12/21/2017, 14.35
INDONESIA
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Islamists against Christmas, police: tolerance and respect for other religions

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) announces "sweeping operations" against Christmas hats and clothing. Christians are about 10 per cent of the population. About 90,000 police officers will be deployed across the country during the holidays, 20,000 in Central Java alone.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indonesian police appealed on Thursday for tolerance and respect for other people’s religious celebrations after an Islamist group threatened to raid businesses to check for Muslims being forced to wear Santa Claus hats or other Christmas garb.

The hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) said this week that it would conduct “sweeping operations”, and that forcing Muslims to wear Christmas attire was a violation of their human rights.

“There can be no sweeping operations . . . members of the public should respect other religions that are carrying out celebrations,” National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said during a security exercise in the capital Jakarta.

The FPI said it wants to enforce a fatwa, or decree, issued by Indonesia’s Islamic Clerical Council in 2016 prohibiting business owners from forcing employees to wear Christmas clothing.

The FPI built its reputation with raids on restaurants and bars serving alcohol during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

In more recent years, it has turned its attention to Christian celebrations, calling on the Jakarta city government to stop sponsoring New Year celebrations, which attract many thousands of people.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) has recently softened its stance on Christmas greetings. It had previously said it was haram (prohibited) to say “Merry Christmas” to Christians.

Still, statements like the FPI’s are a source of concern for Christians. Indonesia is the most populous Islamic country in the world, and Christians represent about 10 per cent of the population with 17 million Protestants (7 per cent) and 7 million Catholics (3 per cent).

Christians are often threatened by extremists and targeted by terrorists. On Christmas Eve in 2000, 11 churches were bombed in different parts of the country, killing 13 people and wounding another 100.

Since then, every year thousands of members of Indonesia’s largest moderate Islamic organisations (Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah) have made themselves available for security service in front of Christian religious buildings during the holidays.

This year the police did not issue any warnings, as they did in previous years. Nevertheless, many shopping malls in Jakarta have refrained from openly displaying a festive atmosphere.

A number of radio and television stations have also not broadcast Christmas carols, so as not to create problems for their activities.

About 90,000 police officers will be on duty across the country during the holidays, in an operation largely aimed at preventing militant attacks. More than 20,000 will be deployed in Central Java alone.

On Monday, Central Java Police Chief Inspector General Condro Kirono said that on Christmas Day police will be concentrated near churches and other places of worship.

The police will begin Lilin Candi Operation tomorrow.

Among the 2,800 churches in 35 regencies and municipalities in Central Java, 180 churches will have a more stringent security detail in place, including Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral in Jakarta (pictured).

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