Growing Intolerance in West Java

By webadmin on 09:35 am Apr 21, 2011
Category Archive

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja – Straits Times Indonesia

The suicide bombing in a mosque last week was only the latest terrorist attack in West Java, where minority sects and churches have also been hit by a recent wave of violence.

The troubles have underlined the sharp contrast between the extreme brand of Islam that has emerged there and the more benign and tolerant kind found in other parts of Indonesia.

Weak enforcement of laws against religious intolerance is one of the key reasons for rising violence in Indonesia, especially West Java, say analysts, while circumstances in the province also lend themselves to radicalism.

In fact, 49 of the 81 cases of religious intolerance nationwide last year were recorded in West Java, according to the Moderate Muslim Society, which promotes pluralism, democracy and human rights.

East Java province placed a distant second, with six cases last year, while there were four cases each in Jakarta and South Sulawesi. These incidents included attacks, vandalism, threats, intimidation, and the forced closure of churches and other places of worship.

Groups that promote violence have ‘proliferated’ quickly in West Java in recent years, said Moderate Muslim Society chairman Zuhairi Misrawi.

He blamed the disturbing trend on the victories of the Islamic-leaning Prosperous Justice Party in the province during the legislative elections in 2004 and 2009, and in the executive polls for governor in 2008.

The radicals have ‘sort of a political umbrella’ in West Java, said Mr Zuhairi by telephone. ‘If it weren’t for this, the radicals wouldn’t have been able to act the way they have been acting. The moderate groups in West Java are not as strong and have been talking less than the hardliners have.’

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, but most people follow a moderate form of Islam and are sickened by terrorist acts – such as last Friday’s suicide bombing in a police compound mosque that injured 30 worshippers, mostly policemen.

The bombing followed a series of similar attacks by militants, including one in Pandeglang in Banten province where three members of the minority Ahmadiyah Muslim sect were brutally murdered in February.

Last August in Bekasi, West Java, a mob of 150 people tried to take over a local church. Members of its congregation were chased and beaten up while about 100 police officers stood and looked on without intervening.

Mr Masdar Farid Mas’udi, an executive member of Indonesia’s moderate Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, painted a bleak picture of West Java. He said radical groups in the province are funded by individuals and organisations in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

‘West Java is easy to penetrate because the idea of radical Islam has been there for a long time already,’ Mr Masdar said. Areas especially prone to such penetration include Tasikmalaya, Ciamis, Bandung, Cirebon and Kuningan.

Saudi-trained clerics who return to West Java spread radical ideologies to residents and reinforce West Java radicalism, he said.

West Java was the centre of an infamous radical Islamic separatist movement called Darul Islam that fought for an Islamic state there in the late 1940s.

After long battles against the government under Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, the movement was crushed with the arrest of its leader S.M. Kartosoewirjo in 1962.

During the three decades of president Suharto’s authoritarian rule to 1998, the movement was kept dormant.

Mr Mustafa Kamal, head of the Prosperous Justice Party faction at the national Parliament, does not agree that religious intolerance is especially acute in West Java.

‘West Java is a geographically big and very populous province, so there seems to be more of a problem there,’ said Mr Mustafa by telephone. ‘But incidents in West Java have been over-exposed because of its prominence and proximity to Jakarta, the centre of all the attention.’

His views clash with those of the Moderate Muslim Society’s Mr Zuhair, who has called for the disbanding of a West Java-based radical organisation called the Forum of Islamic Devotees, or FUI, because of its link to the Cirebon suicide bomber.

The man identified as the bomber, M. Syarif, 32, had taken part in a number of unruly street rallies organised by the FUI to demand the government disband the minority Ahmadiyah sect.

‘The latest Cirebon attack clearly proves that the hardliners are real threats to the nation’s security and stability,’ said Mr Zuhairi. ‘Now the question is whether the central government wants to continue to coalesce with the radicals or not. If the answer is yes, then we should anticipate their next massive attacks in West Java.’

Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055