West Sumatra, Islamists foment "Christianophobia": schools, churches and shops targeted
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In the district of West Pasaman, the Indonesian province of West Sumatra, characterized by a strong presence of Islamic extremists, some local groups - supported by government leaders - have launched a violent anti-Christian campaign. And as in the days of the Suharto regime (1967-1998), the government is feeding the ethnic and confessional divisions, in order to distract the public from the real problems of the people, including justice and rights, development policies and a serious and effective fight against corruption. Meanwhile, the bishop of Padang, worried by the growing "Christianophobia", is trying to mediate by maintaining "good relations" with the various groups and citizens' representatives, including the moderate Muslim wing.
The wave of "Christianophobia" in the third largest island in the Indonesian archipelago has taken on concerning contours in recent days, with the increase in protests in public squares. On November 19, a mob marched through the streets of the West Pasaman District to protest against "the growing presence" of "Catholic and Protestant schools" in the region. Leading the procession were members and leaders of Islamic extremist groups, chanting slogans and shouting at schools, churches and stores owned by the religious minority.
Among the many signs that stood out in the crowd, one reminded citizens that it is "morally obligatory for Muslim families not to send their children to school in Christian or Catholic institutions." Another poster invoked the closure "of Christian cafés and stores." And the real fear is that the campaign of hatred and ostracism could take on even darker, more violent contours.
Among the protesters' targets was also the Catholic Church of Sumber Karya, in West Pasaman, which is why local leaders have preferred to cancel the work of expansion and renovation, to avoid new tensions. Among the reasons for the attack on the building is the alleged lack of a building permit - the infamous Izin Mendirikan Bangunan (IMB) - a pretext often used to halt Christian works, centers and places of worship in Indonesia. A priest from the area told AsiaNews that all the procedures have been followed for obtaining a permit, but the authorities are resisting.
After Aceh, the only province in which Shariah law is in effect, the province of West Sumatra has the second-highest percentage of Muslims in the population and has many affinities with the first, including practices and regulations inspired by Islam and the Qur'an. It, too, is the scene of attacks against political leaders close to the minorities, as happened last year against the Catholic leader Supri, accused of "Christianizing" the zone. In addition to throwing rocks and stones at his house, the extremists repeatedly threatened him, ordering him to convert and embrace the faith of Mohammed. His dry response: "I'll never change religion," said Supri.