Editor’s note: As the crossroads of centuries of trade and migration, Southeast Asia contains a diverse mix of religious and ethnic groups. Within each faith, there is often a spectrum of beliefs, ranging from hardline to moderate.
Under authoritarian governments, e.g. that of former President Suharto of Indonesia, inter-religious friction could be controlled by sometimes harsh measures, but as Asean countries become more democratic, there is a real danger that the freer public space gives more opportunities to hotheads from any side to create trouble.
It is thus important that concurrent with the development of democracy in Asean countries, there should also be a maturing of social and civil attitudes towards diversity. It is not enough that governments understand the importance of human rights; in increasing ways, civic leaders, religious leaders and the person-in-the-street too have to acquire habits of tolerance and mutual respect.
Source: Straits Times/Associated Press
2 June 2008
Hardliners attack rally for religious tolerance in Jakarta
JAKARTA – Islamic hardliners broke up a religious tolerance rally yesterday, beating demonstrators with bamboo sticks and calling for the death of members of a Muslim sect they consider heretical, witnesses said.
About 200 Christians, moderate Muslims and members of Ahmadiyah – an Islamic group that the Indonesian government is considering banning – had gathered at the National Monument in Jakarta to celebrate the country’s tradition of pluralism, said Mr Gunawan Mohamad, a prominent magazine publisher who took part in the rally.
But at least 12 people were injured and four of them were taken to hospitals after members of the Islamic Defenders Front rushed the square waving flags and swinging sticks, according to organiser Anick Tohari.
‘Repent or die,’ shouted the men – dressed in green and white outfits – as they punched and kicked bleeding protesters, video footage showed.
Children and elderly women demonstrators were caught up in the clash.
Ahmadiyah, which is considered heretical by fundamentalists, has been targeted since a government commission recommended in April that it be outlawed.
Its followers have been persecuted for decades after religious edicts, which deemed that their faith deviated from traditional Islamic teachings, were issued by the leading Muslim organisations.
‘Ahmadiyah has been declared as heretical, so holding a rally can be considered as a crime,’ said Mr Munarman, a spokesman for the Islamic Defenders Front.
‘They are asking for it, We will not stop until they are completely disbanded.’