Indonesia Events Show Increasing Extremist Influence

by Chris Lundry

The past couple of weeks have been interesting in Indonesia, especially for those concerned with religion and conflict in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Ahmadiyya sentences.

On February 6 in Banten, West Java, some 1000 villagers attacked a house with several members of Ahmadiyya inside. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but many Muslims consider Ahmadis heretics because of their belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet who came after Mohammad. The tension had been mounting, and the Ahmadis had been asked to leave and faced threats and intimidation. They were also accused of stockpiling weapons — if true, an understandable reaction given the palpable threats they were facing. During the attack, Ahmadis were viciously beaten, and three were killed, their corpses stomped into the mud as police stood by and watched. Video footage of the attacks, including idle police, remains on YouTube. Members of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front, who consider themselves vigilantes, were among the attackers.

Yesterday, a court in Jakarta announced a verdict of six months in jail for Deden Sudjana, an Ahmadi leader whose hand was nearly severed in the attack, for incitement and “maltreatment.” Last month, 12 of those who attacked the Ahmadis were handed down sentences of three to six months. None were tried for murder.

Ahmadiyya is persecuted under Indonesian law; its adherents are not allowed to demonstrate their faith publicly. There have been several attempts to ban the sect outright, and a branch of the sect was attacked in Makassar, Sulawesi last weekend.

Ramadan violence.

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is well under way, and in Indonesia, like clockwork extremist groups such as the FPI increased their attacks on what they perceive as immorality. Although they target criminal activities such as prostitution and drugs, they also target activities that are not illegal under Indonesian law, such as selling or eating food during the fast. Indonesia has practitioners of religious traditions other than Islam, as well as a wide continuum among Muslims regarding the strictness with which they carry out their faith. These attacks, including against a food stall in Makassar (Ujung Padang), Sulawesi, the other day, are frequently ignored by local police, who may sympathize with the FPI or may even be afraid to move against them, despite their claims to the contrary.

Another unfortunate Ramadan tradition in Indonesia is the targeting of Christian churches. On August 1 in Riau, two Protestant churches were burned down.

umar-patekTerrorist Umar Patek brought back from Pakistan.

Umar Patek, a Jemaah Islamiyah member with ties to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, who was arrested in Abbottabad, Pakistan in January, was repatriated to Indonesia. Conspiracy theorists speculated about his return, which took much longer than expected, accusing the Indonesian secret service of brainwashing him into admitting guilt.Following his return, he admitted his role in the first Bali bombing in 2002 as well as bombings of churches on Christmas Eve in 2000.

It cannot be a coincidence that he was picked up in the same town where Osama bin Laden met his demise, despite American claims to the contrary, although it is still unclear whether the two met. Umar Patek certainly has knowledge about the connections between Southeast Asian extremists and the rest of the world, and likely about the current state of these organizations. There is also speculation that Umar Patek divulged information that led to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s residence.

Whether or not he will talk is unclear, but the United States is among those hoping to be able to interrogate him. According to the head of the Indonesian National Counter Terrorism Agency Ansyaad Mbai, he cannot be tried under the 2003 anti-terrorism law, written in response to the Bali bombing; he will, however, be tried for other offenses including murder and possible explosives charges.

Violence in Papua.

Violence continues in West Papua, where recent demonstrations in favor of an independence referendum have been met with bloody crackdowns, and elections in some regions have turned violent. Indonesian sovereignty in West Papua has been contested since its de facto integration in 1962, formalized in the 1969 “Act of Free Choice.” The 1969 plebiscite was a fundamentally flawed process, and is considered a Cold War appeasement to Indonesian President Suharto, who had come to power four years earlier in a bloodbath of communists.

Papua is not immune to light sentencing for horrendous crimes. Last week a court handed down sentences of six to 15 months to three soldiers for “insubordination.” Their crime? The murder and decapitation of Reverend Kindeman Gire, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Another article, also by Tom Allard, describes a tightly woven web of monitoring and surveillance in Papua that creates a climate of fear and intimidation. A group of professors from some of Indonesia’s best universities, calling themselves the Academic Forum for a Peaceful Papua, called for the government to eschew violence in favor of dialogue to solve Papua’s problems.

These recent events point to the continued increasing influence of extremist Islam the continuing impunity of the military and are a blow to multiculturalism and democracy in Indonesia. Lame duck President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will likely not make any bold steps to reign in groups such as the FPI nor is he likely to make any bold moves to reign in the military.