Fear and Loathing in Indonesia

Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 11 comments

Australia’s neighbour Indonesia, home to one of the largest armies in the world, is a fiercely religious place. It officially recognises 6 religions, the largest of which is various forms of Islam making up 87% of the population. The rest is a combination of Protestantism, Catholicism, Hindu, Buddhism and Confucianism. Atheism and agnosticism are not recognised and it is illegal to blaspheme against any religion. The anti-blasphemy law states that person may receive up to 5 years in prison if they are found to be:

“…deliberately, in public, which in essence sparked hostility, insulting or abusive views towards religions with the purpose of preventing others from adhering to any religion based on God.”

The nation has as part of its prime directive the notion that there is, with certainty, one God, and whatever guise you deem to worship this god in, it is tolerated. Indonesia backs freedom of religion, and in most cases it can be quite tolerant of another person’s religion. It has a strong interfaith culture, and promotes dialogue between the different faiths.

But not so if you are atheist or agnostic. According the the law, it is illegal to voice your opinions if that opinion is that there is no god. So in this case, freedom OF religion does not equal freedom FROM religion.

I read a report in The Telegraph yesterday that a man who posted the words “God does not exist”, on his FaceBook page was badly beaten by an angry mob which included co-workers and persons unknown to him. The man, a lapsed Muslim, was then delivered to the police by the mob, who placed him in protective custody awaiting charges.

This is perplexing, and not unlike the intolerance recently seen in The Maldives over a similar problem, where a man was found hanged after admitting to his colleagues that he was an atheist. Indonesia differs from The Maldives in that it’s not illegal to be anything other than Muslim, but it seems that while they are tolerant of other religions, those with no religion are left out in the cold, and in some cases are subjected to religious violence like in the case we see here. Religious violence, coming from an idea that prides itself on its peaceful aspects, is becoming more publicised in the media. Is this because it’s on the increase, or because we want to hear about it? Is it something else again, like a pop-cultural Islamophobia? It’s difficult to say, but one might point out that it’s rare, if almost unknown, that a person is beaten up by a mob of angry atheists for their belief in God.

Islamophobia aside, can we say that it is justifiable, by any ruling government, so stifle people’s freedom of speech when it comes to religion? Is religion to be given a special place above an scrutiny that all other parts of civilisation are denied? Add to that, is it possible that religious belief is so fragile, and held onto so tenuously that the mere words of disbelief are enough to threaten it? Apparently so, and this points to something quite telling about the nature of belief, and it’s tendency to keep the followers under-thumb and ignorant of outside ideas.

Indonesia is actually quite lenient with its anti- blasphemy laws, with the maximum penalty being jail-time, as opposed to execution being the maximum penalty in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I suppose this makes more progressive than its Islamic cousins, but it’s still a long way from the standards that we enjoy in the western world.

It comes down to the nature of Islam, which states that unbelievers are to be killed, and that Islam is to be the only religion:

“[2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.
[2.192] But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[2.193] And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.” – The Cow

Some interpret this passage differently than the words appear, but the words do appear thus, and interpretation is clear to my mind what it means. I know this is cherrypicking, and some would claim it’s take out of context, but these are the words in the book, and these words are filtered down to the believers who interpret them for themselves. What would you think is the right thing to do if these were the words fed to you from your religious book? But I digress.

So what is at stake here? The freedom of a man expressing himself has been taken, he has been subjected to beatings and ridicule, and is liable to loose his livelihood. In some ways, compared to what could happen in other fiercely religious nations, he has been fortunate enough to be delivered to the police. But it still stands that this man, for a simple posting on his FaceBook page, now faces jail-time for his actions. While I have no illusions that anything will change in Indonesia soon, I think that the case of Indonesia and The Maldives show us that by contrast, Australia, The USA and Europe have a very tolerant and just society for non-believers, and we should be mindful of this fact. Taken for granted and our freedoms and rights could be stripped away from us right from under our noses.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m from the States, and I haven’t heard anything about religious intolerance in Australia (oh, I’ve read quite a bit about Indonesia). Have you all had incidences of it that I haven’t heard of?

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    • Not really a problem here, although Islamophobia is on the rise aw we get an increase in Muslims emigrating to Australia. Most folks are Christian, and most seem to get along pretty well. We have it pretty good here, and seeing what goes on in Indonesia, The Maldives, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. gives a good perspective on how good it actually is here.

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  2. EDIT: This comment has been removed as it could be seen as an invitation for legal action to be levelled against me.

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    • Thanks for that Brett, some good points to consider. I know that currently Melinda Tankard-Reist is suing a blogger by the name of Jennifer Wilson for apparent defamation.

      The law of which you speak is unlikely to be upheld unless someone takes me to task over something I write, and would likely be overturned in court, but it is a law nonetheless, and it is one that I have heard of before. It has been included so that “real” hatespeak does not take place, not criticism like the kind I do. Basically it says “don’t piss anyone off, for whatever reason” but I think in my blog I have been pretty fair all in all, and if someone were to sue me over it, I am sure I could muster enough support to have the whole thing dropped.

      As to the “just peachy for Christians” thing, well they are a minority in an Islamic state, so I assume it would be pretty rough for them in some areas of the country. I don’t know of any particular stories offhand, but I’m sure if I dug deeper I would find them. It was not my intention to make it sound this way, and to be truthful, I don;t think my blog does that at all. If anything I skipped right past the subject of Christianity in Indonesia because that was not the topic of the blog piece.

      Thanks for your feedback

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    • I’ve read it now. Short version: someone may or may not be suing a blogger for defamation. Okay, but I must be missing the point, because I don’t understand why you mention it.

