Tag Archives: Islam

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.



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.

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.

Egypt and Indonesia: what comparison?

Firstly, forgive me for not updating this site more often lately. I’ve been busy and lazy  in equal measure, on holidays, on work missions and diverting my rave energies through other channels.

So much has happened in Indonesia over the past few months that I don’t know where to start. Of course I was sickened by the slaughter of Ahmadiyah followers by crazed Islamist brutes, and by the government’s pathetic response. I didn’t mean to watch the unedited video, I kind of saw it by accident. I couldn’t sleep that night. It was one of the most disgusting and disturbing things I’ve seen. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you really want to know what’s happening in Indonesia in terms of religious thuggery there can be no better illustration. The Ahmadiyah man who filmed it is a hero.

In the past couple of weeks there have been a lot of attempts by Western journalists and analysts to compare the Egyptian uprising with the fall of Suharto in Indonesia. Most seem to be written by people who may, perhaps, feel a little bit of attention deficit disorder because they are not actually in the Middle East. In my opinion they are trying a little too hard to get in on the Egypt story by making flimsy analogies.

The argument follows a now-familiar pattern: the White House is using the Indonesia example as a model to game possible outcomes in Egypt and calibrate its response; the similarities between the two countries are “striking”;  Indonesia is a moderate Muslim-majority country where secular democracy has taken root; like Egypt, Indonesia has Islamist political parties; these parties have tried to advance their agendas at the ballot box but have failed; this comparison is illuminating.

I disagree. Sure, there are superficial similarities but the comparison is flawed. Even to the degree that it can be justified it is not particularly illuminating and doesn’t really say much about current events in Egypt or how that country may look in 10 years time.

Firstly, the Indonesian party everyone compares to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood – the PKS – is fundamentally different in many ways. The PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) may share some genetic material with the Brotherhood but it is not the same critter. For a start it is not openly Islamist. It has existed for only around 10 years, not 80-odd like the brotherhood. It didn’t exist at all as a mass opposition movement against Suharto. And it has never had any significant popular support. The Brotherhood it ain’t.

In other words, there’s very little point talking about the PKS as a model for what a post-Mubarak Brotherhood might do. And anyway, no one in the Arab world looks to Indonesia for insight into political Islam, so even if there was a superficial comparison to be made it would not be one that would have any bearing on Egyptian affairs.

Revealingly, few of these analyses give much in the way of direct quotes from US officials about what precise parallels they see and why they are focusing on Indonesia, and not, say, Turkey. In one of the pieces linked to above,  the only direct quote from a US official says the Philppines and Chile are better case studies.

The other thing most of these comparisons have in common is that at some point they admit that their argument is thin and acknowledge that in fact the two countries are very different.

A better way to compare the two situations, in my very humble and uninformed opinion, is through the lens of justice. Despite all the fear-mongering about political Islam and Islamism, the uprising in Egypt does not seem to me to be about religion. People are united in their yearning for justice, for an end to rampant corruption, for an end to the unaccountability of the ruling elites, for an end to the brutality of the security forces.

Indonesians (and everyone else who has overthrown a dictator) know this yearning only too well. They gave vent to it in 1998 when they ousted Suharto in a secular, nationalist uprising sparked by a savage economic crisis. The fact that these were mainly Muslims on the streets wasn’t much noted in those pre-9/11 days. Now, when Westerners see Muslims on the streets, citing “jihad” and claiming the blessing of Allah, they tend to get fixated on the religious aspect and forget more important things like the universal desire for justice.

Robert Fisk says it well in today’s Independent. After explaining that Egypt’s uprising was pluralist and non-religious and therefore a defeat for radical Islam, he adds:

There’s a catch, of course. Almost all the millions of Arab demonstrators who wish to shrug off the cloak of autocracy which – with our Western help – has smothered their lives in humiliation and fear are indeed Muslims. And Muslims – unlike the “Christian” West – have not lost their faith. Under the stones and coshes of Mubarak’s police killers, they counter-attacked, shouting “Allah akbar” for this was indeed for them a “jihad” – not a religious war but a struggle for justice. “God is Great” and a demand for justice are entirely consistent. For the struggle against injustice is the very spirit of the Koran.

Fisk isn’t saying religion is central to the Egyptian uprsing, only that it’s the vocabulary of Islam that most Egyptians use to express their yearning for justice. The same can be said of many Indonesians. He concludes:

Better perhaps to ignore all the analysts and the “think tanks” whose silly “experts” dominate the satellite channels. If Czechs could have their freedom, why not the Egyptians? If dictators can be overthrown in Europe – first the fascists, then the Communists – why not in the great Arab Muslim world? And – just for a moment – keep religion out of this.

(Photo courtesy of siarragoddess via flickr)

Indonesia extremist freakshow Pt2

These thuggish religious fanatics are members of some of the Islamic extremist groups currently propagating in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation and a beacon of tolerance and diversity (according to that eternal optimist Barack Obama).

