#UWRF19: Democracy aids Indonesian Islamists, Harsono says

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia Researcher for Human Rights Watch Andreas Harsono enumerated three tools of democracy and rule of law that Indonesia’s Islamists use to advance their cause in the world’s third largest democracy.

First, there’s the Blasphemy Law, enacted in 1975 and used six times until Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took office as Indonesia’s first directly elected president in 2004. Under SBY, the law was used 120 times, and 40 times more during the first five year term of current President Joko Widodo, prosecuting people for a variety of alleged offenses to religious beliefs, almost always non-Muslims accused of offending Islam. “And when you’re accused under the Blasphemy Law, you go to jail,” Harsono, author of newly published Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia, adds.

Islamists have also tried convert the constitutional guarantee of religious tolerance to a focus on religious harmony. “That means the majority should protect the minority, and the minority must respect the majority,” Harsono says. In practice, it means the majority has veto power over minorities – to “maintain harmony” – and it’s led to the closure of more than a thousand churches, as well as a handful of mosques in Muslim minority areas. Harsono notes that Christians represent 10% of Indonesia’s population, but churches represent 17% of the archipelago’s 100,000-plus houses of worship, so Islamists say thousands more should be shuttered.

Local jurisdictions have enacted more than some 770 Sharia-style laws. Harsono says he’s surprised that Islamists have even continued to expand their Sharia ambitions in Aceh, the only place in Indonesia where full-scale Sharia law is permitted.

Harsono sees the Islamists gaining further in President Widodo’s newly commenced second term due to new Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, a dedicated Islamist who supports the religious harmony view and wants to criminalize sex acts that convene hardline Islamic views.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.