The burbs ain’t what they used to be. The Ahmadis are targeted, and “the past year has seen churches closed, Christian events raided and a call to bring a city’s bylaws in line with Shariah law — all in cities neighboring the country’s capital.”
“Suburbs a Hotbed for Religious Strife,” by Arientha Primanita, Ulma Haryanto and Zaky Pawas for the Jakarta Globe, July 19 (thanks to Twostellas):
Peace is a word defined differently by certain religious communities and the Bogor administration, according to controversial Islamic sect Ahmadiyah.
“We had already erected steel pillars and the base framework for our mosque when members of certain communities began to protest its construction. The Bogor administration backed them, and requested us to stop building the mosque so that there would be peace in Bogor,” Ahmadiyah spokesman Mubarik told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday.
Mubarik said the group ceased construction, but hundreds of public order officers in Bogor on July 12 demolished the foundations to make sure the mosque would not be completed.
Residents had objected to the plan to build the mosque in Cisaladah village, claiming it violated a 2006 decree by the ministries of religious affairs and home affairs on the establishment of houses of worship, which require the approval of local residents before they can be built.
The Ahmadiyah case is but one in a number of incidents targeting minority religions in Bogor, a city that sits just outside Jakarta. But it is not just happening in Bogor. The past year has seen churches closed, Christian events raided and a call to bring a city’s bylaws in line with Shariah law — all in cities neighboring the country’s capital.
Radicalizing the Suburbs
The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a human rights organization, says what is happening in Bogor is part of a radicalization phenomenon in suburban regions, including neighboring Bekasi and Tangerang.
“When these attacks were becoming frequent in 2007, we assumed that they were the workings of the PKS [Prosperous Justice Party, an Islam-based political party],” said Ismail Hasani, a Setara researcher.
“But then we studied it more and we learned it was something else. Have you heard of the concept ‘people from the villages besieging cities?'”‰”
According to Setara’s research, at least 291 acts of religious violence occurred last year across 12 provinces — West Java had the highest number with 57 incidents, followed by Jakarta with 38. Both Bogor and Bekasi are within West Java.
“These incidents illustrate the political motives of certain organizations to gain supporters in suburban regions bordering Jakarta,” Ismail said. “These mass organizations are frequently used for political reasons. For instance, approaching regional elections, mass organizations are used to win more votes.”
The destruction of the planned Ahmadiyah mosque stemmed from a promise made by a district head in Bogor prior to his election.
Theophilus Bela, secretary general of Indonesian Committee of Religions for Peace, said freedom to worship was being restricted more openly with help from local governments.
“Building permits are an excuse here to shut down churches or to freeze prayer services in homes,” Theo told the Globe.
“Christians are of many types, including Pentacostal, the Huria Christian Protestants, Catholics and many others. The government must understand this that each religion has sects and each has a different need. They must be accommodated.”
Aside from the characteristics of the local governments, attitudes among residents in these suburbs may also help explain why hard-line groups thrive there.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan from HKBP (Batak Christian Protestant Church) Filadelfia, whose permit was denied by the government because residents rejected it, claimed that local Islamic leaders told residents they would not receive religious services unless they opposed the church.
“The local residents are mostly field workers and elementary school graduates; they got intimidated easily,” he said.
A Bekasi resident who lives near the proposed site of the HKBP Filadelfia church told the Globe she did not object to a church being built there, “as long as they did not try to Christianize our children.”
The changing demographics of these cities could also play a part. Palti acknowledged that his congregation members were all migrants from North Sumatra who moved to Bekasi starting in the 1980s.
“Our population grew, as Bekasi is in the outskirts of Jakarta and there are a lot of factories in the area where most people work,” he said.
Johny Nelson Simanjuntak, a commissioner for monitoring and investigations at the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said a combination of factors could be contributing to radicalization.
“There is a lack of critical thinking and even weaker law enforcement in these areas. It is growing like an epidemic,” he told the Globe.
Weak Government Response
Regardless of the reasons behind this phenomenon, many are worried over the apparent lack of action to address it.
“The result of the recent congress in Bekasi is a big threat to the nation. That is open provocation,” Johny said. He was referring to a recent conservative Islamic congress that discussed a plan to bring Bekasi more in line with its interpretation of Islam.
The congress also called for the creation of a militant youth group within each mosque to fight the ongoing “Christianization” of the city….