Indonesians used to glowing praise over the country’s democratization were abruptly shamed with scenes of February’s mob attack and brutal killing of three Ahmadis in Cikeusik, West Java, projected in the first session of annual talks on Indonesia in Canberra on Friday.
Although the mob assault was acknowledged as an extreme exception, speaker Greg Fealy said it reflected one of the “hardest tests” for Indonesian democracy.
Even though Ahmadis were the least-liked of Indonesia’s minorities, “with no one important” defending them, in part given their exclusivity, Fealy said they were entitled to state protection guaranteed by the Constitution, more so because of the hostility against them.
He noted that the government was under pressure to ban the Ahmadiyah sect, who are regarded as un-Muslim by other Muslims, because they do not regard the Prophet Muhammad as the final prophet.
Fealy was addressing Indonesian Update 2011 at the Australian National University, after Chancellor and former foreign minister Gareth Evans had lauded Indonesia as “a talismanic example to the rest of the Muslim world”.
Fealy, among the most renowned scholars on Islam in Indonesia, cited the incident as one of the indicators of Indonesia’s “regression”, along with the dwindling anti-corruption drive and declining trust in elections and political parties.
The absence of the rule of law and mixed signals from the state regarding the attack had all resulted in the immunity of “emboldened sectarian vigilantes”.
Western leaders must pay more attention to this issue, Fealy said.
He noted how Jakarta seemed to endorse bylaws in several regencies that have banned Ahmadiyah in their areas, despite the decentralization law clearly stating that religious affairs are an authority of the central government.
Fealy noted how the attackers became the victims, with Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar stating that the assault and murder may not have been a human rights violation. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who has been among many pushing for the state ban on Ahmadis, asserted that they were not Muslim.
Fealy compared the due process against the attackers to protesters who had brought a buffalo to a rally with “SBY” painted on its body. Students were immediately arrested.
“It seems insulting the President is more important” than murder, Fealy said.
“Arrests were made only after an outrage,” Fealy said. The recent verdict on the 11 attackers and one Ahmadi, their security chief, gave the latter, Deden Sujana, the sentences of between three and six months’ imprisonment, for “provoking” the attack that resulted in the death of three Ahmadis after being stabbed and tortured.
Douglas Ramage of AusAID, Australia’s aid agency, and another scholar on Indonesia, said the main factor constraining Indonesia’s progress was the weakening of its oversight institutions in recent years.
Yudhoyono’s leadership, he added, reflected “extreme inclusiveness and consensus”, Ramage said. This guarantees stability but showed a failure of Yudhoyono’s leadership for reform, “ceding space for others to roll back ‘reformasi’”.
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