Friday, October 31, 2008

FPI members clash with police after Rizieq verdict

--- The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

FPI members clash with police after Rizieq verdict

Headlines - Fri, 10/31/2008 7:32 AM

Hundreds of members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) clashed with police outside a Central Jakarta court and attempted to force the closure of a nearby Ahmadiyah mosque after their leader, Rizieq Shihab, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The FPI members, stationed outside the Central Jakarta District Court, were outraged at the guilty verdict handed down to Rizieq for his role in instigating an attack on religious freedom activists at the National Monument park on June 1.

After a shoving match with police officers securing the courthouse on Jl. Gajah Mada, the FPI members headed to the Al Hidayah mosque, run by the Ahmadiyah community, on Jl. Balikpapan, Gambir, to close it down.

They were stopped 50 meters shy of the mosque by the police, leading to a scuffle between the two. It ended when the FPI members dispersed.

No one was detained during the clash, but Central Jakarta Police deputy chief Heri Wibowo said there were elements inciting the crowd. Some 1,500 police officers had been deployed in anticipation of the hard-liners’ reaction to the verdict.

Rizieq’s supporters inside the court were also outraged. Several shouted and swore at the judges, but were asked to restrain themselves by their leader. Rizieq’s wife and children were crying.

Rizieq and his subordinate Munarman, commander of the Islam Troop Command, were both given 18-month sentences for their role in the attack on members of the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion, rallying for the Ahmadiyah community after it had been declared heretical by the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI).

The presiding judge at both trials, Manusunan Harahap, said Rizieq had been proved guilty of instigating violence, and Munarman of committing violence.

Both men protested the verdicts, claiming they were handed down based on dubious evidence.

Both said they would appeal, and Rizieq maintained his calls for anti-Ahmadiyah actions.

“Even if we risk breaking the law… even if I’m thrown in jail or die, we will never stop our efforts to disband Ahmadiyah,” Rizieq said after the sentence was read out.

There was a visible sense of relief among police officers outside the courthouse after a police car carrying Munarman, whose sentencing followed Rizieq’s, left the compound. The officers had frequently been engaged by the FPI in clashes throughout the trial. (mri)


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Militant cleric gets 18 months behind bars for violence

--- The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Indonesia

Militant cleric gets 18 months behind bars for violence

Jakarta Thu, 10/30/2008 12:20 PM

Central Jakarta District Court has sentenced Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab to 1.5 years in prison for inciting hatred and instigating violence against participants of a peace rally at the National Monument (Monas) complex in June.

“The defendant is declared legally and convincingly guilty for transgressing the law. He is therefore sentenced to one year and six months’ imprisonment,” Presiding Judge Panusunan Harapan told the court on Thursday.

According to the magistrate, Rizieq was proven guilty of “generating animosity and mobilizing others to commit violent acts against people and people’s property in public”.

Rizieq was previously accused of enticing FPI members to conduct a violent ambush of a rally led by the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion (AKKBB) at Monas on June 1.

The Court based its decision on evidence from a DVD that clearly displayed group members wearing FPI attributes as sole attackers in a brawl that left around 70 activists injured.

“There is no sign of AKKBB members provoking the attack,” Harapan said. (amr)


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pakistan: From religious politics to religious extremism

--- The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Saturday, October 25, 2008 01:51 PM GMT+06:00

Strategic Issues

Pakistan: From religious politics to religious extremism
Air Cdre Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, ndc, psc (Retd)

FOR years, internal situation in Pakistan has been getting from bad to worse. With the bombing of Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on 13 Sept 2008, there is now serious concern about the long-term viability of the state of Pakistan itself. Is it going to be another Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan or Somalia is the question. The worry is many times more because Pakistan happens to be a nuclear-armed state. Any nuclear weapon or fissile material falling in the hands of the terrorists will have disastrous consequence. The North-Western part of the country bordering Afghanistan, known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), has been virtually under the control of Islamic Militants, known as Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban are fighting a two-pronged war - in Afghanistan against the Afghan-NATO forces and in Pakistan against the Pakistani military; yet most of the victims of their random attacks are innocent civilians. They have imposed harsh and arbitrary ‘Sharia’ law on the populace that include random killing and brutal torture. The bombings and assassinations in both the capitals of Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Taliban mean that they have now extended their areas of operations right up to the capitals. The situation is further complicated by the cross-border operations performed by the Afghan-NATO forces into Pakistan, chasing and attacking the Taliban. Although this had been going on for quite sometime, probably with a nod of approval from the Pakistan government, but with the new elected government in place in Islamabad such news are putting them under increasing pressure. Although commentators are quick to blame President Musharraf for the mess, I would argue that Musharraf continued with a legacy that started with the birth of Pakistan as a nation-state.

Pakistan was the first country in the world created on the basis of religion Israel being the second and only other one. Its founder Mr. M. A. Jinnah argued that Muslims of India constitute a separate nation based on “distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral code, customs and calendar, history and traditions, —-” (1944). Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, however, was a Muslim majority democratic state and not a theocratic one. On the future constitution of Pakistan, he said on 11 August 1947, “You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” Again in February 1948, he reiterated, “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State – to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims - Hindus, Christians, and Parsis - but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Things changed with Jinnah’s death a few months later. The Basic Principle of the Constitution (Objective Resolution 1949) adopted in 1952 stated that the Quran and Sunnah were to be the sources of all laws in Pakistan, that it would be an Islamic Republic and only a Muslim could be the Head of state. Gradual inroad of religion into Pakistani politics had begun. The politicians in Pakistan increasingly used Islam for achieving their political ends. All the three constitutions of Pakistan (1956, 1962, and 1973) promised to create an Islamic Republic, although the political players had no consensus as to what such a republic would be.

It is interesting to note that the Pakistani politicians, while not known for religiosity, were keen to use Islamic cards to political ends and as such always courted the Mullahs. One figure who stood out against the Mullahs was President Ayub Khan (1958-1969). Ayub Khan, despite violent opposition by the Ulemas promulgated the Muslim Family Law in 1961, which, still today, is the only marriage safety mechanism for Muslim women in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Yet, Ayub and his handpicked Muslim League opposed secular democratic movements by raising the bogey of “Islam in Danger.” Ayub’s successor, Gen. Yahya used the Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami to carry out large-scale atrocities on the Bengalis during the Liberation War in 1971. In 1974, Mr. Z. A. Bhutto (1972-1976), again not a particularly observant Muslim, declared the Ahmediya community as non-Muslims, threw them out of public life and created restrictions on their religious practices, only to placate the Mullahs.

Islamic parties in British India had little contribution towards the creation of Pakistan. Leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League that led the Pakistan movement were urban elites nurtured in English traditions. The foremost Islamic religious party then was Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind that supported Indian National Congress and opposed the partition. Maulana Maududi, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami, had opposed partition, but upon his migration to Pakistan started campaigning for a state based on Islamic Sharia. He was sentenced to death in 1953 (commuted later under Saudi pressure) for his alleged involvement in anti-Ahmadiya riots in Punjab. Religious parties with extreme views such as Jamaat-e-Islami could never win the hearts and minds of the larger populace because traditionally the Muslims of Pakistan, like the rest of Muslims in South Asia, had been followers of Sufi tradition of Islam. Veneration of saints and sufis formed a core belief across Pakistan. This was an anathema to the Jamaat ideology that was based more on the Deobandi tradition. Thus, despite over 95% Muslim population, the religious parties that preached exclusive and often violent brand of Islam did not have a large support base nor had an overt say in power. However, it all changed, when Gen. ZIa-ul-Haq (1976-1988) seized power.

