Images of Religious Equality, Realities of Islamic Inequality

20080925_Christianby ANDREW E. HARROD:

Indonesia has appeared “for a long time as a role model” for Muslim-majority societies seeking to maintain equality before the law for all believers, Christian Solidarity Worldwide‘s (CSW) South Asia expert Benedict Rogers stated at a Hudson Institute briefing on September 12, 2013.  Yet the past and present of the world’s largest Muslim community belie in reality rhetoric of Islamic religious tolerance, a troubling fact for Christians and others worldwide seeking domestic peace in the lands of Islam.

Rogers addressed the topic “Pluralism in Peril in Southeast Asia:  Radical Islamism in Indonesia and Militant Buddhism in Burma.”  To exemplify Indonesia’s traditional measure of interfaith coexistence, Rogers showed slides of Jakarta’s Catholic cathedral adjacent to, and sharing parking space with, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, the Istiqlal (Independence) Mosque.  Yet Rogers presentation emphasized that this religious pluralism is “increasingly under threat” in Indonesia and Buddhist-majority Burma as well.

Rogers referenced grassroots Sunni Islamic supremacist developments in Indonesia previously discussed by him in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).  Mayors responding to local political pressures, for example, had blocked the building of churches under a “zero church” policy.  This occurred even after successful defenses of their building permits all the way to Indonesia’s Supreme Court, making religious freedom a “rule of law issue.”  A 2010 International Crisis Group study, meanwhile, documents how fears of “Christianization” in the form of this faith’s growing influence and number of converts have become a rallying cry for hardline Indonesian Muslims.

The Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Islamic Defenders Front), described by Rogers as “essentially a vigilante mob” and “protection racket,” adds terror to the pressures faced by non-Sunni Muslim communities.  “There is no religious freedom here anymore,” one female pastor said to Rodgers during his May 2012 visit.  Indonesia’s Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims, the latter deemed heretical by orthodox Muslims yet having an “extremely peaceful interpretation of Islam” according to Rogers, are likewise under threat.  “Let the outside world know that we are not safe in our own homes any longer,” an Ahmadiyya said in a quotation in both the WSJ article and the briefing.  “It is not free anymore for us to believe what we want, to live a normal life, because there is always someone who wants to force us not to believe what we want to believe.”

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