02/09/2011, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Muslim violence: civic society, Christian and Muslim leaders against Yudhoyono

by Mathias Hariyadi
Government blames local officials and police. Activists and religious leaders from both faiths reject the claim. Semarang archbishop says no to violence in response to violence. Nahdlatul Ulama says the state is powerless against extremist groups. Online social networks criticise president’s empty words.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono blames local government and security officials for the violence that erupted on Sunday in Banten (Java) that saw three Ahmadis killed. The attack against the Muslim minority was followed by an attack against three churches, a Christian orphanage and medical dispensary in Temanggung Regency (Central Java). However, media, civil society leaders and religious leaders (including Christian leaders) have rejected the president’s charges. For them, the central government is to blame for the repeated cases of confessional violence. A moderate Muslim leader agrees. For him, the “state is powerless when facing hard-line groups.”

A mob stormed the Saint Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Central Java, as well as a Protestant church, Bethel Indonesia Church and its Shekinah school, destroying various cars and motorcycles. In the Catholic church, they attacked statues, the altar as well as the parish priest, Father Saldhana, who was severely beaten for trying to defend the tabernacle.

Mgr Johannes Pujasumarta, archbishop of Semarang, said that the “priest is traumatised by memories of what he saw. He’ll need days of rest to recover body, mind and soul.”

AsiaNews tried to contact the clergyman on his mobile phone, without success. People at the Sacred Family Mission Home in Semarang have asked for privacy. “Please, don’t ask any questions. He needs total rest,” said an administrator at the Mission Home.

Mgr Pujasumarta, who is the secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia, told AsiaNews that the violence in Temanggung is proof that “acts of vandalism against someone else’s property is not a good solution.” What is more, he warns that matters could get out of control if we “respond to violence with violence.” He also urged journalists to report news based on facts and not fabrications by people with their own agenda.

In fact, now it turns out that Richmond Bawengan, the man whose five-year sentence was the pretext used by Muslim extremists to attack churches yesterday, did not only go after Islam but also Catholics. In the book and pamphlets he handed out, he insulted Our Lady and the Rosary, this according to Fr Aloysius Budipurnomo PR, head of the Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue in Semarang Archdiocese.

Muslim civil society figures, intellectuals and religious leaders have come out against anti-minority violence. Yenny Wahid, daughter of former President Abdurrahman Wahid, urged the leaders of all religious congregations to “show respect for other confessions”. Ulul Huda MA, a high-profile Muslim scholar from the Nahdlatul Ulama (Nu), a moderate Muslim organisation, compared Indonesia to a forest ruled by the law of the jungle as the guarantee for who survives.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he said the “state is powerless in facing extremist groups,” and police “have failed to uphold the law” because they are “threatened by fundamentalists”.

For the moderate Muslim leader, the wave of violence of the past few years is due a number of reasons. He wants to see rules adopted that promote inter-faith harmony and dialogue. Similarly, such laws must be enforced. “If the president does not do it,” Ulul Huda MA said, “the situation will just get worse.”

Civil society groups have joined critics of the president’s handling of the situation. Activists have issued a statement condemning interfaith violence. In it, they demand the resignation of Surya Dharma Ali, Religious Affairs minister.

Last year, they write, the minister issued a decree ordering Ahmadis to stop speaking in public about their faith, and stop recruiting new members. For activists this decree, like Pakistan’s blasphemy law, has caused confessional violence in the country. They want it immediately repealed.

President Yudhoyono and his administration have come under attack online on a number of online social networks. “Don’t waste time with words and speeches,” a Jakarta resident wrote. “Do something concrete to solve the problem.” He is not alone. “Words, words, nothing but words,” wrote another. “Dear Mr President, talk whatever you want, but we will judge you by what you do. So far, we have not seen anything concrete.”

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