Experts in Indonesia Say Blasphemy Law Sows Radicalization

Blasphemy Laws Sow Radicalization

Experts in Indonesia have said the implementation of Blasphemy Law leads to the radicalization of Muslims.

Political analyst Tobias Basuki, who works for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said the fear of being attacked by religious hardliners or charged under Blasphemy Law has been discouraging moderate Muslims and other minority groups from participating in debates about religion.

“Minority groups have been silenced, especially in the past 10 years, because of [former president] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's inaction. After all that now we're heading toward a condition where silencing others is acceptable,” said Tobias at a seminar on March 3.

Even though former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received a lot of international acclaim for encouraging pluralism in the country, experts say those who doubted mainstream religious teachings were still charged under Blasphemy Law under his watch. Article 156 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code mandates those found guilty of publicly displaying hatred, hostility or contempt towards the state religion of facing prison sentence of up to five years. Over that, religious hardliners, such as Islam Defenders Front, have the power to crack down on minority groups that promote inclusive versions of Islam.

Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Leimena Institute in Jakarta, said his research concerning Muslim countries and different definitions of religious freedom reveals the greatest threat to religious pluralism does not emerge from the government implementing Blasphemy Law but from militant groups who choose to take the law into their own hands when they believe their religion has been offended.

“The danger is when you get a passive state where the government just sits there when 100 people attack someone for what they said or who they are […] this allows violence to flourish,” he said.

According to Marshall, the government’s lackadaisical approach in protecting citizens against such militant groups, however, is the reason why people have stopped addressing religious problems in the country.

“There's a danger of increasing radicalization because you start to only hear one voice,” he said.

Human rights watchdog group Setara Institute tracked 135 cases of religious atrocities in Indonesia in 2007 and as many as 264 in 2012. Reportedly, members of Shia and Ahmadiya communities are often subjected to attacks by Sunnis, who condemn them for practicing their own versions of Islam. Similarly, several Catholic and Protestant groups too have been denied the permission to set up their churches and avail themselves of necessary permits by the majority Sunni Muslim population.

However, Marshall clarified that the situation is not as bad in Indonesia, as Blasphemy Law there is more lenient than in other Muslim-dominated countries.

“There's increasing sentiment here that the Indonesian understanding of Islam and its efforts in inter-religious relations should have more influence in the Muslim world than it actually has. The influence has been largely one way from the Middle East to Indonesia,” he said.

Photo Credits: World Bulletin

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