Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Persecution of Indonesian Christians

The sharia authorities in West Java have developed a two-prong strategy to discourage the practice of Christianity. First they knock down a church, which drives the Christian congregation into open-air worship. Then they harass them for praying in the open, because public worship by non-Muslims is against the law.

According to Asia News:

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Police demolished a residential building in Bogor (West Java) that regularly hosted a house church. Police also detained, interrogated and released ten people, Compass Direct News (CDN) reported.

Last Monday, police raided a house used for worship by Narogong Pentecostal Church in the village of Limusnunggal, Cileungsi sub-district. The action was followed by clashes between agents and worshippers. The building was eventually torn down and ten people arrested.

“Local residents, including non-Christians, had accepted the presence of the church,” said local Block Captain Junaedi Syamsudin, “but a group called the Forum of the Muslim Brotherhood of Limusnunggal has worked since 2008 to have the church eliminated.”

“Three months ago members of the forum went to Cileungsi offices to object to the church’s presence,” Syamsudin added, “and the regent promised to demolish the house.”

Here’s a crucial part of the Muslim strategy: the co-opting of supposedly impartial police officials:
- - - - - - - - -
Bogor Police Chief Eddy Hidayat said that the house “lacked a use permit”, but Pentecostal Church coordinator Hotlan P. Silaen retorted that police were not neutral in the dispute.

“The clash with citizens could have been avoided if the police had been neutral and not been goaded into a situation that caused bodily harm,” Silaen said.

The Christians have enough backbone to at least attempt to fight back:

Rev Rekson Sitorus announced that the Church would take “legal action” against those responsible for demolishing the house, including the Bogor administration.

Now here comes Stage Two: harassment of Christians for open-air worship. In this case, however, the police were more helpful to the persecuted Christians:

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — A group of 500 Islamic extremists blocked Christians from the Huria Protestant Church (Hkbp) in a field where the Sunday service was taking place. The incident occurred last July 18 in the city of Pondok Timur in Mustika Jaya subdistrict, district of Bekasi (West Java).

Muslims blocked all routes to prevent Christians leaving the field and began to insult them, terrorizing them. The group of Protestant believers pray outdoors because their hall for religious functions was closed on the grounds that it was illegal.

The situation improved when a representative of the Bekasi Office for Religious Affairs, along with 200 policemen, arrived at the site. Luspida Simanjutak, head pastor at the Hkbp church, told AsiaNews: “We were forced to sign a pact with them, forcing us to stop our faith celebration but we strongly rejected the proposal. We asked the representative to help our congregation to leave the site without harm. Their goal is one and one alone, to eradicate all churches from Mustika Jaya”.

It is not the first time that the Hkbp church was targeted by Islamic extremists. “At Pondok Timur — continued the pastor — the Muslims have forced local government to outlaw the place where we held our services. They’ve already done so twice”.

That’s why different Hkbp communities decided to hold their services in an open field. Theopilus Bella an activist for interfaith dialogue, believes the incident last Sunday was premeditated. “Many of the faithful — he tells AsiaNews — received text messages from Islamic extremists which warned them of what they would do” and what in fact happened.

Despite threats by Islamic Rev. Simanjutak says that her community will continue to recite the Mass in the same place.

For years the Christians of Bekasi have been targeted by Islamic fundamentalists. Early in 2010, radical groups blocked religious services, prevented Christians from access to existing churches and stopped the construction of new churches. Since 2009, more than 17 churches have been affected by Islamic extremists. The Hkbp church, besides having to close its premises many times because deemed “illegal” in 2010, suffered the destruction of a church in 2004, after receiving permission to construct it.

Indonesia used to be a relatively tolerant place for non-Muslim religions. The indigenous form of Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia is less harsh and more broad-minded than the Salafist strains that dominate Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In fact, some of the local syncretic practices are even viewed as blasphemous by Islamic purists.

Over the last ten or fifteen years, however, Wahhabi petrodollars have changed the religious landscape in the archipelago, as they have in Bosnia, Kosovo, Bangladesh, and all the other places where Wahhabist dawah is propagated. The religious authorities have recently intensified their enforcement of strict sharia practices.

The Christians of West Java are just one of the many groups suffering the consequences of these changes.

Hat tip: C. Cantoni.


Zenster said...

Here’s a crucial part of the Muslim strategy: the co-opting of supposedly impartial police officials

Police officials? More like law enforcement and when I say "law enforcement", I mean shari'a law enforcement.

It seems almost foreordained that the police in Muslim majority countries eventually morph into Mutaween.

Perhaps this will change once all of that Saudi Arabian sand is replaced with glass.

The Pundit said...

I know Bekasi quite well. My Brother-in-law lives there and he can tell first-hand of the fear of the local militias.

When I first went to Bekasi 15 years ago the situation was quite different and people just got along with the odd conflict here and there.

These days, the influence of Arab firebrands is palpable on a Muslim populace that is largely illiterate, superstitious and poor.

The police, as corrupt as they are, will usually do the work of the highest bidder - which is generally those with the highest numbers on their side, the Muslims.

It's only when the spotlight of human rights activism or the media gets turned on that the police and authorities will side with the Christians.

All-in-all it doesn't bode well for the Christians of Bekasi or anywhere else in Indonesia.

Professor L said...

Considering that three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded back in 2005 (source: Sydney Morning Herald), not to mention the Bali Bombings of 2002 and 2005, as well as the Australian embassy being attacked in 2004, and the Marriott the year before, I'd certainly say the situation has worsened with regards to Islamic extremism.

While officially, Australia and Indonesia are close, Australia has kept quiet about many Indonesian abuses (most prominent among them East Timor, even if redeemed by our intervention in 1999. Just look at the parliamentary reports we put out), while Indonesia felt quite miffed when Australia granted refugee status to five West Guinean independence activists (see here).

So there's reason to be wary. Though I'm more wary of Malaysia and Mahathir bin Mohamad, who was notoriously anti-Australian (to the point that, had we become a republic in 1999, we might have been barred re-entry into the Commonwealth).

Then again, I'm an optimist, and cannot deny that the reputation of Bali as a tourist destination
(though that may be due to the predominance of Hinduism rather than Islam), and the general desire for humanity's common goals (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness (please, for Heaven's sake though, catch it yourself!), etc).