By Mathew Goldstein
English is a compulsory subject in the Indonesian national curriculum for students. Many universities require students in all subjects to show they meet a certain minimum standard of English proficiency before they are allowed to graduate. There are two national English-language daily newspapers, and a number of radio and TV stations produce programs in English. So among Islamic majority countries (Indonesia is around 85% Islamic) Indonesia is a country that is relatively accessible to Americans. It is a country known in its past for respecting religious pluralism. So it is sad to see some of the vile religious extremism that afflicts countries such as Pakistan also making inroads in Indonesia.
In 2008, the government made it illegal for the Ahmadiya, who are Muslims that do not believe Mohammed was the final prophet, to publicly promote their religious beliefs. The Indonesian government restricts the freedom of its citizens to adhere to any religion other than Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, or Confucianism. Today, it was reported in the English language Jakarta Post that an atheist was detained by police for blasphemy. A police chief is identified as saying that the man was arrested because of his writings on the internet and his direct statements saying that he did not believe in God. He was apprehended by people who entered his workplace, beat him, and then transported him to the police station. If found guilty, he could spend five years in prison.
Islamist supremecist intolerance directly affects other religious minorities as well, even among the five minority religions that are legal, such as Indonesia’s approximately 20 million Christians. It can be difficult to obtain the necessary permits to build a church in some parts of Indonesua. Even when all the requirements have been fulfilled, Christians sometimes cannot gain final approval for the construction of houses of worship. Churches and prayer halls have also been subject to vandalism, and their congregations face various forms of intimidation. Every year the U.S. State Department documents the forced closure of churches by extremist groups, often with government inaction or complicity.
The Indonesian constitution declares that the state is based on, among other things, “the belief in the One and Only God,” while guaranteeing “each and every citizen the freedom of religion and of worship in accordance with his or her religion and belief.". The constitution explicitly guarantees that “Every person shall be free to embrace and to practice the religion of his/her choice“; that “Every person shall have the right to the freedom to hold beliefs (kepercayaan), and to express his/her views and thoughts, in accordance with his/her conscience“; and that “Every person shall have the right of freedom to associate, to assemble and to express opinions.” The document asserts that freedom of thought and conscience, as well as freedom of religion, are “human rights that cannot be limited under any circumstances." Words are cheap, and apparently Indonesia's constitution is worth little more than ink on paper.