Friday, July 23, 2010

Islamic hardliners target Indonesian Christians; churches stoned, burnt, closed down or torn down, most go unpunished


Signs of intolerance ... the scene of a bomb blast in a crowded Christian market in Palu in 2005. Now the violence is much closer to Jakarta.

Indonesia's most pious Muslims go out to attack Christians and other non-Muslims!!

When Allah says attack!!


JAKARTA: A surge in anti-Christian violence in the satellite cities that ring Jakarta, almost always unpunished, has exposed alarming new fissures in Indonesian society. It has also raised concerns about the commitment of the police and the government to the country's founding principle of religious freedom.

Over the past few months there have been multiple incidents of churches being stoned, burnt, closed or torn down in Bekasi, Bogor and Tangerang, cities that ring Jakarta and have seen an influx of migrants from across the archipelago.

The forces behind the attacks on Christians are a group of Islamic hardliners who use many different names but are widely believed to be led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which has links to criminal syndicates and the military and a long record of attacking Christians, liberal Muslims, activists for religious tolerance and others who do not share its vision for an Indonesia ruled by sharia.

At a ''congress'' last month, the groups vowed to set up vigilante groups to patrol the streets for evidence of ''illegal'' Christian activity. By illegal, they mean churches and prayer houses that have not received permits from the local government, largely dominated by Islamists.

<1--more-->Murhali Barda, the head of the FPI in Bekasi, is unapologetic about the efforts to repel Christians, who he insists are on a mission to convert Muslims.

''For your information, 99.9 per cent of Bekasi people are Muslim,'' he told the Herald. ''Why would they need to build a church here? In some of these cases, there is only one Christian who lives within the district.

''Why are they here? They baptise Muslims. You must understand how angry we are. These people are simply taking over someone's area.''

Christian leaders argue the claims of conversion are absurd. ''How can we baptise the non-Muslims if we cannot do our own activity?'' asked Dwiati Novita Rini, a spokeswoman for the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Taman Yasmin church in Bogor.

The church, predominantly comprising ethnic Chinese, had received a permit to build a church and began construction but, under pressure from mosques, the local government then ordered it to be halted.

The church has won every appeal in the courts but construction remains stalled as the mayor seeks a final judicial review. Now it is required to hold church services in the street. These have to be guarded by the police, who wheel in a water cannon while parishioners pray.

Theophilus Bela, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Committee of Religions for Peace, said the desire to build churches reflects the demographic change in the region.

''Sixty-five per cent of the manufacturing factories in the country are located here,'' he said.

''People from around the country come from places like Sumatra, Sulawesi, even from Java to get jobs and a better living.

''They all come with their different ethnicities and beliefs, and among them are Christians.''

Mr Bela said part of the problem is compounded by the takeover of nearby mosques by Islamic radicals who are whipping up fear among Muslims, many of them poor and uneducated.

The western part of Java has long been a home of militant Islam in Indonesia.

The incidents of sectarian strife are concerning, but Indonesian advocates for religious tolerance are perhaps more alarmed by the lack of action by police or central government.

That inaction has raised fears that the violence will spiral further out of control as people take matters into their own hands. Indeed, there was the first evidence of blowback from Christians this week when demonstrators threw rocks at police and public order officers overseeing the demolition of a Christian prayer house in Bogor, injuring 11 security personnel and one resident.

''We have written to the President, we have written to the parliament, we have written to the national police chief, but none of them have given us a response,'' said Palti Panjaitan, a priest at the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi that was shut down in January.

''We have contacted all the highest powers in the country. I guess we will seek help from God. What else can we do?''

shm.au

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