing by Christians.

Indonesians have already rejected the idea of their country becoming an Islamic state, however, and are not inclined to vote for hard-line Islamic parties. Two years ago Indonesian legislators voted to reject the insertion of Shariah provisions in the country’s constitution.

Most Indonesians are not moved by rigid religious dogma. The middle ground in Indonesian politics is secular and tolerant, and for any avowedly Islamic party to win a majority it would need to cast off any notion of altering the basis of a state that is home to millions of Christians and Hindus as well. A popular grassroots party, the Prosperous Justice Party, was forced to subordinate support for Shariah to a secular reform platform in its manifesto – though many suspect that the party still promotes Shariah.

But in a country where democracy is new and political parties are still underdeveloped, religion is a powerful mobilizing force and is subject to exploitation for political ends. Witness how hard it has been for the government to ban known terrorist organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah for fear of alienating support. The Ministry of Religious Affairs refuses to bring charges against Muslims who have forced the closure of almost two dozen churches in recent weeks, blaming Christians instead for not seeking legal permits to worship.

The use of Shariah for political ends is even more worrying, as this has a lasting impact on society. In Aceh, Shariah was introduced as a government ploy to draw off popular support for Aceh’s independence movement. The idea was that Shariah would help impart a sense of autonomy and Islamic identity and persuade the long-suffering Acehnese that Jakarta was giving them what they wanted.

Under Shariah, women in Aceh must wear head scarves and are less free to mingle with men. Public floggings for convicted gamblers and drinkers have already taken place. Yet in more liberal quarters of Acehnese society there has been an outcry over the barbarity and abuse of human rights that public caning involves.

The problem with mixing Islam and politics is that a dogmatic view tends to prevail because of Muslims’ fears of being branded apostates. Indonesia is not becoming an Islamic state anytime soon, but its political leaders are prone to exploiting Islam for short-term ends that could have lasting consequences.

But in a country where democracy is new and political parties are still underdeveloped, religion is a powerful mobilizing force and is subject to exploitation for political ends. Witness how hard it has been for the government to ban known terrorist organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah for fear of alienating support. The Ministry of Religious Affairs refuses to bring charges against Muslims who have forced the closure of almost two dozen churches in recent weeks, blaming Christians instead for not seeking legal permits to worship.

The use of Shariah for political ends is even more worrying, as this has a lasting impact on society. In Aceh, Shariah was introduced as a government ploy to draw off popular support for Aceh’s independence movement. The idea was that Shariah would help impart a sense of autonomy and Islamic identity and persuade the long-suffering Acehnese that Jakarta was giving them what they wanted.

Under Shariah, women in Aceh must wear head scarves and are less free to mingle with men. Public floggings for convicted gamblers and drinkers have already taken place. Yet in more liberal quarters of Acehnese society there has been an outcry over the barbarity and abuse of human rights that public caning involves.

The problem with mixing Islam and politics is that a dogmatic view tends to prevail because of Muslims’ fears of being branded apostates. Indonesia is not becoming an Islamic state anytime soon, but its political leaders are prone to exploiting Islam for short-term ends that could have lasting consequences.