Once again, this is a fight over permits. The permit system for houses of worship in Indonesia is one example of a crafty form of legislation in Muslim countries: laws that have the practical effect of allowing the enforcement of Sharia without the international and domestic political liability of spelling it out.
Other examples include the “wealth tax” on non-Muslims in Turkey, Algeria’s law on building churches, and Egypt’s proposed law on houses of worship. The latter two laws function similarly to Indonesia’s in that they leave the non-Muslim minority at the mercy of the Muslim majority to obtain permission to build. Sharia, after all, forbids the building of new churches and the repair of old ones.
Even after the churches are built, they are not safe: the “extremist group” in this story resents the fact that a few slipped through the cracks, and is looking for the “Undo” button. “Central Java, Islamic extremists against Christians: five churches at risk demolition,” by Mathias Hariyadi for Asia News, December 5:
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – An Islamic extremist group in Pracimantoro, a town in the district of Wonogiri, in central Java, has appealed to local government for the demolition of five Protestant churches in the area. The alarm is launched by Theophilus Bela, human rights activist and promoter of interfaith dialogue, according to whom that the fundamentalists complaint claims the Christian communities lack the building permits (IMB) for places of worship. The tension in the area is steadily increasing, and rumors of threats of demolition, circulating since yesterday evening in a series of documents, is not contributing to calming tempers. Previously, adds the Christian activist, extremist threats have focused on nine other churches in Bekasi regency, West Java.
The procedure for the construction of a church in Indonesia – Catholic or Protestant – is complicated and it can take five to ten years to obtain all required permits. The procedure is governed by the Izin Mendirikan Bangunan (IMB), a written resolution that allows the opening of a building site and is issued by local authorities. The story gets more complicated when it comes to a place of Christian worship: it has to be cleared by a quorum of residents in the area where the building is to be constructed and the local Interreligious Dialogue committee. And “unspecified reasons” that lead officials to block the projects, under pressure from radical Islamic movements often take over.
A document released at the weekend explains the Christian community”s reasons for concern. The Pracimantoro Islamist group is led by a religious who ” also holds the post of Head of the local Government Department for Religious Affairs.” On December 1, during a committee meeting, it emerged that the Islamic extremist group submitted a demolition request. The five churches, local sources tell, have received authorization to operate from the office for religious affairs of Semarang, the provincial capital, but have not yet been handed over the IMB.
Christians have submitted documentation to the local department of Pracimantoro, but so far officials have purposely avoided evaluating their case or granting the appropriate permissions. Churches waiting to receive permission are: the Pentecostal church in the village of Ngalu Wetana, the All Nations Church in Gebangharjo, the Protestant Church in Javanese Godang, the Bethel Tabernacle Church, also in Gebangharjo and finally, the Christian Nazareth Church in Lebak.