Tag Archives: secular

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).

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.

Australian judge cites parent’s religioisity as mitigation

This is pretty weird if it’s true. A judge in Australia has cited the religiosity of a defendant’s father as a mitigating circumstance warranting a lighter sentence for people smuggling.

A court in Perth convicted Iraqi-Iranian citizen Hadi Ahmadi of smuggling 562 refugees into Australia and sentenced him to 7.5 years. With parole and reduction for time already served, he could be out of jail by June 2012.

The judge, Judge Stavrianou, sentenced him to five years’ jail for each of two counts of people smuggling, but reduced the total the sentence to 7.5 years citing several mitigating factors.

One of these, according to media reports, was the consideration that he came from a “well-respected family in Iraq where his deceased father was a senior religious figure”.

Well, well, well. The superstitions of a criminal’s father is a strange way to gauge the length of a jail sentence.

Do all cult members get such leniency, or only the most fervent, fanatical and “devout”? If I commit a crime but can show that my father really, truly, passionately believed he was the creation of a flying omniscient teapot, will the judge look kindly on me?

What if I’m an atheist and believe in no such voodoo? In that case I guess I’d be rooted, as the Aussies might say.

Unless of course the courts establish the “inadmissible corollary” of belief as a mitigating factor, ie that non-belief is also. After all, there’s nothing in someone’s non-belief urging him to smite infidels or apostates or whatever, so why not give atheists a break too?

It all harks back to the controversy in Britain earlier this year over the comments Cherie Booth QC (Tony Blair’s wife) made to a man as she was sentencing him for assault. She said she was suspending his custodial sentence because he was a “religious person” (Muslim) and knew what he did was wrong.

The Office of Judicial Supervision dismissed a complaint of misconduct against Booth from the National Secular Society, but many were left with the feeling that something was deeply amiss.

As blogged by The Heresiarch, Booth’s statements, and those reportedly made by the judge in Perth on Friday, suggest:

that a religious person is being held to a different standard than a non-religious one. That his religion was the reason he ought to have known better. But you don’t need religion to tell you that it’s wrong to punch someone in the face.

Whether or not non-believers are discriminated against, it would surely be better if judges kept religion out of it altogether.

(Photo courtesy of Ian Britton via Freefoto)

American says goodbye to Lombok after mosque riot

The American man accused of blasphemy in Indonesia for allegedly invading a mosque and pulling the plug on the loudspeakers during a nightly prayer reading says his life on the island of Lombok is over. He’s leaving.

Lombok - island paradise?

In a letter to this blog, 64-year-old Greg denied the allegations from his neighbours at Kuta beach, where he had lived for more than 10 years and ran a simple guesthouse for tourists. He said he had merely asked them to turn down the loudspeaker, and was set upon by a mob who destroyed his house:

I didn’t pull the plug, I ask to turn it down.  Previously, I bought a set of karaoke speakers so they could hear themselves pray, without waking the dead with their loud speaker.  I was pushed and rocks thrown by a bunch of drunk teenage boys who are a known gang in the neighborhood.

Later, with over 100 police present, I was forced to leave my house by the police.  The police stood by as the mob destroyed, burned and ransacked my house.

The mob was looking for something to do and this was a good excuse for fun.  No religion allows people to take the law into their own hands.  It was mob mentality and police ignorance.  Without nightsticks, pepper spray, or any other mob control techniques, they tried to stop the crowd by shooting their 22 gage pistols into the air.

Anyway, no charges have or will be filed.  I have a current Kitas Visa, and I am living comfortably in a hotel – never to return to Kuta, Lombok.

Whatever the facts behind the incident at the mosque, what everyone agrees on is that a mob ransacked the American’s house under the gaze of the police. The “mob mentality” is on display every day in Indonesia, so it’s no surprise.

Islamic chauvinism and police bias are also evident on a daily basis, so it’s also no surprise that Muslims would feel entitled to resort to mob violence over the tiniest insult to their religion by a foreigner or member of a religious minority. Recent violence against Christians and Ahmadiya followers testify to this. The police respond by doing nothing or being pathetically ineffectual. In the case of the Ahmadis, they actually help the extremists carry out their attacks. There is no rule of law.

Some people say such violence is on the rise because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a weak leader who leans on Islamic parties to shore up his fractious, splintered and dysfunctional ruling coalition. (“Ruling” is a generous term in this case; it actually does very little of that).

As for conservatively Muslim Lombok, it’s no wonder it stagnates in backward poverty while neighbouring Bali (mainly Hindu and very open and tolerant) grows rich from tourism. Stories like this – about the violent, intolerant locals 0n Lombok – are common and they’re one reason I’ve spent very little time on the island despite its physical beauty.

As for the rights and wrongs of loudspeakers in mosques – personally I think the practice should be banned completely or subjected to tight restrictions. Others disagree. Check out the comments to this Jakarta Globe story on the Lombok case to get a taste of the endless debate.

Greg – don’t fret too much about leaving Lombok. Try Thailand instead.

(Photo courtesy of Txemi via Picasa)

Another Indonesian official blames women for rape

Indonesia is a rich and beautiful country but, as everyone knows, it’s blighted from time to time by floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. It’s also blighted by incompetent leaders like Ramli Mansur, who do more damage than all the natural disasters combined.