      As to the Victorian law, you might want to study the case of the Two Dannys before you decide how the court would rule. Your quotation from the Koran could be represented as an effort to incite revulsion against Muslims, as could your earlier post about extremists strapping bombs to children, and so on. Note that section nine of the act says that your motives are irrelevant, so there is no need to prove that you intended to incite revulsion. There are exceptions in section eleven, and the Two Dannys would seem to fall under those exceptions (though the court ruled not), but your blog wouldn’t be covered by them.

      While I agree (and hope) that your chances of being sued under the law are slim to none, I can’t help but think that your predictions about the outcome, should the worst come to the worst, are hopelessly optimistic. Just look at the case law! The intention of the law may have been to prevent “real” hate speech, but the intention of the law doesn’t count for much. Look at the whole SOPA/PIPA brouhaha: the intention is to stop online piracy and protect intellectual property, but the laws as currently written don’t achieve those ends, and the predictions regarding the actual enforcement of the law are even more dire.

      In short, I would have expected you to be opposed to this law, but you seem surprisingly ambivalent. I’m confused.

      As to the “just peachy for Christians” thing, the primary part of your blog post which gave me that impression was the second paragraph (just below the blockquote). This paragraph and the one following set up a picture of, “just peachy for religious folks of all stripes, but quite the contrary for atheists.” If you want to dig deeper into the inequality of religion there, I’ve already provided a link, and a brief glance at that page will give you an appropriately filtered view of the news, highlighting this particular issue, and giving you a sense of its scope.

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    • Persecution of “the other” by those of various religious persuasions has been taking place since man invented the first gods. I doubt we’ll see an end to it in the next couple centuries.

      Oddly enough, I don’t read

      Indonesia backs freedom of religion, and in most cases it can be quite tolerant of another person’s religion. It has a strong interfaith culture, and promotes dialogue between the different faiths.

      as saying that Christians have it “just peachy” in Indonesia. Great portions of Indonesia do not recognize the authority of the state, allowing local “law” to have its sway. In such a place, it is no great wonder that the official legal stance of the government is not literally the law of the land.

      I’ll just leave this here.

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    • Martin! WHY U NO POST ABOUT CHRISTIANS? THEY SO OPPRESSED! Y U NO POST ABOUT WHAT I WANT YOU TO? YOU COULD BE SUUUUUUUUUUUUED!

      Actually Brett, why is it that you’re so butt devastated whenever Martin does a post and it has nothing to do with christians? Why are you so emotional about it? I can’t help but think, two things whenever I see you post due to the fact that you’re only here to troll. Those would be: COOL STORY BRO! and Y U MAD THO?

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    • Brett, I mention it because we were talking about people suing bloggers, and this was top of mind, since its a hot topic. Not directly related, but it is related in a way, since MTR is suing for reasons surrounding her religion and her portrayal of that religion in her work.

      As for the law in question, yes it’s bad. Of course it’s bad, but we were talking about Indonesia weren’t we?

      As for the Peachy Christian thing, you are reading into the blog what is not there. They are recognised, atheists are not. What part of this statement says “Life for Christians is peachy”?

      The nation has as part of its prime directive the notion that there is, with certainty, one God, and whatever guise you deem to worship this god in, it is tolerated. Indonesia backs freedom of religion, and in most cases it can be quite tolerant of another person’s religion. It has a strong interfaith culture, and promotes dialogue between the different faiths.

      But not so if you are atheist or agnostic. According the the law, it is illegal to voice your opinions if that opinion is that there is no god. So in this case, freedom OF religion does not equal freedom FROM religion.

      It says what it says, about tolerance, about Indonesian Law, and nothing about acceptance or whether it’s tough for non Muslims in Indonesia. That is another blog piece I’m afraid. This piece is about a man who was beaten and taken into custody FOR A FACEBOOK POST. Not a piece about “How tough it is to be in a minority religion in a military theocracy.”

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  3. TFBW mentioned in another location:

    Right… current assessment of situation is, “I’m not seeing how this exercise is productive in any sense”.Time to pull the plug.Adieu, Pribble and readers.

    I thought it was quite productive. The laughter we had at Brett’s expense was quite enjoyable, in my opinion.

    What is not productive, is the epistemology of people like Brett. Sure, it’s internally consistent, and the rules of logic are applicable within its environs, but it simply isn’t useful. We can spend decades arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or we can approach the world in the only terms that have ever been show to be of use in improving our knowledge of our Universe: those of materialism.

    Thank you, Brett, for providing the entertainment for us. Dance, jester; dance.

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  4. Dear the religious,

    Please consider updating the sections of the Holy ***** that are undermining the tenets of Peace and of Love?

    I didn’t write those bits.

    Yours faithfully,
    The OT God.

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  5. Great article, Marty. I think you nailed it (excuse the religious pun).

    Having lived in Indonesia for the past decade, I can assure your readers that while Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation, it is also the most moderate. Also, Indonesia, by and large, takes pride in the fact that all forms of religious worship are protected. In fact, Indonesia celebrates certain Christian holidays, for example, that most Christians in the West have never heard of. A holiday for Ascension Day is hardly something one would expect to see in Saudi Arabia, for example.

    Having said that, it is concerning to see the Conservatives take an axe to the line that separates CHurch and State during the past 5 years, and their influence is growing. They’ve helped ushered thru the anti-blasphemy law and the antii-pornography law (a law that can see a woman jailed for wearing a two-piece bathing suit).

    Liberals in this country need to find a voice, and find one fast. Otherwise, Indonesian will look a little more like its more oppressive Islamic colleagues.

    CJ

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