Mob rule and religious intolerance are on the rise in Indonesia. Two days after a deadly attack on the Ahmadiyah sect in Banten comes the worrying news that a mob attacked and vandalized two churches in Central Java.
This time the reason was anger over a court’s decision to sentence a Christian man to five years in prison for distributing leaflets seen as blaspheming Islam.
The mob demanded the death sentence, but the court had already passed down the maximum sentence allowed under the law.
Such acts of violence are becoming alarmingly common and the authorities seem paralyzed to act. Indonesia’s image as a tolerant nation is in peril.
We must ask ourselves what is happening here.
How has religious intolerance spun so far out of control? Are these incidents simply spontaneous emotional acts or are there other forces behind these rampages seeking to sow the seeds of discord?
Regardless of the reasons behind it, violence cannot be condoned and must be condemned in the strongest terms.
If religious extremism is on the rise, what steps are the authorities taking to tackle this menace and protect law-abiding citizens?
This week alone there have been two violent attacks.
These are criminal acts and those responsible must be brought to justice. However, we have yet to hear any words of reassurance from the police or the government. We have yet to hear them say they will act with the full force of the law.
We have only to look at the success of the police in their fight against terrorism to see that they are capable of suppressing religious extremism. But they will only do so if the will is there.
Too often, extremist groups are allowed to run riot in the name of Islam, sullying the name of the religion and the nation.
Blame must also lie with the minister of religious affairs. He is responsible for protecting the rights of all religious followers in the country, yet some of his statements have fanned the flames of intolerance.
Words can carry weight and meaning far beyond those intended by the speaker, so any words uttered in the name of religion must be carefully considered.
Indonesia is not the only country where religious strife is part of the social fabric. India too has suffered religious violence, leaving hundreds, sometimes thousands of people dead.
But often, such instances are linked to political leaders who incite the violence for their own self-interests.
We cannot be considered a law-abiding society if we allow such acts of violence against innocent people to occur without response.
Violence begets violence and very soon we will have full-blown civil strife between different ethnic and religious groups. Do we have the moral courage as a nation to tell these religious thugs that enough is enough?