Indonesia's pluralism alive, but in awful shape

Indonesia's pluralism alive, but in awful shape
Tyranny in majority: Thousands of Sunni followers demand the government to relocate about 300 Shia followers outside Madura Island, East Java. Their demand received support from Sampang Regent Fannan Hasib. The Shia followers have lived in shelters for around a year now.

Indonesia may not be on the verge of becoming an Islamic theocracy, but it certainly has lost its credentials as a model for Muslim democracy.

In the years following the downfall of Soeharto in 1998, persecution against minority groups intensified with the government largely seen as guilty of complicity in many acts of bigotry - at least by omission.

The trend, sadly, did not change in 2013, with several Christian groups still facing hurdles in building churches, Ahmadis nationwide still banned from practicing their faith publicly and dozens of Shiites in Sidoarjo, East Java, still unable to return to their homes in Sampang, Madura, after more than a year of being displaced in their own country.

Overall, 2013 has been another bad year for pluralism.

The core of the problem persisted: the government failed to comprehend the basic idea of human rights, of what it means to be free to practice what you believe in, as stipulated in the 1945 Constitution.

It kept confusing freedom of religion with appeasing the majority (or the Muslim radicals, to be more exact) in the name of "respecting other people's beliefs". That is why whenever a religious conflict occurred, the government's default stance would be siding with Sunni Muslims.

The government's bias in its efforts to resolve religious conflicts could not be more obvious in 2013. In August, the government was accused of supporting the forced conversion of Shia followers to Sunni Islam in a reconciliation programme it ironically claimed was meant to end the conflict between the two Islamic denominations in Madura.

According to Hertasning Ichlas, executive director of Universalia Legal Aid Institute (YLBH Universalia) and an attorney for the Sampang Shia community, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and a fellow United Development Party (PPP) politician Djan Faridz attended meetings where the Shiites were allegedly forced to renounce their faith if they wished to return home.

Hertasning claimed that 34 out of around 235 Shiites evicted from Sampang returned to their homes after signing a pledge of nine points, including a willingness to return to "the true teaching of Islam" as well as to condemn the teachings of Shiite cleric Tajul Muluk, who is now in jail on blasphemy charges.

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