Christians call on Indonesia's president to combat Islamic extremism
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 9/08/15, 10:45 am
The president of Indonesia needs to do more to combat Islamic extremists’ persecution of Christian minorities, a new report states.
The World Evangelical Alliance said Aug. 31 that though President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, wants to check growing Islamic extremism in the majority Muslim country, his methods have not succeeded.
“Since the beginning of his presidency, Jokowi has been implementing a cautious bottom-up strategy, which is needed to promote tolerance and moderation, while avoiding a direct confrontation with extremist groups. This perhaps explains why he has not been taking enough top-down measures required to improve law and order. And extremist groups seem to have little fear of action by the government yet,” the report stated.
Indonesia has the highest per-capita Muslim population in the world, but legally guarantees religious freedom to people of four other religions, including Christianity. Because of increasing persecution, many supported Jokowi’s candidacy in 2014. His agenda included human rights, freedom, and opposition to religious intolerance.
The deputy director of Asia for Human Rights Watch recently credited Jokowi for publicly admitting Indonesia has a religious intolerance problem. He said militant Islamists have increasingly targeted Christians, along with Shiite and Ahmadiyya Muslims, with intimidation, threats, and violence. As many as 500 Muslims from Indonesia have joined ISIS, according to The Jakarta Post. In 2014, Islamic State (ISIS) openly recruited in Indonesia, prompting government concern about the threat to religious diversity within the country.
In recent years, Indonesian Islamists have threatened and intimidated people, vandalized and burned down churches, and forced congregations underground. Catholic Online reported that since 2007, more than 200 churches have been destroyed.
Rebuilding can be nearly impossible, in part because of government inaction.
Christians already must go through numerous difficult steps, including soliciting support from Muslim neighbors in their communities, just to get government permission to create new churches. Even when they succeed, radical Muslims often challenge their legal status, forcing them to close down while authorities investigate the charges.
In two cases, the Supreme Court of Indonesia ruled the Christian churches were legal and should reopen, but a local mayor refused to carry out the ruling, “undermining the rule of law,” according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
In its report, the World Evangelical Alliance said seeking the assistance of moderate Muslims was not enough. Jokowi also needs to “adopt a strict policy in the area of law and order. After all, every incident of blocking of worship services, violent attacks, and closure of churches is a blatant violation of law.”
“They are correct in their assessment,” said Christopher Warner of International Christian Concern (ICC). “The Indonesian government is not enforcing the rule of law. If they felt they had the government behind them, local authorities would not be so intimidated by the radicals coming in.” Warner is ICC’s regional manager for east and southeast Asia.
Human Rights Watch called on Indonesia’s leader not only to enforce the laws, but also to put a stop to the government’s role in victimizing religious minorities, to pursue swift punishment of officials complicit in such acts, and to review and revise any laws at odds with freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
Julia A. Seymour
Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.