Jakarta (AsiaNews) – A new wave of sectarian violence is sweeping Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. In the recent past, the country has been the scene of a rising Islamist tide that has induced many Indonesians to join the Islamic State group.
In the last two days, fire has been set to two Protestant churches in Central Java in retaliation of last week’s burning of a mosque in Tolikara, Papua province, which left one person dead and 12 wounded, this according to investigators.
The latest occurred last night when a group of unknown assailants set fire to a Protestant church in Purworejo.
The front of the building was seriously damaged, the local pastor, Rev Ibnu Prabowo, said.
Previously, a "house of prayer" was hit in Bantul, Yogyakarta, when it was sprayed with gasoline that was then lighted. The culprits’ identity remains unknown in this case as well.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Rev Prabowo noted that relations between local Christians and Muslims have always been good, marked by dialogue and collaboration. However, "some provocative actions are undermining interdenominational harmony,” he lamented.
"Because of the Tolikara incident, we will torch more churches," read the message attackers left at the site of the Purworejo church fire, words that confirms what the minister said.
Extremist violence in central Java is a consequence of the torching of a small mosque in Tolikara, Papua province, an event that has caused confusion and concern among Indonesia’s political and religious leaders.
Father Neles Tebay, dean of the Fajar Timur Institute of Philosophy and Theology, noted that this is the first time that a place of worship (in this case a mosque) is attacked in Papua.
The province has a well-established animist tradition, the Jayapura priest said, and popular beliefs prevent Papuans from attacking religious sites, because they are a source of "misfortunes and fatal consequences for the family, society and the surrounding environment."
In view of the situation, he urged the authorities to conduct a "thorough investigation" to find the culprits and ease religious tensions. Police are currently investigating 29 suspects,
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Increasingly however, it has become the scene of attacks or episodes of intolerance against minorities, whether they are Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or people from other faiths.
In addition, building regulations are often used to stop non-Muslims from having their own places of worship, as was the case for the Yasmin Church in West Java.
Although the constitution guarantees Christians the right of freedom of religion, they have suffered from acts of violence and religious persecution.