Category Archives: Religion

Brazilian atheists have a message for Indonesia

"If god exists, everything is permitted"

This powerful advertisement commissioned by a Brazilian atheist group sums up, in one slogan, what is happening with religious bigotry, persecution and violence against the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia at the moment.

Last month a court gave sentences of 3-6 months’ jail to 12 Sunni Muslim thugs who led a lynch mob of around 1,500 armed extremists against about 20 members of the Ahmadiyah sect, who are Muslims in every sense of the word except they don’t believe Mohammed was the final prophet. In the eyes of the Indonesian courts, this means you can kill them in front of police and receive less punishment than you would for stealing someone’s buffalo or making a naughty video of yourself with your girlfriend.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa put his Cambridge masters degree in philosophy to good use on Friday, cynically inverting logic and ethics in justification of the sentences. He said the judiciary’s independence could not be questioned (ignoring that laws such as prohibitions against murder are created by parliament to be enforced) and noted that Indonesia was not the only country to experience “heinous” acts as a result of religious intolerance (ignoring the fact that heinous acts which go unpunished are likely to be repeated).

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Getting away with religious murder in Indonesia

I must applaud A. Lin Neumann for his powerful opinion piece in today’s Jakarta Globe newspaper. Indonesia is letting murderers, people who kill in the name of the dominant form of Islam, to get away with slaps on the wrist.

In an appalling series of decisions on Thursday, a court in Serang, western Java, gave sentences of three to six months’ jail to 12 men who led a mob of around 1,500 Muslim fanatics against a small group of Ahmadiyah sect members in February this year. Three of the followers of the minority Muslim faith were viciously slaughtered in front of police, who did nothing to intervene. Then the mob set upon the corpses and the property, and hunted the survivors through the surrounding fields.  Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch summed it up with one word: “savagery”.

The whole thing was captured on video for all to see. Be warned, this is disturbing footage.

Only 12 people were charged over this incident. None was charged with murder. None received a sentence stiffer than six months in jail. All will walk free in weeks. That’s Indonesian justice and tolerance. It is tolerance of murder and mob rule.

You can read more on the pathetic judicial process here at Human Rights Watch.

Here are some extracts from Neumann’s piece:

I still cannot get one sound from the Feb. 6 Cikeusik mob attack on a handful of Ahmadiyah followers out of my head. At some point the shouting and mayhem, which millions have seen on YouTube, seems to subside as a lifeless body in the mud is beaten with wooden staves. There follows a series of sickening wet slaps against the corpse as a crowd shouts in approval.

But that man and two other victims were not murdered, according to prosecutors who chose the lightest possible charges to throw up against the clearly identifiable suspects in the Banten province attack. On Thursday, a court made it official, handing out sentences of three to six months to 12 men accused of leading and carrying out the assault.

Dani bin Misra, a 17-year-old, smashed a victim’s skull with a stone; he was charged with manslaughter and got three months. The leader of the mob of about 1,000 people who attacked 20 Ahmadis, Idris bin Mahdani, was convicted of illegal possession of a machete and got five months and 15 days in jail.

In other words, murder – organized, premeditated and captured on video – is not much more of a crime than stealing a bunch of bananas. In Indonesia, it appears, you can get away with murder, as long as the killing is done in the name of religion…

The sad truth is that Indonesia, despite its progress on so many fronts, still allows preachers of hate to foment criminal acts against others. In this upside-down world, Ahmadiyah followers can be killed for their belief that their prophet came after Mohammed. They are fair game.

Thursday’s court verdict seems likely to spur still more mob terror since the crime carries virtually no punishment and the government does so little to speak out against such heinous acts.

This is a frightening black mark on a nation that prides itself on being a bastion of tolerance guided by Pancasila, whose first pillar is religious freedom and whose second is Kemanusiaan yang Adil dan Beradab, which states that all people should be treated with dignity as creatures of God.

This is not the first time such an outrage has gone virtually unpunished. Just two days after the Cikeusik killings, a mob in Temanggung, Central Java, ran riot in reaction to a blasphemy verdict. They were angry because a Christian accused of defaming Islam got only a five-year sentence – mind you, he killed no one.

That mob burned churches and buildings and injured bystanders. Most of the accused were given five-month sentences by a Semarang court last month. The ring leader, a cleric, got a year’s sentence, which was reduced by several months for time served.

What is so deeply alarming about the Cikeusik verdicts and other outrages, however, is the absence of reasoned and consistent leadership from the top reaches of government to set a tone of tolerance in the face of criminal acts committed in the name of religion…

The impression that Indonesia is a major success story is increasingly widespread. But don’t take it for granted. Mob rule, disrespect for the law and courts that treat killers with kid gloves are also still part of Indonesia’s story.

 

Looking for a no-smoking zone in Indonesia

A website sent in by a reader seems to be a compilation of pictures of Indonesian men smoking in shops. It happens all the time and there’s nothing non-smokers can do except leave the shop. You’d have more luck asking the pope to dance the can-can than getting one of these guys to stub out their cigarettes or take it outside.