Like most of the rulers of Pakistan since 1947, Gen Zia was a migrant, a refugee from India and as such had no political base. He picked up the Mullahs as his power base creating a Mullah-Military nexus in Pakistan since then. Two years into the power, Zia introduced Sharia Courts to oversee Civil Courts that functioned on Anglo-Saxon Laws. These courts sanctioned brutal punishments such as stoning, amputation of limbs and lashing. Although many of these sentences were turned down by Higher Courts or suspended due to outcry from the Human Rights activists, whenever those were carried out the victims were almost always the poor and downtrodden. In 1977, Zia-ul-Haq made consumption of alcohol by Muslims a punishable offence. Ironically, the consumption of alcohol and addictive drugs in Pakistan has gone up many times since then. Zia’s Islamic law against blasphemy and adultery made a mockery of justice when those were directed against poor minorities or tortured and tormented women. He made a wholesale revision of school textbooks to make those more Islamic. Thus, children were taught that the Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians are the mortal enemies and there can be no friendship with the infidels. The Hindus and Sikhs were portrayed as conspiratorial and blood thirsty, while Muslim invaders, such as Sultan Mahmud Ghazni, were heroes, even when they came only to loot and plunder. The children were encouraged to go for holy Jihad in order to defend Islam and Pakistan. These textbooks were not meant for the Madrassas, but for the government sponsored mainstream schools. Thus, a whole generation of youth grew up in an atmosphere of hate and prejudice. All these were being done at a time when there were serious issues of social injustices and inequalities to be addressed at home. Zia’s use of Islam was aimed at perpetuating his dictatorship over a populace cowered down by divine justice. His edicts on zakat and ushr alienated the Shia’s and sown the seeds of sectarianism in Pakistan. It can be said in retrospect that Zia contributed much to the rise of fundamentalism, obscurantism and retrogression that is threatening Pakistan today. No wonder, Zia-ul-Haq is a despised figure in today’s Pakistan.

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 came as a blessing for President Zia and the power elites of Pakistan. As the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation forces grew, the US found it an opportunity to draw the Soviets into a quagmire Soviet Union’s Vietnam. It fell on the CIA to fund, arm and train the Afghan dissidents, then known as Mujahideen. The CIA’s partner in Pakistan was the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). The CIA passed billions of dollars of cash, weapons and explosives through the ISI. Much of these arms and cash were siphoned off by various religious extremists in Pakistan and had been a source of violence and instability since then. Pakistan has since been awash with arms and drugs known as “Kalashnikov culture”. Research estimates that in a population of 160 million there are 40 million firearms and 4 million drug users. For any nation, this could be a prescription for death.

Call for Jihad against the communist infidels in Afghanistan attracted Muslim youths from all over the world to the training camps set up in Pakistan’s north-west. Thousands of CIA-funded Madrassas or religious schools provided fresh recruits for the Jihad in Afghanistan. These Madrassas graduated young men steeped in the doctrine of armed jihad against the enemies of Islam. Interestingly, prior to the 1970s, Pakistan had only few Madrassas, attached to the mosques or shrines for producing Imams and Muezzins. Pakistan did not have Aliya or Quomi Madrassa system as we have in Bangladesh and in parts of India. By 1980s, however, Madrassas proliferated in Pakistan thanks to the flow of funds from the ME countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Increasingly, the madrassas went under the control of Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamiat-ul-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI), the two leading religious parties of Pakistan. The madrassas were used as a springboard for Wahabi/Salafi school of Islam as practiced in Saudi Arabia. The Sufi and Barelvi schools, two main Sunni traditions in Pakistan, were on retreat. Meanwhile, the minority Shias of Pakistan were alarmed by the growth of Sunni madrassas and the rise of various Sunni Jihadi organizations, such as

Lashkar-e-Janghvi, Lashkar-e-toiba, Sipah-e-Sahaba, which went on a killing spree of the Shias. Soon the Shias started opening their Madrassas and had their militant outfits such as Tehrik-e-Jafri, Sipah-e-Muhammad etc. Since mid-80s, violent Shia-Sunni clashes had been on the rise. By one account, more than 400 people died of sectarian violence in 2007 alone. This year’s toll would be even higher.

THE fall of Kabul to the CIA-ISI sponsored Mujahideen forces in 1992 after eleven years of civil war was considered a great victory of the religious forces and of the government of Pakistan. However, the vicious power struggle between Mujahedin factions led to a civil war that devastated Afghanistan the second time. As the Mujahedins were busy fighting a new force composed of young Madrassa students, known as the Taliban (Students), came sweeping from Pakistan’s border all the way to Kabul in 1996. The Taliban were recruited from Afghan refugee camps, indoctrinated in Pakistani madrassas, and trained and equipped by the ISI. Darul Uloom Haqqania, a madrassa in Akora Khattak, about 40 miles west of Peshawar, run by Maulana Samiul Haq, a JUI leader, claimed to have provided most of the Taliban recruits and the leadership. Meanwhile, the Madrassas across Pakistan had no shortage of students especially from poor rural background for whom free lodging, food, as well as some education was far better than being jobless and hungry at home. Many of these students have routinely been recruited by the Jihadi organisations to go to Kashmir or inside India to spread the Jihad. Some of them are now turning against their own government as suicide bombers or assassins. It has been reported that the poor parents with a number of sons are pressured to give one or two sons in the way of the Allah i.e. become a Jihadi. The parent’s refusal could bring shame and harassment, and if they agree, financial inducement follows. Interestingly, the Mullahs or their children never decide to become a Mujahid or a suicide bomber; always the poor are sacrificed on the altar of God.

Although the Taliban government controlled 90% of Afghanistan, it was recognised by only three sponsor countries, namely: Pakistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was looking forward to a titular government in Afghanistan that would not raise the Pakhtunistan issue. A pliable government in Kabul would mean Pakistan could then concentrate on Kashmir and the rest of India. Elected prime ministers such as Benazir Bhutto (1988-90, 1993-96) or Nawaz Sharif (1990-93, 1997-99) could not alter the Islamists power structure in Pakistan. In fact, Benazir was the Prime Minister when the Taliban were installed in Kabul. Like many, she believed that the Taliban would stabilise the situation in Kabul and would open up Pakistan’s trade and commerce route to Central Asian Republics. The Taliban rule in Kabul was brutal, archaic and arbitrary and brought nothing but shame on the Islamic community. Meanwhile, inside Pakistan, especially in the North western tribal belt, the Taliban influence grew and by the end of 1990s they came to represent the legal authority. Successive Pakistani government chose to conform and compromise with the Taliban. Although after 9/11, President Musharraf became an active partner with the US in its War on Terror, he maintained a cosy relationship with the religious parties at home. He needed the support of the Mullahs because most of the mainstream politicians had deserted him. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a cocktail of religious parties, had established a theocratic fiefdom in the NWFP. While Pakistan government was aiding the American forces in their war in Afghanistan, JUI Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman sent thousands of armed volunteers to fight alongside the Taliban. The Maulana led the convoy in full view of the world media, but when faced with the northern army in the Jalalabad, quickly returned to Pakistan leaving his ragtag army to massacre.

