Jokowi administration urged to tackle issue of intolerance

Jokowi administration urged to tackle issue of intolerance
President-elect Joko Widodo (left) with his predecessor, outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

JAKARTA - Human rights activists have called on president-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla to crack down on rising intolerance in the country as soon as they take the oath of office on Oct. 20.

Siti Musdah Mulia, director of the Megawati Institute, said Tuesday hopes were high that the next government would be able to address a rise in religious intolerance that worsened during the 10-year tenure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"I hope Jokowi and Kalla can do a better job, a much better [job]. They should be able to find the right solution," Siti said in a discussion held by the Maarif Institute in South Jakarta earlier this week.

Sociologist Thamrin Tomagola urged Jokowi not to follow in the footsteps of Yudhoyono, whom many deemed a failure in the effort to protect the rights of minority groups in the country.

Thamrin said he held high hopes for Jokowi and Kalla, given the pledges the pair made during the presidential campaign.

"In his vision and mission statement Jokowi said that there were three main problems facing country, [two of which included] the absence of the state in civic life and rising intolerance of particular groups. This means that they really grasp what is going on in this country," Thamrin said.

Thamrin added that most instances of intolerance occurred because certain groups failed to appreciate that Indonesia was a country of diverse religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds.

The Setara Institute, an organisation that promotes democracy and peace, identified 264 cases of religious discrimination in 2012 and 243 in the first 10 months of 2013. Ahmadis, Christians and Shia followers were found to be the groups most frequently targeted.

"Attacks against Ahmadis, the displacement of Shia followers and discrimination against [adherents of] local belief [systems] are problems that require an immediate response," Siti said, adding that a number of radical Muslim groups were behind the rising intolerance.

Siti said that intolerance in the country had reached a critical stage, with schools beginning to promote discrimination and hatred against subscribers of minority belief systems.

"Ideally, students should learn about tolerance and diversity from the beginning of their schooling," she said.

A survey in 2011 conducted jointly by the Jakarta Teachers Forum (FMGJ), Paramadina University Institute for Education Reform (IER) and the Tifa Foundation found that none of the 21 civic textbooks used in senior high schools touched on the subject of multiculturalism.

"Not long ago I found a senior high school textbook and in one chapter I read about the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia. I can't understand how this kind of book can be distributed to our students," Siti said.

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