If you look closely behind the banners of religious intolerance, you can see the Sukarno-era “Statue of Welcome”. Erected in the 1960s as a symbol of Indonesia’s emergence as an independent country, it soars above the central Jakarta traffic circle. Nowadays it’s a favourite spot for extremists to scream through loudspeakers about the need for sharia law and the stoning of adulterers.

Obamas ‘do’ Indonesia! Hyperbole over human rights

They came, they saw, they said a lot of blather about tolerance and democracy and meatball noodle soup, then they left. That pretty much sums up the 20-hour visit by the US first couple to Indonesia this week.

If I was Indian I’d be pretty annoyed (but I’ll get to that later). If I was Indonesian I’d probably be like the people I saw silently staring at Obama’s gleaming, wailing motorcade as it streamed through the deserted streets of central Jakarta this morning: mute, a little resentful and thoroughly unimpressed.  

Excuse me if I’m too cynical – you can always read something else, something dripping with meaningless hyperbole and rank cliché, something like Obama’s speech to students at the national university.

Human rights activists and victims of ongoing abuses by the Indonesian military had begged and pleaded with this White House — that’s the one that recently re-commenced military contacts with Indonesia’s notorious Kopassus special forces unit — to use the visit to pressure Jakarta to stop the killings and torture and, according to some, the genocide that is taking place in the eastern region of Papua.

Did Obama listen to these appeals? Nope. Unless he said something to President Yudhoyono behind closed doors, he ignored them altogether. He only mentioned Papua once, in passing as a prop for one of his rhetorical flourishes. 

Instead of clearly standing up for the speechless and powerless, he effectively praised the torturers for the great model of tolerance and pluralism they are showing to the world. Stiff cheese to Indonesians who care about human rights and justice – this White House is not on their side.

I’d be annoyed if I was Indian because only a couple of days earlier, Obama had been in Delhi lecturing the Indian government about its failure to speak out against the military’s abuses in Myanmar. The double standards are appalling, even more so when they are dressed up with such pomp and fanfare.

The best part of Obama’s speech today, in my humble opinion, was his challenge to those who believe development comes before democracy. This is an argument President Yudhoyono has made publicly in the past – ie sometimes emerging democracies have to sacrifice democratic principles and the rule of law in order to tackle poverty. Once living standards have risen, democracy can become the priority.

Obama almost achieved the inspirational heights that he constantly aspires to when he argued that this was a false dichotomy:

Today, we sometimes hear that democracy stands in the way of economic progress. This is not a new argument. Particularly in times of change and economic uncertainty, some will say that it is easier to take a shortcut to development by trading away the rights of human beings for the power of the state. But that is not what I saw on my trip to India, and that is not what I see in Indonesia. Your achievements demonstrate that democracy and development reinforce one another…

Of course, democracy is messy. Not everyone likes the results of every election. You go through ups and downs. But the journey is worthwhile, and it goes beyond casting a ballot. It takes strong institutions to check the concentration of power. It takes open markets that allow individuals to thrive. It takes a free press and an independent justice system to root out abuse and excess, and to insist upon accountability. It takes open society and active citizens to reject inequality and injustice.

These are the forces that will propel Indonesia forward. And it will require a refusal to tolerate the corruption that stands in the way of opportunity; a commitment to transparency that gives every Indonesian a stake in their government; and a belief that the freedom that Indonesians have fought for is what holds this great nation together.

Otherwise, Obama was as predictably patronising as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard the week before. Most of the time he wandered on the margins of the ridiculous, as when he claimed Indonesia – one of the most corrupt countries in the world – was going to lead the G20 in transparency and accountability. I can only assume he misspoke. Very disappointing.

Indonesian extremist freakshow Pt1

Keeping with the Halloween theme for one more day, take a look at this scary little man spotted in central Jakarta recently.

He’s a member of a state-sponsored gang of Islamist extremists called the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who go around bashing up moderates and communists and transsexuals and bar-goers and Christians and anyone else they deem – according to their uneducated and paranoid world view – to be a threat to Islam. They do so with the open backing of the police, who created them in the aftermath of the fall of the Suharto regime.

This hooded exemplar of the movement was attending a rally in central Jakarta (outside the Hyatt hotel and upmarket Plaza Indonesia shopping mall), where lots of barely literate FPI thugs shouted Allahu Akbar at the ignorant, xenophobic and fanatical rantings of a few extremist “clerics”. Mostly they were expressing hatred for a group of Christians who had dared to hold prayer meetings in public because they had been denied permission to build a church. One FPI leader is in jail awaiting trial over the unprovoked stabbing of a church elder and the beating of a female priest.

It was quite a challenge getting this creep’s photo. He ran away at the sight of the camera. Even with his fetching hood and Afghan hat, he didn’t want publicity. The strange thing was that the rally was nothing but a publicity stunt to get attention and make the FPI seem bigger than it really is.

I’d love the FPI to show up while President Obama is in town next week but I’m sure their uniformed handlers will keep them well and truly under wraps. This is moderate, tolerant, modern and democratic Indonesia, after all!