The Al-Qaeda and Taliban, after being pushed out of Afghanistan in 2001, infiltrated into FATA as well as major cities of Pakistan. Large Pashtun migrant population in cities such as Karachi have turned these into their safe haven. They are using Pakistan as their rear areas to regroup, recuperate and rearm. Arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, a top Al-Qaeda leader, from Rawalpindi in March 2003 showed how terror network are using Pakistani heartland to launch their operations. Other top-level Al-Qaeda leaders arrested included Abu Zubaida and Abu Faraj Al-Libbi, both connected with worldwide terror operations. After early successes against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in 2001-03, there was a let up both from the Afghan-NATO side as well from Pakistan. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda used the intervening period to regroup and rearm. The formation of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government in NWFP in 2002 only helped the rehabilitation of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistani soil. MMA actually implemented the Taliban’s agenda banned co-education, put women inside Burqa, banned music, movies and videos, and dispensed harsh Islamic justice to the poor. MMA, of course, were not capable of addressing the issues of illiteracy, backwardness, unemployment and poverty. The poor suffered while the rich just left with their capital. It is no wonder that in the election in 2008, the religious parties suffered their worst defeat. In the NWFP, the leftist Awami Nationalist Party (ANP) bagged the largest numbers of 31 seats while the religious MMA got only 9 seats. Nationally, the religious parties did even worse; they got only 3 seats out of 258 contested. People gave their verdict with the ballot, but then these religious parties never believed in democratic process anyway.

The Government’s use of force since 2007 to dislodge the extremists from the border areas ran into trouble because the Army, equipped and trained to fight a conventional battle in the plains of Punjab or the desert of Sindh, was not battle ready to fight an insurgency in the rugged hills of Hindukush. The paramilitary forces that were initially assigned were pathetically under-armed to withstand a determined enemy. Many among them, especially the Pashtuns, were sympathetic with the Taliban and often, large numbers of them surrendered without a fight. There were allegations at home and abroad of elements within the military, especially ISI, having retained connection and sympathising with the Taliban-Al-Qaeda. Large numbers of Pakistani forces were taken prisoners and were exchanged for Taliban prisoners or huge cash. Videos of beheading of the Pakistani soldiers by the Taliban sent a chill of terror among the troops fighting there. Meanwhile, the Taliban, with assistance of extremist political parties and various militant organisations inside Pakistan have created a battlefield that has no frontiers. Frankenstein’s monster has come back to haunt its creator.

Ironically, within the Pakistani ruling establishment, including the military, there is not enough realization of the grave and imminent danger. They are still preparing for the hypothetical war against India. Latest modernization plan of the armed forces is directed towards the conventional warfare rather than the unconventional one that is raging at present. Pakistan air force has signed a deal for 100 air superiority fighters for bringing parity with Indian Air Force whereas its own bases are now vulnerable to attack by the militants. The Navy is buying Submarine to, probably, search and destroy underwater Taliban! However, since the American’s have clearly spelt out that they were going to hunt down the Taliban-Al-Qaeda wherever they might be, the Pakistan military have finally moved in earnest to fight the Taliban in the FATA and NWFP. Recent reshuffle within the ISI also indicate a change of direction. Meanwhile, homegrown extremist organizations are off the radar screen for the time being, but they are all bidding for their time.

The last election ushered in new hopes for Pakistan. People voted out the religious parties and gave their verdict for a progressive, democratic Pakistan. Now it is up to the politicians to guide the nation out of the chaos into which the Mullah-Military nexus has led them. There is much to be done immediately. The Taliban-Al-Qaeda axis has to be defeated militarily, politically and ideologically. The need for a joint NATO-Afghan-Pakistan command and operational structure is immediate. As long as the terrorists operate freely across the ill defined and porous Pak-Afghan border, Pakistan cannot strongly argue against the NATO-Afghan forces crossing its border in hot pursuit or launching attack on leadership targets at short notice. It would be in the interest of Pakistan to cooperate with the partners. On the political front the religious parties must be isolated and not be allowed to ride on others’ shoulders and re-enter the main stage. The government needs to make people understand that religious extremism leads to violence and terror and that it jeopardizes development and progress. Especially in the tribal belt, there is much to be done on the socio-economic front. The ANP in power provides a window of opportunity that everyone must utilize. There is a need to bring all the Madrasasas under government control and carry out a review of the academic programme. Sayid Qutub and Maududi should be replaced by Al-Farabi, Ibn-Khaldun, Rumi and Iqbal. Inclusive Islam that encourages peaceful co-existence must be encouraged as opposed to exclusive Islam that espouses violence. There is a need to review the textbooks in the mainstream schools too to rid them of extremist contents. The government must ensure better educational opportunity for the poor, so that the poor youth do not fall victim to the manipulation of the religious fanatics. On the ideological front, the government needs to combat the creeping influence of radical Islamic ideology from the ME. There must be effective anti-money laundering mechanism to monitor the flow of money into and within the country to deny finance to religious extremists or their front institutions. The list of priorities can be long, yet they are urgent. The Civil Society in Pakistan is clamouring for a change from religious orthodoxy to religious enlightenment. People have already spoken by rejecting religious extremism on the Election Day. Now it is up to the government to steer the nation towards a peaceful future. A failure now will spell disaster for all of us in South Asia.

The author is a freelancer.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Religious minorities continue to suffer in many countries, UN expert says

--- UN News Center

Religious minorities continue to suffer in many countries, UN expert says

23 October 2008 — Religious minorities in different parts of the world continue to be persecuted and discriminated against based on their beliefs, with some living in “perpetual threat,” according to an independent United Nations expert, who added that the problem is prevalent across a wide range of countries.

“At national levels, I see that religious minorities continue to suffer, and the more despotic a regime, the more suffering of religious minorities,” Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, said in an interview with the UN News Centre.

At the same time, she pointed out that violations of this basic human right – which manifest themselves in, among others, not being allowed to gather together for worship, desecration of religious sites, and being prevented from making pilgrimages – do not just occur in countries with certain types of political systems.

“One would have imagined that such incidents only take place in countries which have been unfortunately left behind, where political systems and social values have remained stunted,” she stated. “But these also take place in countries which have very good democratic credentials and which have progressed both socially and politically.”

In more multicultural and diverse societies, tensions can be expected to arise, she noted. “But the kind of animosity that one sees is inhuman. And the way we have received reports of how people kill each other in the name of religion and the manner in which that killing is done… shows the venom people have towards each other simply because of difference of religion or belief,” she added. “And I think that really is very frightening.”

One example of this is India, which, with its multitude of cultures, languages and religions, “oozes” diversity, she said, noting that the country is a vibrant democracy and has many people who are committed to secularism.

“And yet some of the worst forms of killings have taken place there,” said Ms. Jahangir, referring to the communal tensions and violence that the South Asian nation has witnessed over the years.

The Special Rapporteur added that violations are perpetrated not just by individuals or groups but also by States themselves.

“There are still States that heavily discriminate… that persecute religious minorities. And these minorities live in perpetual threat,” said Ms. Jahangir, who continues to receive reports of arrests, torture and intimidation by “States and their agents.”

The groups that she receives reports about include the Baha’is in Iran, Buddhists in Tibet and Ahmadis – a religious group that identifies itself as Muslim – in a number of countries.

An important related issue, and one which Ms. Jahangir highlighted yesterday in her speech to the General Assembly’s third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural), is the compulsory mentioning of one’s religion on official identity cards or passports, which she stressed carries a serious risk of abuse.

“I don’t think there is any reason to indicate religion on identity cards or passports,” she reiterated today. “But there can be a situation where, for the purposes of governance and for the purposes of giving affirmative action, like in India and Pakistan, people have to identify their religions, or for census purposes.

“Now that might be necessary, but it’s not necessary for them to always carry this passport or identity card that shows their religion,” she added.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Islamic challenge to Indonesia’s democracy

-- The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Point Counterpoint

Islamic challenge to Indonesia’s democracy

Sadanand Dhume

AGAINST the backdrop of carnage at Islamabad’s Marriott hotel, terrorist attacks on the US embassy in San’a and the Indian embassy in Kabul, and the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Algeria, few places in the Muslim world appear as placid as Indonesia. It’s been three years since the country’s last major terrorist bombing; Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah, is on the run. Democracy has blossomed: Parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2009 will be the third consecutive free ballot since the end of General Suharto’s 32-year reign in 1998.

Both the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the principal opposition leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, reflect the principles of tolerance and inclusiveness bequeathed to the country by its founding fathers at independence. The Indonesian press is Southeast Asia’s freest, its cinema the region’s most vibrant.

Beneath the surface, though, Indonesian society is in ferment. Earlier this year, clerical diktats and repeated mob violence forced the government to effectively ban the Ahmadiyya, a beleaguered Islamic sect considered “heretical” by some Muslims for revering its founder alongside the prophet Mohammed.

In June, in an incident rich with irony, members of the vigilante group Islamic Defenders Front, wielding bamboo staves, attacked peaceful demonstrators rallying for religious freedom at the National Monument, an iconic symbol of Indonesian unity. Dozens of district governments have enacted sharia-inspired regulations, including mandatory dress codes, compulsory Koran reading tests for students and couples seeking to marry, and vice squads loosely modeled on those in Saudi Arabia and Taliban-era Afghanistan.

In September, protesters from the Hindu island of Bali took to the streets to force parliament to postpone passage of a so-called anti-pornography bill whose broadly worded restrictions on clothing and artistic expression could potentially penalise Balinese culture and jeopardise its tourism-dependent economy. Bali contributes the lion’s share of Indonesia’s tourism earnings, estimated at $5.3 billion in 2007.

Behind the anti-pornography bill stands the fundamentalist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the dark bloom at the heart of Indonesia’s democratic flowering. Modeled on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and fired by the same utopian dream of bringing all aspects of society and the state in line with the allegedly God-given commands of sharia law, the party subscribes to an assertive credo increasingly visible from Morocco to Mindanao: Islam is the solution.

Powered by highly motivated cadres, aided by an image of sea-green incorruptibility and helped along by the disunity and ideological incoherence of mainstream parties, the PKS has taken just 10 years to transform itself from a bit player to a major force in national politics.

Currently it’s the seventh largest party in parliament and holds three seats in President Yudhoyono’s cabinet. Trained party cadres multiplied twelvefold from 60,000 in 1999 to 720,000 in 2007. Earlier this year, the PKS capped a run of local and provincial electoral victories by claiming the governorships of populous West Java and North Sumatra. Armed with this momentum, it stands poised to become the third or fourth largest party in next year’s parliamentary elections.

The PKS juggernaut raises questions about the ability of Indonesia’s moderate mainstream to contain a strident minority whose ultimate goals are at odds with the nation’s founding principles and with the respect for individual rights at the heart of liberal democracy. To be sure, many PKS supporters exhibit a certain idealism; they’re usually more concerned with ending graft in government than with stoning adulterers.

Nonetheless, party cadres and top leaders – often educated in Middle Eastern or Pakistani institutions – hew to the harsh vision of Egyptian Islamists Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna and their Pakistani contemporary Abul Ala Maududi. To them, the faith makes no distinction between religion and politics.

It’s a complete belief system that concerns itself not merely with prayer, fasting, alms for the poor and the Haj pilgrimage, but also with elections, governance, commerce and diplomacy. At an individual level, personal decisions are surrendered to the collective: All women must don the headscarf and embrace segregation. Men are forbidden gold, silk, cigarettes and alcohol.

PKS leaders, aware that their imported ideology goes against the grain of Indonesia’s traditionally open and inclusive ethos, downplay their pedigree by emphasising their anti-corruption credentials. Nonetheless, the party’s claims of moderation are belied by its record.

It has been full-throated in support for Jemaah Islamiyah kingpin Abu Bakar Bashir, who spent 26 months in jail for involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings. It consistently backs sharia values over human rights, supporting the persecution of the Ahmadiyya and stoutly opposing attempts to have sharia-inspired bylaws declared unconstitutional.

It displays a self-conscious attachment to pan-Islamic causes from Palestine to the southern Philippines. In Indonesia, the PKS project sends a disquieting signal to religious minorities, non-conformist women, and secular and heterodox Muslims. For the region more broadly, where economic development has long been based upon political predictability and a pro-Western outlook, it signals a period of uncertainty and flux.

Nor does the PKS need to claim formal power to diminish Indonesia’s prospects. The examples of Egypt and Pakistan, where the Islamist movement has gained social and political clout over the past 35 years without ever taking office, serve as a caution.

In both countries, as in Indonesia, Islamists consistently stoke anti-Western sentiment. Scriptural certainty has gradually stifled science and the spirit of inquiry. Foreign investors shy away from long-term commitments, especially in manufacturing. Non-Muslims live circumscribed and, at times perilous, lives. Terrorism and periodic outbreaks of religious violence are facts of life, and the state’s response is often ineffectual.

The crux of the problem lies in Islamism’s incompatibility with modernity. In the PKS version of women’s rights, for instance, the decision whether or not to wear the headscarf is made by society or the state rather than the individual. Similarly, when it comes to minorities, the party ideology replaces the modern ideal of equality for all with the medieval concept of de facto second-class status as “protected peoples.”

Though the party, packed with engineers and doctors, cultivates a technology-savvy image, its ethos is in fact antithetical to scientific advancement. PKS cadres show not the slightest skepticism toward the unverifiable claims of religion. They overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution in favor of the crackpot creationism espoused by the Turkish pamphleteer Harun Yahya.

In economics, though the party leadership makes the right noises about free markets, the rank and file is overwhelmingly suspicious of the largely non-Muslim ethnic Chinese business community. In foreign policy, the rise of PKS signals a shift of focus from Southeast Asia toward largely symbolic pan-Islamic concerns.

The early signs are already visible in high profile visits to Jakarta by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and the use of Indonesia’s place on the UN Security Council to water down criticism of Iran’s rogue nuclear program.

The jury is still out on whether Indonesia will evolve into a benign liberal democracy or an Islamist-dominated state that permits elections but suppresses individual rights, whether it will regain its focus on the economic betterment of its people or dissipate its energies on the emotive politics of pan-Islamism, whether it will emulate manufacturing-driven Vietnam or commodities-dependent Nigeria.

Unlike most Muslim-majority nations, Indonesia can draw on the strengths of a non-sectarian constitution, a secular elite, an essentially open-minded population and examples of successful multicultural neighbors such as Singapore and Australia. Unfortunately, as recent history shows, these may not be enough to blunt the rise of a shrewd and disciplined movement determined to remake the nation in its image.

Sadanand Dhume is a fellow at the Asia Society in Washington, DC, and the author of My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian Islamist.


Ahmadis told to remain in refuge center

-- The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Headlines Wed, 10/22/2008 10:42 AM

Ahmadis told to remain in refuge center

Panca Nugraha, The Jakarta Post, Mataram

West Nusa Tenggara Police said Tuesday hundreds of Ahmadiyah members should remain in their current refuge rather than return to their home villages, in a move hailed as the police’s failure to provide security.

But the police also promised to resolve the refugee issue. The Ahmadiyah members are currently staying at the Transmigration Transit Center in Mataram.

“We very much respect their basic rights, including demands to return them to their home villages. However, there is something more essential now with regard to their safety. They are currently safer in the refuge,” West Nusa Tenggara Police chief Brig. Gen. Surya Iskandar told The Jakarta Post in Mataram.

He said several Ahmadiyah representatives had met him to ask about plans for their future, having already lived in the shelter for the past three years.

“I also asked them whether they feel safe staying in the shelter, and they say yes,” Surya said.

Surya added the police would keep addressing the issue and stick to their policy of serving and protecting the public, including Ahmadiyah members.

On the legal status of the hundreds of Ahmadiyah members in the refuge, Surya said it was under the government’s authority.

“Our domain is security, because it’s our job basically. But bear in mind the issue is not only the responsibility of the provincial administration, but also the government in general,” he said.

He stressed the police would support and enforce the provincial administration’s policy on the Ahmadiyah refugee issue should the government decide to return them to their homes and should the wider community accept them.

“The decision is unclear – it could be this year, or three years from now. But according to us, the Ahmadiyah members are safer in the shelter for the time being,” Surya said.

Some 33 families, comprising 137 Ahmadis, have lived in the transit center since being forced from their homes in Ketapang hamlet, Gegerung village in Lingsar district, West Lombok regency, in February 2006.

In Central Lombok regency, 57 Ahmadis from 15 families are still taking refuge at the former Praya Hospital after being evicted from their homes in Praya subdistrict, Praya district, in June 2006.

Ahmadiyah is considered heretical by many mainstream Muslims for its recognition of founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet, despite Islamic tenets insisting Muhammad was the final prophet and no prophet could come after him.

The group eventually split into two schools of thought, with one still recognizing Ahmad as a prophet and messiah, and the other considering Ahmad simply a reformer, not a prophet.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

GeoTV’s Aalim Online abets Terror in Pakistan: By Sohail Husain MD

-- Pakistan Christian Post

October 16, 2008 08:53 pm

GeoTV’s Aalim Online abets Terror in Pakistan: By Sohail Husain MD

As we in the US commemorated the tragedy of 9/11, there were calls to end world terror. But it is disturbing to know that the situation in Pakistan is not any better. On September 7th, GeoTV, a leading Pakistani television channel that has also wide viewership via cable networks in North America, aired a special program on ‘Aalim Online,’ a religious broadcast hosted by anchor Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain. Mullahs from various sects were invited to malign the non-violent Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Repeatedly, Dr. Hussain and his fellow Mullahs stated that Ahmadis were ‘worthy of death’ (‘wajb-ul-qatl’) and that all of their religious activities in Pakistan should be terminated.

Within two days of the ‘fatwa,’ masked assailants murdered two prominent Ahmadis in the Sindh province. Both were heads of their local Ahmadiyya Community chapters. The first, Dr. Abdul Mannan Siddiqi, age 46 years, was an American citizen, a physician who was trained in cardiology in Philadelphia. He returned to his land of birth in Mirpurkas, Sindh when his father called him back with the express purpose of serving the poor and needy of the area. To this end, he operated a hospital in Mirpurkas as well as free clinics in remote areas of Tharparker. As a physician who has served in similar regions, I cannot but fathom the loss of service to humanity with Dr. Siddiqi’s murder. Ironically, he was shot while finishing medical rounds at his hospital. The second Ahmadi victim, Mr. Sate Muhammad Yusuf, age 70 years, was local Community head of Nawabshah, Sindh. His assailants targeted an elderly man who could hardly ascend a flight of stairs. Both murders occurred shortly after the ‘fatwa’ of death to Ahmadis issued by the Mullahs on ‘Aalim Online.’

So what are the issues here? First, GeoTV was irresponsible in airing an incitement to violence. Even if the assailants had not expeditiously carried out the Mullah’s order, as they did, the urging of viewers to kill is a basic breach of ethical principles and, frankly, the laws of most countries. In the wake of the murders, this point has been highlighted by several agencies including the International Federation of Journalists and Asia Human Rights Commission. But second, and perhaps most disturbing about the state of affairs in Pakistan, is that while the world mourned lost lives from 9/11, GeoTV’s ‘Aalim Online’ aired its special program in celebration of the 34th anniversary of the Pakistani government’s constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis to be ‘non-Muslims.’ Notably, host Dr. Hussain is a former Pakistani Minister for Religious Affairs.

Thus the real war on terror demands a rebuke of elements in Pakistan’s media, clergy, and its discriminatory laws. GeoTV should apologize, retract its incitement to violence, and remove its fiery anchor from ‘Aalim Online.’ Further, to promote free speech, opportunities should be given to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to directly provide its actual beliefs. Conversely, the hate-filled Mullah of Pakistan should be censored from further calls to murder, as no sane nation would accept such acts as constituting free speech. Furthermore, the laws of Pakistan instituted to promote intolerance against Ahmadis or any other religious minority should be repealed. It is neither the job of media, mullah, nor government to play God.

Finally, the lessons of 9/11 are that as a global community and as Americans there is a greater need to understand one another. Our tragedies of recent and past demand that we consult our sources directly. For this reason, I invite readers to visit any of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosques in North America or to log onto, its official website, to know the superlative love that Ahmadis hold for their Master Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and the peaceful Islam that he taught. The response from the Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, on 9/12 is most telling. He cited the Holy Quran’s message (2:154-157) of patience, perseverance, and prayer, especially during this holy month of Ramadan, against the murderous calls and deeds of the Mullah. It is hopeful that most Pakistanis, who are fair-minded, would subscribe to the same message of peace. Perhaps this is what the Mullahs fear most.

Dr. Sohail Husain is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Yale University.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Muslim Extremists continue Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Indonesia


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful
International Press and Media Desk
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
22 Deer Park, London, SW19 3TL
Tel / Fax (44) 020 8544 7613 Mobile (44) 07795460318
13 October 2008

On 9th June 2008, the Indonesia Government, bowing to pressure from extreme and fanatical Muslim groups, hastily adopted a formal ‘Joint Ministerial Decree’ against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (Community) in Indonesia. This Decree stated that members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat were to ‘discontinue the promulgation of interpretation and activities’ of its beliefs which were branded as ‘deviant’. The Decree imposed sanctions on any members of the Jamaat who were found to be in breach of the Decree.

Most damningly the Decree gave State legitimacy to the persecution of the Jamaat in Indonesia which had been occurring for a number of years. As a result of this new found ‘legitimacy’ the persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in Indonesia has markedly intensified over the past few months.

Since the Decree was issued more than ten Ahmadiyya Mosques have been sealed and many more have been attacked. Furthermore, Ahmadi Muslims have been forced to offer prayers behind non-Ahmadi Imams. This is something that no Ahmadi Muslim could ever do willingly because to do so would be to perform prayers behind a person who did not believe in the truth of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian.

This year the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat is celebrating the one hundredth year of Khilafat, which is the system of spiritual leadership that unites the entire Jamaat at the hand of the ‘Khalifa’. Unfortunately members of the Jamaat in Indonesia have been prohibited from celebrating this historic year. In one instance the logo marking the Khilafat Centenary celebrations was torn down in Pampangan by local leaders who could not bear the Ahmadiyya celebrations. In respect of this, Abid Khan, Press Secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat said:
“Tearing down a logo may seem trivial, but it illustrates the true motives of the so called Muslims. They say they are defending Islam, yet they are willing to tear down a logo on which is printed a verse of the Holy Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an is the most sacred Islamic text and thus no true Muslim could ever bear seeing even one line of its text being ripped or torn. Such acts therefore demonstrate that these people are motivated only due to their hatred and jealously of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat.”
A number of other incidents have been reported whereby Ahmadi Muslims have been subjected to various forms of persecution. This persecution has now reached a stage where the Ahmadis are even denied their basic civil rights. In one such example, in the south of Sumatera the Office of Religious Affairs continues to refuse issuing marriage certificates to Ahmadis until they sign a declaration abandoning their association to the Jamaat.

Despite widespread criticism both from the International Community and the International Media, the Indonesian Government shows no sign of withdrawing its Ministerial Decree. In this respect the International Community is urged to take note of the warning issued by Indonesia’s former Head of State, President Abdur-Rahman Wahid who recently in an interview with the Reuters news agency said that if the persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat was allowed to continue then it would lead to the persecution of other religions in the country. He said:
“The fundamentalists demand that the Ahmadiyya movement be disbanded. But I think it’s only the first step. After they will make more demands. You ban Ahmadiyya, then you ban the Shiites, Christians, Buddhists.”
End of Release

Fears radicals penetrating leading Indonesian religious body

--- ABC Radio Australia

Updated October 13, 2008 14:13:11

Fears are emerging that Indonesia’s highest Muslim authority is being infiltrated by Islamic radicals.

The Council of Muslim Scholars, or Majelis Ulama, is a prominent player on the Indonesian political scene and plays an influential role as an advisor to the government on religious matters.

But recent pronouncements, such as the discussion of a ban on smoking, a ruling against vasectomies, and the role played by the council in the debate on a controversial pornography bill, have led some observers to worry that the organisation is being infiltrated by radical groups.

This is coupled with a perceived increase in the council’s influence.

In late September, the council issued a fatwa, or religious opinion, against the Ahmadiyah group and urged the government to ban the group and freeze its operations.

Head of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, Azyumardi Azra, told Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program he has been warning of the growth of radicalism within the council for some time.

“There are some tiny Islamic groups, or Muslim groups who have a literal understanding of Islam,” he said.

“These groups have a growing influence on MUI because they are very active.

“And of course this has a lot to do with the passivity of the moderate Muslim organisations like Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.”

Abdul Mu’ti from Indonesia’s second largest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah, agrees but says that international politics has helped fuel these groups.

“The international developments might lead to the emotional response from certain Islamic groups including those who are associated with Indonesia Ulama council, for example, on their reponse to cases happening in Iraq and Paleistine.”

However, the politicisation of fatwas could mean decreasing influence for the council.

Abdul Mu’ti says as people become more rational they will be more critical on the issuing of Fatwas.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2008: Indonesia

Excerpts from
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 19, 2008

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. However, the Government officially recognized only six religions, and legal restrictions continued on certain types of religious activity, particularly among unrecognized religions and sects of recognized religions considered “deviant.”

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. However, recommendations by government-appointed bodies and a subsequent government decree restricting the ability of the Ahmadiyya to practice freely were significant exceptions. In some cases the Government tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors and often failed to punish perpetrators, although the Government prevented several vigilante actions during Ramadan. Aceh remained the only province authorized to implement Islamic law (Shari’a). Many local governments outside of Aceh maintained laws with elements of Shari’a that abrogated the rights of women and religious minorities; however, no new Shari’a-inspired laws were known to have passed during the reporting period. Even though the central Government holds authority over religious matters, it failed to overturn any local laws that restricted rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Members of minority religious groups continued to experience some official discrimination in the form of administrative difficulties, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards.

There were a number of reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Some groups used violence and intimidation to force at least 12 churches and 21 Ahmadiyya mosques to close. Several churches and Ahmadiyya mosques remained closed after mobs forcibly shut them down in previous years. Some Muslim organizations and government officials called for the dissolution of the Ahmadiyya, resulting in some violence and discrimination against its followers. Some perpetrators of violence were undergoing trials during the reporting period. However, many perpetrators of past abuse against religious minorities were not brought to justice.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with government and civil society leaders as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy promoted religious freedom and tolerance through exchanges and civil society development.

Section I. Religious Demography

An archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, the country has an area of approximately 700,000 square miles and a population of 245 million.

According to a 2000 census report, 88 percent of the population is Muslim, 6 percent Protestant, 3 percent Roman Catholic, 2 percent Hindu, and less than 1 percent Buddhist, traditional indigenous religions, other Christian groups, and Jewish. Some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority religious groups argued that the census undercounted non-Muslims.

Most Muslims in the country are Sunni. The two largest Muslim social organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, claimed 40 million and 30 million Sunni followers, respectively. There are also an estimated 1 million to 3 million Shi’a.

Many smaller Muslim organizations exist, including approximately 400,000 persons who subscribe to the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani interpretation of Islam. A smaller group, known as Ahmadiyya Lahore, is also present. ………

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and accords “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief.” The Constitution states that “the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God.” The first tenet of the country’s national ideology, Pancasila, similarly declares belief in one God. Government employees must swear allegiance to the nation and to the Pancasila ideology. Other laws and policies placed some restrictions on certain types of religious activity, particularly among unrecognized religious groups and “deviant” sects of recognized religious groups. The Government did not use its constitutional authority to review or revoke local laws that violated freedom of religion.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six religious groups: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Unrecognized groups may register with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as social organizations. Although these groups have the right to establish a house of worship, obtain identity cards, and register marriages and births, they face administrative difficulties in doing so. In some cases these challenges made it more difficult for individuals to seek employment or enroll children in school.

On June 9, 2008, the Government announced a joint ministerial decree freezing the activities of the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani (Ahmadiyya) and prohibiting vigilantism against the group. The decree was short of an outright ban for which hardline groups and a government-appointed body, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem), were strongly advocating. The decree was signed by the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Religion, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Minister of Religious Affairs stated that violations of the ban on proselytizing would result in a maximum 5-year jail sentence under charges of blasphemy. Vice President Kalla stated that the decree did not prohibit the Ahmadiyya from worshipping or continuing to practice within its own community.

Prior to the government decree, Bakor Pakem issued a recommendation to the Government to dissolve the Ahmadiyya. The April 16, 2008, recommendation declared the group heretical and deviant, citing a 1965 presidential instruction on the “prevention of misuse and disgrace of religion.” The Government delayed action on issuing a formal decree against the group amid pressure from civil society and Islamic organizations who claim the ban would be unconstitutional and contrary to the teachings of Islam.

The Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI) released a number of fatwas (religious decrees) in recent years on the issue of “deviance” from mainstream Islam, including recommendations to ban the Ahmadiyya, that were influential in enabling official and social discrimination against the Ahmadiyya and other minority religious groups during the reporting period.

The Government formed the MUI in 1975 and continued to fund and appoint its members, but MUI opinions are not legally binding. Nevertheless, the MUI’s edicts or fatwas are designed to be moral guiding principles for Muslims and society, and the government seriously consider them when making decisions or drafting legislation. MUI’s influence in restricting religious freedoms increased during the year, sometimes with government support.

