Canadian envoy praises Indonesia's interfaith tolerance

The Canadian Embassy welcomed on Tuesday various Indonesian religious group leaders to discuss interfaith tolerance with the head of Canada's Office of Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett, who is visiting Jakarta.

"Indonesia, like Canada, is a country of many faiths and people have lived in peace for centuries […] and we want to promote better understanding among people," Canada's Ambassador to Indonesia Donald Bobiash told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday on the sidelines of the gathering at his residence in Central Jakarta.

Bennett is paying a four-day visit to Indonesia. He has met with local religious leaders and government authorities in the capital Jakarta and is scheduled to have another two days in Yogyakarta, Central Java, on the same mission of spreading the words of religious tolerance and harmony.

"We met today with the minister of religious affairs and various religious organisations and in the morning [yesterday] we are off to Yogyakarta again, for meetings with religious organisations and the sultan," Bobiash said, referring to Yogyakarta Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who has been a vocal supporter of religious tolerance.

"For many years, Canada has been supporting the principle of religious freedom. We want to engage with both the Indonesian government and religious organisations to build capacity and understanding of religious issues," he added.

The gathering was attended by representatives from various local religious organisations, such as the Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Hindu Dharma Council of Indonesia, the Indonesian Community of Churches, the Shiite's Indonesian Ahlul Bait Association (Ijabi) and representatives of Indonesian local belief organisations, as well as a few national figures who have been vocal in advocating religious pluralism and tolerance.

"Indonesian people are tolerant by nature. We have been living side by side for centuries and we did not have a problem with diversity. In fact, pluralism is the very essence of our tradition. We need more people to bring that [pluralism] to the surface," said a representative of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation NU, Basnang Said.

Despite its national motto, "Unity in Diversity", Indonesia has seen growing intolerance in recent years with religious minority groups becoming the targets of persecution, according to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

The commission reported recently that Indonesia's religious intolerance is growing with hate speech being the driver of most religious violence.