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July 29, 2011

In Indonesia, Light Sentences for Religious Killings

Twelve members of a mob that set upon adherents of an Islamic sect, killing three of them, received sentences of three to six months in jail on Thursday. Rights advocates criticized the ruling as an example of growing impunity for violence against religious minorities in Indonesia.

In a heavily guarded court in Banten Province in western Java, the 12 defendants were found guilty of taking part in a clash between a crowd of more than 1,000 villagers and a handful of members of Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect that mainstream Muslim clerics here say is heretical. The attack took place in Cikeusik, a remote village, in February.

A video of the attack that was posted online afterward provoked outrage in Indonesia and abroad. It showed police officers standing by as the villagers descended on a house where a number of Ahmadis were staying, beating several men and mutilating the bodies of the dead.

Human rights groups have been critical of the apparent reluctance of law enforcement officials to punish members of the mob. Prosecutors did not pursue murder charges, instead charging the 12 with crimes like incitement, assault and torture. They sought sentences of five to seven months, and the judges in the case chose even lighter sentences, saying that the Ahmadiyya adherents had caused the episode. - New York Times

The State Department has growth of the middle class in the nation is encouraging, incidents like this illustrate that the attitude toward religious minorities is not improving, and may in fact be worsening. While Indonesia "has a long history of religious tolerance," as the AP notes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been under pressure from Islamists for some time to ban the Ahmadiyya sect entirely. Whether he bows to that pressure remains to be seen.

November 9, 2010

Open-mindedness in Southeast Asia

rsz_obama_indonesia110910.jpg

Whenever the president travels overseas, journalists tend to be surprised by at least one or two things they find in the nations they visit. No matter how cosmopolitan the observer, there always seems to be an anecdote or moment from a presidential visit that gives professional journalists pause, usually buried in the middle area of an article. Oftentimes it's an indication that a perceived third world country is more progressive than they had thought - such is the case today in the New York Times concerning their report from Indonesia, which contains this surprising note:

[Obama's] nanny was an openly gay man who, in keeping with Indonesia's relaxed attitudes toward homosexuality, carried on an affair with a local butcher, longtime residents said. The nanny later joined a group of transvestites called Fantastic Dolls, who, like the many transvestites who remain fixtures of Jakarta's streetscape, entertained people by dancing and playing volleyball.

Matt DeLong notes this item with a degree of surprise. While I can't speak for Indonesia, nations like Malaysia have an interesting and surprising feel, without being overtly westernized in the way of, say, Singapore. Of course, this also leads to clashes between the old Muslim guardians of culture and a community that is by its nature more multi-ethnic and relaxed - but the good news is that the theocrats, for the time being, are getting the short end.

In any case, "surprisingly open minded" is a positive phrase to use when applied to Muslim countries, especially as the mix of culture with Hindus and Christians reaches a point where the minorities hold positions of authority.

(AP Photo)