In November 2007 the MUI issued a fatwa with 10 guidelines for determining deviant teachings. These included: disagreeing with any of the six core principles of Islam; acknowledging a prophet after Muhammad; and changing or modifying Islamic rituals such as performing the Hajj to a place other than Mecca or saying that prayer five times daily is not necessary. In October 2007 the MUI declared that the minority sect, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, was deviant. It issued a similar fatwa against the Ahmadiyya in 2005.

The Government requires officially recognized religious groups to comply with Ministry of Religious Affairs and other ministerial directives, such as the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship (2006), Overseas Aid to Religious Institutions in Indonesia (1978), and the Guidelines for the Propagation of Religion (1978).

The 2006 Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship requires religious groups that want to build a house of worship to obtain the signatures of at least 90 members and 60 persons of other religious groups in the community stating that they support the establishment. The decree also requires obtaining approval from the local religious affairs office, the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB).

Article 156 of the Criminal Code makes spreading hatred, heresy, and blasphemy punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Although the law applies to all officially recognized religions, the few cases in which it has been enforced have almost always involved blasphemy and heresy against Islam.

Many of the country’s policies concerning religion are enacted and enforced at the subnational level. Since October 2005 the regional representative office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in West Nusa Tenggara upheld a ban on 13 religious groups, including the Ahmadiyya, Jehovah’s Witness, Hare Krishna, and 9 forms of Aliran Kepercayaan as being deviations of Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism. The West Nusa Tenggara Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Pakem NTB) closely monitored Ahmadiyya members in Mataram during the reporting period. There were no reports, however, on how the restriction affected the other banned groups in the region. In West Java a joint decree issued in January 2005 in the Kuningan regency restricted the propagation of Ahmadiyya teachings. On May 5, 2008, Pakem West Java recommended municipal authorities ban Ahmadiyya. On May 6, 2008, the Mayor of Cimahi, West Java, issued an order to ban the religious group.

The Government bans proselytizing, arguing that such activity, especially in religiously diverse areas, could prove disruptive.

Religious speeches are permissible if they are delivered to members of the same religious group and are not intended to convert persons of other religious groups.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom; however, recommendations by government-appointed bodies and a government decree restricting the ability of the Ahmadiyya to practice freely were a significant exception. Certain other laws, policies, and official actions also restricted religious freedom, and the Government sometimes tolerated private actors’ discrimination against and abuse of individuals based on their religious belief.

Local governments issued bans against Ahmadiyya, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, and other minority Islamic sects during the reporting period and monitored them closely, frequently at the request of local MUI chapters.

The June 9, 2008, government decree on the Ahmadiyya that bans proselytizing and practices deemed to be “deviant” from mainstream Islam came 5 months after a government-appointed team began monitoring the Ahmadiyya at the request of MUI. Civil society activists have said that passage of the decree was the most recent example of an escalating effort by Islamic hardliners to restrict the practice of the Ahmadiyya.

On April 19, 2008, approximately 350 Ahmadiyya members from 200 chapters throughout the country were forced to cancel their national conference in Bali. Ahmadiyya spokesperson Syamsir Ali said the Bali Police would not issue them a permit on the grounds of security following Bakor Pakem’s decision to recommend a joint decree restricting Ahmadiyya practices.

In November 2007 the Bangka Belitung local government asked Ahmadiyya to stop all public activities due to complaints from the local community. This action affected approximately 17 households of Ahmadiyya followers.

The Government requires all adult citizens to carry a KTP, which among other things, identifies the holder’s religion. While members of unrecognized religious groups may legally leave this section blank, in practice they are often unable to obtain KTPs unless they identify themselves as belonging to a recognized religious group. Human rights groups continued to receive sporadic reports of local civil registry officials who rejected applications submitted by members of unrecognized or minority religious groups. Others accepted applications but issued KTPs that inaccurately reflected the applicants’ religion. For example, some animists received KTPs that listed their religion as Islam. Many Sikhs registered as Hindu on their KTPs and marriage certificates. Some citizens without a KTP had difficulty finding work. Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious advocacy groups continued to urge the Government to delete the religion category from the KTPs, but no progress was made.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

During the reporting period, the Government continued to explicitly and implicitly restrict the religious freedom of groups associated with forms of Islam viewed as outside the mainstream.

The Government tolerated discrimination and abuse toward the Ahmadiyya by remaining silent on the 2007 MUI fatwa containing guidelines condemning Islamic groups such as the Ahmadiyya who profess belief in a prophet after Muhammad, the 2005 MUI fatwa that explicitly banned the Ahmadiyya, and local government bans. Varying reports provided different numbers of mosques attacked or closed. However, according to national Ahmadiyya spokespersons, during the reporting period, 21 Ahmadiyya mosques were forced to close around the country; 15 were closed in West Java alone. The June 2008 joint ministerial decree on the Ahmadiyya responded to calls to address the group’s rights. For the most part, Ahmadiyya followers have been allowed to continue worshiping, although some mosques were closed after the decree. However, because of the decree, Ahmadiyya followers are not free to proselytize or otherwise practice their faith publicly.

Local sources reported 2 Ahmadiyya camps in Lombok housed 194 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been living in the camps since attacks by local Muslims destroyed their homes and mosques in early 2006. There were approximately 137 Ahmadiyya IDPs living in Transito Camp and 57 in Praya Camp at the end of the reporting period. One family from the Praya Camp returned home briefly, only to return to the camp shortly thereafter due to threats of violence. Four of the families displaced in 2006 relocated with family members in South Sulawesi. Sources within the Ministry of Religion reported 150 IDPs living in the camps, of whom 80 had been repatriated back to their homes.

Although irregular and limited in scope, the local government continued to provide rice assistance to the IDPs. The local government did not have any plans to return them to their home village. Sources said the local government had done nothing to resolve the issue and that the central Government needed to step in. The local Ahmadiyya chapter sent a letter to the Minister of Religion requesting concrete action.

The Ahmadiyya families say they will not return to their homes because they fear local government officials cannot guarantee their safety. Camp conditions remained difficult with cramped living space and limited access to water. Although children have been able to attend local schools since 2006, they faced harassment.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There were a number of reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. In December 2007 and again in April 2008, the Chief of Police announced that police would protect minority groups across the country, including the Ahmadiyya, but failed to prevent several closures and attacks, particularly in West Java.

Controversy over the Ahmadiyya continued throughout the reporting period. Hardline groups renewed attacks on Ahmadiyya, particularly in West Java, with the destruction of the group’s second largest mosque and adjoining school. These attacks took place despite protection from local police. Additionally, hardline groups threatened senior NU clerics in Cirebon, West Java, for speaking out against a ban.

Hardline religious groups further demanded the Government act quickly to disband the Ahmadiyya and threatened to do so independently if the Government failed to act. Various rallies took place throughout the country both for and against the ban. Civil rights activists, members of the Presidential Advisory Council, and some leaders from Muhammadiyah and Nadhlatul Ulama spoke out claiming such a ban would be unconstitutional and contrary to the principles of Islam. According to media reports and Ahmadiyya sources, after the June 2008 joint decree prohibiting some Ahmadiyya practices, as well as acts of vigilantism and violence against Ahmadiyya, hardline groups in some areas vandalized or closed 20 Ahmadiyya mosques. Women’s groups reported continued discrimination against Ahmadiyya women and children whose schools were forced to close.

