Rising Religious Intolerance in Indonesia

Indonesia could become a significant Asia power and counterweight to China. It is the world’s most populous Islamic nation but sports a tolerant reputation.  Indonesians evicted the Suharto dictatorship and created a democratic and increasingly prosperous state. So far, the artificial country has successfully countered multiple secessionist pressures.

Perhaps even more important, Indonesians could encourage Islam to move in a more liberal direction. Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of the population, but Indonesia’s politics traditionally have been secular. In its new report, “In Religion’s Name: Abuses Against Religious Minorities in Indonesia,” Human Rights Watch noted that “Indonesia is rightly touted for its religious diversity and tolerance.”

Unfortunately, however, as in the Middle East, the end of dictatorship in Indonesia has loosed intolerant religious forces. The victims are many. Reported HRW: “Targets have included Ahmadis (the Ahmadihay), Baha’is, Christians, and Shias, among others.” Offenses include state discrimination and mob violence. 

As I explained in my new column on American Spectator online:

HRW pointed to the use of blasphemy and conversion laws “to impose criminal penalties on members of religious minorities in violation of their rights to freedom of religion and expression.”  Such abuses are common in Pakistan, where violent jihadist sentiments are strong.  All religious minorities, as well as atheists, are at risk.

Expansive state control gives government many other avenues for discrimination if not persecution. HRW reported: “state discrimination on the basis of religion extends beyond the building of churches, mosques, and temples. Various government regulations discriminate against religious minorities, ranging from the provision of ID cards, birth and marriage certificates, and access to other government services.”

For instance, officials refuse to register marriages if the government doesn’t recognize the religion of one of the parties.  Without registration children are not issued birth certificates listing both parents.  National ID cards are required, but sometimes cannot be obtained without choosing among five officially recognized religions.  Refusing to list a religion can lead to charges of atheism and blasphemy.

The worst problem may be the government’s failure to protect religious minorities from violence. Such attacks are becoming more frequent. I have visited a church and Bible school destroyed by mobs, as well as a church that was bombed. In none of these cases was anyone ever punished. 

Indonesia could become a regional and even global leader. However, to do so, it needs to protect the lives and liberties of all of its citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs.