06/13/2008, 00.00
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Anti-Ahmadi decree inches Indonesia one step closer to an Islamic state

by Benteng Reges
The country is split over the issue of religious freedom. Human rights activists, scholars and minorities call for decisive action by the president; otherwise the government will become a hostage to extremists whose ultimate goal is the introduction of Sharia law.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesian government’s decision to ban activities by the Ahmadi religious minority represents a dangerous threat to Indonesian society’s traditional tolerance and opens the door to an Islamic state. The warning comes from NGOs and human rights groups. Their demand is unanimous; they want the decree adopted by the Indonesian cabinet repealed because it violates the constitution (which guarantees religious freedom); contradicts Pancasila (the country’s five guiding principles); and legalises crimes against minorities.

The measure was adopted under pressure from radical Islamic groups which took to the streets in the last two weeks demanding the total ban on the sect. Leading the charge against the Ahmadis is the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) which has been responsible for several attacks against Ahmadis and clashes with moderate Muslims, who have instead come out in favour of religious freedom.

To the world Indonesia now appears split in two. Some experts warn that this situation might lead to social unrest and bring the country to collapse just a year before general elections.

Opponents to the anti-Ahmadi decree include not only human rights activists but also Muslim political leaders and scholars.

Prof Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, a legal expert with the Ministry for Law and Human Rights, said that the government measure is a result that has been “forced” upon on the authorities by extremist pressures. In fact, the decree was announced right after a meeting between radical groups and the spokesman of the Indonesian president.

The decree itself threatens the separation between state and religion and undermines the state’s self-exclusion from domains, like religion, which ought to remain within a citizen’s private sphere.

Ordinary people in the street are asking questions: “Why is Indonesia, even though it is not an Islamic state (like Iran or Pakistan) easily swayed by a hard-line minority group? Why is it that Indonesia which has a president elected with 62 per cent of the vote paralysed by the intimidations of extremist fringes?”

If the government continues to show itself as week it will become hostage to fundamentalism. And such a possibility is disquieting for the real goal of these extremists groups is not the ban on Ahmadis, but the setting up of an Islamic state under Sharia law.

The Fathers of the 1945 constitution had rejected that form of government, opting instead for a system that guarantees religious freedom.

Now all eyes are on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Public opinion is now waiting to see him take a decisive and clear stand on the issue, a step that would reassure everybody that he, and not a bunch of fanatics, is in charge of the country.

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See also
Young moderate Muslims declare war on extremists
Muslim leader detained in anti-Christian attack
Jakarta on the verge of a civil war as moderate and radical Muslims battle it out
More than 50 Islamic Defender Front extremists arrested
Changing rules for building churches (Overview)


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