Ramli is the 46-year-old chief of the Aceh Party in West Aceh district of Aceh province, where he has successfully campaigned for Islamic (sharia) by-laws against women including a ban on tight trousers. His district is witnessing the most virulent outbreak of a sharia virus that is infecting parts of Indonesia. Traditional values of tolerance, pluralism and moderation are being eroded in the name of radical religious dogma espoused by provincial dullards like Ramli.

Women fought (in pants) for Aceh's independence

Public floggings are held in Aceh and sharia police roam the streets looking for adulterers, gamblers, boozers, kissers, huggers, hand-holders and women in tight pants. This is what former rebels like Ramli have done with the autonomy the province won through its long separatist war. There are also stoning laws on the province’s books, although none has been carried out.

Such ideas aren’t confined to conservative Aceh; there are similar by-laws across the mainly Muslim country of 240 million people, fuelling nagging concerns about “creeping fundamentalism” and Islamic extremism.

Political analyst Bahtiar Effendy told The Jakarta Globe that Ramli was just one example of the “incompetent leadership” that is afflicting Indonesia, supposedly the world’s third biggest democracy.

“It’s not just him — many of our local and national leaders are basically incompetent, which is why they come up with foolish policies,” he said.

To see just how incompetent Ramli and others like him are, check out his comments about women and rape:

When women don’t dress according to shariah law, they’re asking to get raped. It’s a fact that men go wild when they see a woman’s breasts and thighs. It arouses them.

Sadly, Ramli isn’t the only one in Aceh to think women are to blame for rape. Some Acehnese women agree, including one who works in the field of women’s rights.

Ramli has plenty more to say about the evils of pants. The garments are on the front line of cosmic battle between good and evil:

It’s … stated in the Koran that if a woman imitates a man (by wearing pants), then she will spend 500 years in solitude before she ever gets to heaven.The same goes for men. For instance, men are forbidden from wearing earrings. If you do that, you’ve challenged Allah. It’s my obligation as a leader to help the people so they won’t suffer in the afterlife.

He also says religion is more important than health and education (although he is living proof of the fallacy of this argument) and that anyone who opposes him is a blasphemer and apostate:

If you’re against it, you’re blaspheming. The law gives you guidance for your own safety. If you choose to be a Muslim then you have to follow the law. The opposition to it is supported by Zionism, a devious form of infiltration by foreigners under the guise of freedom of expression. People don’t follow their religion anymore in this country. If you think the bylaw is too harsh, then you should get out (of Islam).

The very last comment might be the only sensible thing he said.

(Photo courtesy of Indonesian Defence Ministry)

Huge crowd for public caning in Indonesia

Hundreds of people have turned up for a public caning in Indonesia. The gruesome scene unfolded in Aceh province, on the western tip of Sumatra facing the Middle East.

An officer from the Islamic police said about 1,500 people turned up at Pante Geulima Mosque in Meureudu, the Pidie Jaya district capital, to watch the town’s first caning. Two people were flogged for adultery and three for gambling.

Fresh from Friday prayers, the crowd “jeered” as the two adulterers were led onto a “specially erected stage to receive their punishment”, according to The Jakarta Globe.

Acehnese lawmakers have approved the punishment of public stoning for adulterers but the governor hasn’t signed the bill into law. All this in supposedly moderate, secular and pluralist Indonesia.

Lunatic fringe or threat to nation?

Istiqlal mosque, Jakarta

Most Western analysts of Indonesian affairs, especially those with an eye on the country’s economic potential, tend to downplay the threat of “creeping fundamentalism” and Islamist extremism.

But such radical, many would say fascist, views continue to be expressed on a daily basis without the slightest attempt by the government to stand up for the rights enshrined in the country’s secular, pluralistic constitution. Some of the people expressing these views allegedly have the support of the security forces.

In the latest analysis warning that it might be time for this threat to be taken seriously, La Trobe University Institute for Human Security research fellow Gerhard Hoffstaedter wrote in  The Australian that the nation’s stability was under threat.

The issue is one of who gets to shape the nation and what sort of Indonesia will emerge out of the post-Suharto and post-reformasi period. If the government follows the convenient populist drive to appease the loudest and most intolerant groups, the brittle national consensus is in danger.

Islamist groups have managed to sway the government more than once and any more ground given to them will endanger the peace in a multicultural and pluralistic nation built on tolerance and the accommodation of difference. Any more erosion of these principles has the potential to destabilise the nation, something that is in no one’s interest.

Last month, Indonesia-based business analyst James Van Zorge condemned the “naivete of liberal politicians and nongovernmental organizations” in the face of “creeping sharia” – the growth of Islamic bylaws in blatant contravention of the constitution.

“Liberals think appeasement will win the day. On the contrary, their liberal instincts have made them into the unwitting accomplices of the Islamists,” he said.

The lack of political courage to take firm action will make the situation only worse over time. For once, a stake should be driven through the heart of fundamentalism — to do otherwise only courts disaster.

Combined with the continuing threat of homegrown terror and the total failure of the deradicalisation programme, it’s not a pretty picture for the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

And before anyone dismisses this anlysis as just the minority views of misinformed foreigners, check out this editorial last month in The Jakarta Globe titled “Islamic Hardliners a Threat to the Nation”.

(Photo courtesy of Pucasso via flickr)