Check it out – http://itcroxymasjakarta.wordpress.com

I recently took a friend to Cork and Screw (Kuningan), an up-market wine bar and restaurant in Jakarta, and asked if they had a non-smoking area. The waiter, all dressed up like he was on the Champs Elysees, looked bemused and had to think about what we meant. Finally he told us that if we didn’t like cigarette smoke we could eat dinner  out on the service bar near the cash register. In other words they didn’t have a non-smoking area. The waiter explained that it was a wine bar, and people like to smoke when they drink wine.

Silly me, thinking that a restaurant in the 21st century that aspires to be cosmopolitan and sophisticated would have a non-smoking area. In other countries, of course, I might have trouble finding a smoking area, because the whole restaurant would be a smoke-free, healthy breathing kind of place. But no, this is Indonesia, and it has a very, very long way to go.

It was early and not very busy so my friend and I decided to put up with the smoke and eat anyway. We ordered a hugely overpriced bottle of wine (alcohol is the drink of the devil and rich foreigners, you see, so it is subject to massive taxes in mainly Muslim Indonesia) and asked for the menus. When the wine came we tasted it and both agreed it was off. It had soured, probably because it had been exposed to varying temperatures as it was transported from Australia. The waiter didn’t know what we were talking about, and offered to give it to us in different glasses. We said no thanks. Then a more senior waiter came over and said he would have to get the restaurant’s in-house “sommelier” to taste the wine. I watched as he took the bottle over to a guy who was smoking cigarettes at the bar with a woman, who was also smoking and drinking a giant fruit cocktail with a pink umbrella. The “sommelier” swished a bit of wine around in his glass and had a couple of gulps, but seemed unable to decide if it was OK. He gave the glass to one of the bar tenders who also had a swig before passing it over to a third bar tender for yet another taste. Strange sort of sommelier, I thought to myself. Low self-esteem, perhaps? Lacking confidence? Anyway, the waiter brought the bottle back to us and told us the wine was in fact good. We said no thanks, the wine was in fact off. Then the restaurant’s manager come over and had a taste himself. He said maybe it would be better if he chilled it for us for precisely two minutes. We said no thanks that would make no difference at all. So the manager said he would talk to his number-one sommelier, the really serious expert in the house, who ended up being the woman I’d noticed smoking at the bar. She put down her fruit cocktail and cigarette and had a sip, then another, etc etc etc. Finally she came over and said the wine was good. I told her the wine was not good and we weren’t going to pay for it. By this stage my friend and I were laughing. At least they had the decency to accept our position, but it took an awful lot of rather silly posturing before they did.

My friend and I concluded that it’s a waste of time trying to buy wine with a meal in an Indonesian restaurant unless you want to pay about $80 for a $30-dollar bottle. Otherwise, you pay $40 for the cheapest plonk they have. As for trying to escape the smokers, forget it.

Meanwhile the country continues to bow to Big Tobacco and sidestep meaningful reform to its smoking regulations that would bring it in line with the rest of the world. The latest news is that regulations to limit cigarette advertising will not be brought in as planned because of “technicalities”.  As Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, told the Jakarta Globe, the government’s decision contradicted the Health Law.

The law clearly states tobacco as an addictive substance and clearly addictive substances should not be advertised. The government should ask themselves, what do they care about more, income or the future or our children?

If you go to that Jakarta Globe link, check out the comment from the religious nut regarding tobacco and the Koran. Smoking  can “stop you from the sole purpose of having been sent to the world, namely the remembrance of Allah”.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few other reasons to live.

Sadly, there are “still places” like Indonesia

I had to laugh when I read the following line in this wonderful piece by Andrew Copson in The Guardian: “There are still places where it is illegal to declare yourself as non-religious on your identity papers or official records”.

Yes unfortunately there are still such places, and at least one of them is  Indonesia, that mainly Muslim country which US President Barack Obama recently lauded as a model of tolerance and pluralism. In Indonesia it is impossible to have a legal identity if you are an atheist – you must state your adherence to one of six “religions”. I put that word in commas because the rules bizarrely rank Catholicism and Protestantism as separate religions. The others are Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism (a religion?) and Hinduism. Any alternative beliefs, including the various other branches of Christianity, are invalid and followers of those beliefs are ineligible for ID documents.

I laughed because Indonesia is so desperate to be seen as a powerful, moderate and modern country, yet in fact on so many levels it ranks as one of those unmentionable places that still has such backward laws on its books.

Of course, Indonesia isn’t the only place in the world where religion reigns mightily over reason. Witness the madness being committed in the name of religion in Afghanistan now, with the killings of innocent people in response to a US pastor’s provocative and stupid burning of a copy of the Koran in far-away Florida. In this foul, depressing atmosphere it’s so nice to read a piece of free-thinking such as Copson’s article.

Copson points out that 2011 is the 200th anniversary of Oxford university’s expulsion of the poet Shelley for his publication of a tract arguing the “Necessity of Atheism”.

Today in Britain, non-religious people are not thrown out of universities because they don’t believe in God, but in other parts of the world many suffer this fate – and worse. There are still places where it is illegal to declare yourself as non-religious on your identity papers or official records.

