West Java Ahmadiyah Mosque Attacks Expose Deep Institutional Shortcomings

Jakarta, Indonesia - Last week’s attacks on Ahmadiyah Muslims in West Java reveal once again the terrible consequences citizens suffer when the state interferes in religious disputes.

The Kuningan district head’s order to close down Ahmadiyah mosques was, of course, against our Constitution.

However, it was arguably in line with a 2008 government decision that effectively banned Ahmadiyah from worshiping in public or proselytizing, while stopping short of outlawing the sect completely.

Yet like any other Muslim, an Ahmadiyah follower is obliged to spread the light of Islam through speech and actions — and that means proselytizing.

Therefore, the government’s decision, made under pressure from religious groups, is an oxymoron: it directly interferes with the right of a follower of Ahmadiyah to practice his or her faith.

As a blatant affront both to the Constitution and Pancasila, the national doctrine of unity, it should never have been passed and should be scrapped immediately.

Moreover, the parties responsible for curbing Ahmadiyah’s religious freedom should face serious charges in court.

Leaders like Aang Hamid Suganda, the Kuningan district head, should be seriously reprimanded for inciting violence by meddling in religious affairs.

If only we could only trust our courts to fairly dispense justice, we could drag such leaders before a panel of judges to face charges of treason against Pancasila and the Constitution.

Charging an official with treason and bringing a district head to court might sound rather harsh. It is not unreasonable, however.

Stern measures are required because the government needs to send a clear message about its position regarding religious tolerance in our pluralistic society.

At the time of independence in August 1945, our founding fathers wisely rejected calls from Islamists for every Indonesian Muslim to be obliged to follow Shariah law, as stated in the Jakarta Charter.

Instead, our leaders settled on the state ideology of Pancasila, which respects many religions and formally elevates none above others.

Unfortunately, however, a compromise was made with established Islamists in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and ever since we have been paying dearly for that folly.

Although there has never been a transparent audit to reveal which institution is the nation’s most corrupt, the Ministry of Religious Affairs is certainly high on the list.

Because it organizes the hajj pilgrimage and people can compare ticket and accommodation prices, everyone can see how the ministry has cruelly hiked up hajj costs to squeeze money from pilgrims who have saved their pennies for a lifetime just to make the trip to Mecca.

What worse representation of Islam could our state support?

This means it is futile to suggest that the government uphold the Constitution on this issue, let alone scrap the Ministry of Religious Affairs anytime soon.

However, we can still hope that in the future we may have people in government who are confident enough in their own commitment to the Islamic faith to dismantle this useless ministry and deal evenhandedly with all religious groups in Indonesia.

Our founding president, Sukarno, was an eloquent and progressive Islamic polemicist in his youth.

But during his time in office he never hesitated to uphold Pancasila when facing armed attempts to create an Islamic Indonesian state under the banner of Darul Islam, the descendants of which remain active to this day.

Sukarno’s successor, Suharto, who had a background in Muhammadiyah, manipulated Islamists to purge the communists and sailed into power on the sea of blood they created, only to later cruelly suppress political Islam until his own interests obliged him to court it again.

Significantly, the late President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, who was himself a respected Islamic scholar as head of Nahdlatul Ulama, has been our best champion of peaceful Islam and our sanest bastion against violent Islamism to date.

Apparently, leaders who feel insecure in their own Islamic faith fear being perceived as not sufficiently devout. Thus, they overcompensate in their efforts to appear “more Muslim than thou.”

On the other hand, Gus Dur never hesitated to stand up against those who would do away with Pancasila and implement a harsh version of Shariah law here, even when he was accused of being a pawn in a “Jewish conspiracy” to destroy Islam.

We should be grateful that Gus Dur’s brave pluralist spirit is still present today.

As extremists attack Ahmadiyah in West Java, Nuruzzaman, the head of the Cirebon chapter of the Ansor Youth Movement, NU’s militia organization that is known to be loyal to the ideals of Gus Dur, has vowed to mobilize thousands of its men to protect Ahmadiyah from attack.

Nuruzzaman’s willingness to defend the Constitution against violent mobs who falsely claim to represent mainstream Islam is certainly noble, but it exposes a darker problem.

The state itself has been too slow in reacting to these and other blatant attacks.

When civilians feel obliged to come forward to uphold Pancasila with force, this opens further divisions that can easily disintegrate into still more sectarian conflict.

Radical Islamists who use violence to enforce their will are enemies of all sane Indonesians, whether they attack Christian churches, Ahmadiyah mosques or gay and lesbian activists.

But it should be the police who stand up to them, not the Ansor Youth Movement or other civilian bodies.

However, the police are preoccupied with attempts to mask their own corruption and incompetence.

Thus, much ado is made about frivolities like homemade celebrity porn. The dismal reality is that citizens cannot depend on law enforcers for security.

Lasting peace among religious groups here demands clean and honest institutions and not just courageous individuals.