January 27, 2017
There is no doubt that Indonesia’s Muslim
leanings have shifted to a more intolerant state from where they were 10 years
ago. One needs only to see the recent turmoil to understand the gravity of this
shift: the explicit acceptance of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the massive
turnout at the divisive 4/11 and 2/12 rallies last year and the support by many
for FPI leader Rizieq Shihab’s aggressive and demeaning description of
Christians is a small sample of many indications.
But one needs to understand that this is
not a big-bang phenomenon. Indonesia’s growing intolerance has been brewing for
longer than one would want to recognize. We may recount that in 2008, the FPI
burned down houses of Ahmadiyah followers, in 2009, the Bekasi government
closed the HKBP Filadelfia church, in 2010; the Bogor government defied the Supreme
Court’s decision to allow the establishment of the GKI Yasmin church and in
2012 Shia Muslims in Sampang, Madura, were relocated by force.
According to data from the National
Violence Monitoring System (NVMS), there has been a constant upward trend of
inter and intra-religious conflict, starting as far back as 2004 (four cases in
2004, 27 in 2008, 101 in 2011 and 257 in 2014), most of which involved Muslims.
Undoubtedly, the politicization of divisive
religious sentiment by opportunistic politicians and the lack of interfaith
dialogue have significantly contributed to this shift. However, one needs to
understand that such variables are only agent-variables incentivized to
increase intolerance by a permissive system; and it is this system that lacks
A key component of the system that bears
responsibility for engineering a suitable climate for the fermentation of
religious intolerance is the obsolete Blasphemy Law No. 1 of 1965, as well as
Article 156a of the Criminal Code.
This Blasphemy Law is at the centre of
Indonesia’s rising religious intolerance, as it is a primary cog that has
habituated a sense of intolerant religious entitlement. The core problem of
this law lies in the fact that blasphemy has never been clearly defined.
In theory, the law allows anyone to
criminalize others for anything he or she subjectively perceives as blasphemous
based on his or her religion. In practice, courts will refer to prominent
religious bodies like the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which are supposed to
be less subjective and fairer but turn out to lack public trust, hold the
monopoly over Islamic interpretations and are biased toward the majority.
It is no wonder that at least 49 of the 73
blasphemy cases heard in courts since 1968 concerned sects and critical
assessments of religion that have no intention to be blasphemous.
As a result of this vagueness, the
socio-religious culture that is bred is a culture of subjective imposition
giving majority religions the right to impose their will according to what they
subjectively believe is right and prosecute what they subjectively believe is
wrong. Discussions on whether or not such rights exist and how far they extend
are subverted due to the fact that the existence and vagueness of the Blasphemy
Law in effect already implies that such rights do exist and that their extent
is endless. Though an important discussion on this matter did occur and was
left open with the decision of the law’s judicial review in 2010 (the
Constitutional Court voted to preserve the law but commented that “changes”
needed to be made), nobody followed through.
It is this culture of rightful subjective
imposition that, through the massive mobilization and politicization
accompanying these trials, has been pervasively internalized and left unchecked
within Indonesian religious cleavages. We should not forget that such
mobilization and politicization has occurred frequently in these trials for a
long time, be it regionally (i.e. mobilization by hard-line group FUI and
politicization by Noer Tjahja in the Shia Sampang case) or nationally (i.e.
mobilization by the FPI and the MUI along with the politicization by key
politicians in the case of suspended Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja
As a result, religious communities are
habituated to feel entitled over the absolution of their religious right; that
there is no need for moderation and limitation. What this manifests in is the
intolerant state of religion we see today: Mere commentary and criticism of
alleged abuse of religious teachings is labelled as blasphemous and thus
responded to by angry mobs. Such commentary or acts are not moderated to
To solve the problem of Indonesia’s
intolerance we need to depoliticize religious sentiment and further discuss how
religion should fit into Indonesia’s democracy, but before any of that can
happen we need to scrutinize the permissive system that fuels a socio-religious
culture that justifies these problems to begin with.
We need to take a hard look at our
Blasphemy Law and discuss whether, as a society, we want to have a law that
allows the imposition of a majority’s subjective religious right at the expense
of others’ basic rights with little or no limitation, and a society whose
culture of rightful subjective imposition is unchallenged and unmoderated.
Hopefully, the answer is no.