One of the most upsetting stories I was ever told was by a young humanist from Saudi Arabia who grew up so frightened of what would happen if he spoke out loud about his beliefs to another person that the only outlet for his thoughts was to go on long walks away from all people, and speak his mind only to the air. In fact, he never spoke to another human being about his most fundamental beliefs until coming to Britain in his late 20s, and experiencing then for the first time what those of us who live in freedom take for granted: the joyful dynamic of testing and developing our own ideas in conversation and dialogue with others.

In this country the blasphemy laws have been abolished, but elsewhere our fellow men and women face death for speaking and thinking freely.

Indonesia has not yet made blasphemy a capital crime, but some fear it is heading down that road. And anyway Indonesians “face death for speaking and thinking freely”, either at the hands of fanatics for their religious views or at the hands of the security forces for their political ones.

The brave boys of Brimob

These are the brave boys of Brimob, Indonesia’s notorious “Mobile Brigade”. They’re the macho guys you can count on to run away if you are being lynched by a mob of crazed Islamic extremists.

Indonesia’s Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence believes the mob of some 1,500 extremists who attacked the Ahmadiyah in February were an organised group. Brimob was there, they should know. Yet so far police have refused to name the group involved. What’s going on?

Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic extremism and terrorism in Indonesia, believes the answer is quite simple. She told reporters at a recent seminar that the most likely reason for the government’s failure to take on violent extremist groups is that senior members of the cabinet approve of their goals, if not their methods. She cited the religious affairs minister’s repeated calls for the banning of Ahmadiyah, according to a friend who attended the seminar.

If that’s true, Indonesia may be heading down the same road Pakistan went down when it banned Ahmadiyah and made blasphemy a capital crime.  Good luck with that.

Another Indonesian MP in porn video scandal

An Indonesian lawmaker has claimed that he sold a laptop and forgot that it had pornographic videos of him and his wife on the hard drive. Those videos are now circulating in public and, in theory, he should be under investigation for breaches of the country’s draconian anti-pornography bill.

Iwan Fajarudin said someone from the Purworejo Legislative Council leaked the video. His comments don’t make much sense, however. How can he know who leaked it if, as he claims, he had sold the laptop at a market with the videos still on the hard drive? Surely anyone could have leaked it? Does he know who bought the laptop? Are the police investigating? If not, why not?

Poor old Iwan doesn’t sound all that sharp, to be perfectly frank. His “hard drive” apparently works fine but the software might be a bit slow:

It was my own recklessness and foolishness for not cleaning the files on the laptop when I sold it, including the ones in the recycle bin. Now the video is being used against me, to topple me.

I don’t think he should be charged, of course, but if you’re going to start jailing people for things like this you need to be fair and even-handed about it. That’s the problem with the whole stupid anti-porn law – it’s unenforceable.

It’s a funny coincidence that the acronym of Iwan’s political party is PAN. It sounds like Peterpan, which is the name of a popular Indonesian rock band.

The singer of Peterpan has just been condemned to three-and-a-half years in jail under similar circumstances. Homemade sex clips of Ariel and his lovers, two television personalities, went viral on the Internet last year. The government, particularly those ministers who claim to follow conservative Islamic values and rely on the support of like-minded voters,  decided to make an example of him.

(One of those very pious Islamic politicians is the subject of another highly amusing sex video case which emerged this week. Anis Matta, from the Prosperous Justice Party, is the alleged star of the show, which takes place in a very soapy bathroom. He apparently denies everything and, coincidentally, also claims to be the victim of a political smear campaign. That’s the other trouble with the stupid anti-porn law – it’s so easy to abuse, as the people who championed it for their own cynical political ends are now finding out).

Anyway, back to Ariel, the singer denied publishing or spreading the videos, which is the illegal part. Under the 2008 law, there’s no crime in actually making such a video, you just can’t show it around or publish it in any way.

Ariel said the videos were taken from his laptop without his knowledge by someone at a recording studio. He was charged, tried and convicted. Indonesia looked really, really stupid.

Meanwhile three soldiers who brutally tortured two Papuan civilians, and made a video of the crime, were sentenced to up to 10 months in jail.

I really want to thank the Indonesian government for protecting me from moral depravity.

(Photo by Gisela Giardino via Wikimedia Commons)

Indonesian extremist of the day: like father like son

I found this little boy at a rally of the Hizbut Tahrir, a radical Islamist group, in central Jakarta. How old is he, five? Does he think adulterers should be stoned to death, one of Hizbut Tahrir’s core beliefs? Does he know what an adulterer is? Can he read the sign he’s holding, attacking a Christian church group? Does he know what a Christian is? For that matter, does he know what a Muslim is?

I feel so sorry for this little kid. What a waste of human potential. I think of those child soldiers in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, raised as ignorant, blind extremists.  Many of those children were kidnapped and brainwashed by rebels. The shocking thing about this kid is that his own parents are doing this to him, in the name of a mainstream religion and at a time of peace and prosperity in his country.