08/22/2013, 00.00
NDONESIA - ISLAM
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Jakarta stops Islamists, Christian woman to stay as chief of predominantly Muslim sub-district

by Mathias Hariyadi
Members of a radical group want Susan Jasmine Zulkifli, a Protestant, dismissed from her post as Lenteng Agung sub-district chief. Fundamentalists present unreliable petition. The real targets of the political attack are the capital's governor and his Christian deputy.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Municipal authorities have confirmed the appointment of Susan Jasmine Zulkifli, a Protestant, as head of Lenteng Agung, a largely Muslim sub-district, rejecting requests made by a small part of the Islamic community that she be dismissed.

"She is officially and legally Lenteng Agung's sub-district chief, despite the fact that she is not Muslim," said Eko Haryadi, a spokesman for the Jakarta Municipal Authority. "All procedures and administrative requirements needed to undergo a selection to become sub-district chief have been properly and well done," he added, thus putting an end to a controversy that has raged for two days.

The case  broke out on Tuesday when Naser Nasrullahe, a Muslim resident of the sub-district, claimed that he had a list of at least 2,300 names, 1,500 backed with ID information, of people who wanted her dismissal.

The fact that the sub-district chief was a Christian was the main reason since the area is predominantly Muslim as evinced by its 22 mosques, 59 prayer centres and hundreds of smaller sites for Qur'an reading.

However, the request for resignation was phoney, local sources noted because no official petition was ever presented to the City of Jakarta, which alone can dismiss local officials.

More importantly, an element of doubt surrounds the list of names of people supposedly in favour of the sub-district chief's dismissal. In fact, for most Indonesians, the request was an "unfounded pretext" to satisfy Muslim extremists.

Over the past couple of days, more and more people on the Internet and on social networks have come to Susan Jasmine Zulkifli's defence, including human rights organisations like the Lenteng Agung Residents for Reformation Forum (Formala), which reiterated its support for the woman.

It is clear that, in the world's most populous Muslim country, Muslim extremists behind the attack are trying to delegitimise Christian leaders who have carved a wider political space for themselves.

Although religious freedom and equality are guaranteed under Indonesia's constitution and stand as the foundations of the Indonesian state, they have not always been respected.

Among political leaders, the one who has attracted the greatest Islamist resentment is Jakarta Deputy Governor Tjahaja Basuki Purnama, a Protestant better known by his nickname of Ahok.

Together, Ahok and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi) have formed a duo that has improved the quality of life in the capital, adopting a series of measures that won high praise from the population.

Therefore, some people in the country are using religion for purely political reasons to attack and discredit opponents in order to regain lost support.

In the coming months, such attacks will likely increase, Indonesia experts warn, with Jakarta's governor and deputy governor as the main targets.

Islamists intensely dislike seeing Christian and Muslim leaders work together, even and especially when they get great results as in Jakarta.

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