It’s always such a shame when a tiny minority of loud-mouthed extremists hijack public debate and tarnish the image of an otherwise moderate people. It happens in Indonesia on a weekly basis, and a lot of ordinary Indonesians are sick of it, including leaders of the faith that many of those extremists claim to be protecting.
So as the country with the world’s biggest Muslim majority prepares to hear the Constitutional Court rule on a challenge to the 1965 blasphemy law, things are getting a little tense. Some of the fanatics from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have already tried to physically intimidate the court and people who have appeared as witnesses in support of the petition to overturn the law. Ahead of the decision later Monday, around 500 police have been deployed around the court to prevent any mayhem. Of course the only violence they are expecting is from Islamic extremists in the event the law is deemed unconstitutional. Should the court rule in favour of the law, the backers of the secular constitution – a collection of minority religious leaders, legal academics, moderate Muslim leaders and human rights groups – are unlikely to go on the rampage.
So in a sad kind of way it was amusing to read comments in The Jakarta Post today by Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra, urging the police to take action against violent extremists if they start causing mayhem as they have done many times before:
Those involved in any demonstrations should refrain from breaking the law… Those (hard-line) organizations have leaders. The police have to grow a pair and take action against them if they get violent. Don’t let them walk away without being held responsible for their deeds. If police let them off the hook, they will keep doing it.
What a great idea! In other countries it’s called enforcing the law, but that’s a very different and tricky concept in Indonesia. Azra also criticised some members of Muslim organisations for being too easily mobilised in defence of their religion. He may have been referring to the bloody riots in Jakarta last week, when hundreds of people including members of the Islamic Defenders Front clashed with security forces outside a shrine to a revered Muslim cleric. Many people still insist that the cleric’s remains are in the cemetery even though there is no evidence for this and the government says they have been moved to another site.