On June 1, 2008, approximately 1,000 persons rallied at the National Monument in Jakarta (Monas) to defend the rights of Ahmadiyya to practice their faith. The event was ambushed by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, Islamic Community Forum (FUI), and FPI, who attacked participants with bamboo sticks and stones. More than 70 persons involved in the rally were seriously injured. Police made no arrests at the scene and did not intervene until the attacks had already been carried out. Ten suspects were arrested and remained under investigation while in custody by the end of the reporting period.

On April 27, 2008, there were several reports of violence against Ahmadiyya members and its facilities, including the burning of the group’s second largest mosque in Sukabumi, West Java, Al Furqon. An elementary school belonging to Ahmadiyya in the same compound was also destroyed. At least 21 Ahmadiyya mosques were forced to close, 15 of them in West Java. The national Government, moderate Islamic groups, and civil society all condemned the violence. Local police, although deployed to protect the facilities, failed to stop the attacks. Local police in Sukabumi detained 12 persons for their alleged participation in the mosque burning, although no charges were filed by the end of the reporting period.

On April 26, 2008, leaders of several Islamic Boarding Schools in Pasuruan, East Java, tried unsuccessfully to force the Government to forbid all types of Ahmadiyya activities.

On April 24, 2008, 28 youth and religious organizations in East Java protested a possible government ban on the Ahmadiyya saying it would be unconstitutional. On April 20, 2008, 14 NGOs in East Java from the East Java Anti-Discrimination Islamic Network held a press conference and issued a statement to the media claiming that disbanding Ahmadiyya violated human rights and was unconstitutional, and they vowed to protect Ahmadiyya members who felt threatened.

On December 19, 2007, a small mosque and dozens of houses belonging to Ahmadiyya members were attacked by the anti-Ahmadiyya movement Gerah in the village of Manis Lor, Kuningan, West Java. Four persons were injured.

Unlike in West Java, Ahmadiyya members in West Nusa Tenggara did not request police protection and claimed not to fear attacks. Ahmadiyya in Surabaya and Madiun, East Java, were also reportedly conducting business as usual. In addition, a number of NU clerics from Surabaya, East Java, and Majalengka, West Java, offered their support for Ahmadiyya.

Several houses of worship, religious schools, and homes of Muslim groups regarded as unorthodox were attacked, vandalized, forced to shut down, or prevented from being established by militant groups and mobs throughout the country. In several cases police temporarily detained members of “deviant groups” who were victims of attacks, ostensibly in order to ensure their safety, but did not arrest attackers.

Hardline religious groups used pressure, intimidation, or violence against those whose message they found offensive. Groups such as FUI, Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia, and FPI threatened senior NU clerics in Cirebon West Java who opposed banning Ahmadiyya. Militants purporting to uphold public morality sometimes attacked cafes and nightclubs that they considered venues for prostitution or that had not made payments to extremist groups, although the number of such incidents decreased compared to previous years.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, consulate general in Surabaya, and consulate in Medan regularly engaged government officials on specific religious freedom issues, and also encouraged officials from other missions to discuss the subject with the Government. Embassy staff at all levels met frequently with religious leaders and human rights advocates to promote respect for religious freedom. Embassy staff met members of minority religious groups, whose houses of worship were forcefully closed, to discuss religious pluralism. Embassy staff met regularly with NU and Muhammadiyah officials to clarify U.S. policy in support of religious freedom and discuss religious tolerance and other issues.

Embassy and consulate outreach to the public emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in a democratic and diverse society. During the reporting period, the Embassy and consulates promoted pluralism and tolerance through exchanges and civil society programs.

During the reporting period, 14 Indonesians visited the United States on short-term programs that incorporated discussions of religious freedom in the United States and Indonesia. The programs allowed participants to engage in dialogue with U.S. counterparts about the integral role of religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and multiculturalism in a democratic society, in order to promote the concept of religious freedom in the country. For example, one citizens exchange program offered 12 Indonesian Islamic scholars the opportunity to meet peers in the United States. They examined U.S. democracy as well as discussed religious freedom, civic involvement, religious education, and Islam in the world today, and related those issues to U.S. and Indonesian society. Furthering the program, five U.S. scholars committed to interfaith dialogue and cultural understanding visited with a wide variety of local leaders, teachers, and students, representing the country’s major religious groups, in Palembang, Yogyakarta, and Jakarta. They specifically promoted the idea of religious freedom, and were the subject of an article in the Jakarta Post.

During the reporting period, the U.S. Embassy and consulates reached millions through the production of media programs that provided in-depth coverage of religious freedom issues from a U.S. perspective. These included the Greetings from America radio show, which periodically featured topics such as religious freedom, religious differences, tolerance, and pluralism from the perspective of Indonesian high school and college students living in the United States. This radio show aired 9 times a week to a potential audience of 10 million persons in 6 cities.

Through September 2007 the Embassy and consulates supported the publication of supplemental editions to a weekly magazine to provide objective information on the efforts of prodemocratic Islamic networks to support the democratic process, including religious freedom, tolerance, civil rights, and democracy. The magazine distributes 90,000 copies nationwide on a weekly basis with an estimated readership of 450,000 persons.

During the reporting period, the Embassy and consulates also supported campus seminar programs aimed at strengthening supporters of pluralism on Islamic campuses and reinforcing an understanding of religious freedom, tolerance, pluralism, and gender equity. Public discussions were held on several campuses in Jakarta, Serang, Rangkasbitung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Mataram, and Medan in cooperation with state Islamic universities and public universities, such as Gajah Mada University and the University of North Sumatra. More than 1,500 students from a wide range of backgrounds and 50 national and local speakers were involved in the discussions.

Implementers of the program RESPECT (Religious and Social Pluralism, Equity and Tolerance) convened a board of advisors of prominent civil rights advocates of religious freedom and minority rights. Program implementers held a series of community discussions to promote religious and social pluralism in targeted communities in the provinces of West Java, Central Java, and Banten. As part of this program, the Embassy and consulates worked with the Wahid Institute, an Islamic NGO founded by former President Wahid and dedicated in large part to promoting religious tolerance, to complete an assessment relating to national regulations that influence religious life and religious pluralism. The Embassy and consulates worked with the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at the State Islamic University to assess the impact of Shari’a regulations in Tangerang.

The U.S. State Department funded a program on civic education that promoted religious tolerance. The program supported cooperative links among groups previously in conflict, in working to prevent sectarian violence. A State Department-funded program facilitated two-way exchange between religious scholars, clerics, and community leaders of Indonesia and the United States, examining the compatibility of religious practice and pluralism. Many programs supported by the State Department fostered interfaith cooperation among students and community leaders.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2008: Bangladesh

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2008 : Bangladesh
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 19, 2008

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. It provides for the right to profess, practice, or propagate all religions, subject to law, public order, and morality. It also states that every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain, and manage its religious institutions. While the Government publicly supported freedom of religion, attacks on religious and ethnic minorities continued to be a problem during the reporting period. As opposed to previous reporting periods, there were no reported demonstrations or attempt to lay siege to Ahmadiyya institutions, but there were instances of harassment. Demands that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims continued sporadically, but the Government generally acted in an effective manner to protect Ahmadis and their property. Religion exerted a significant influence on politics, and the Government was sensitive to the Islamic consciousness of most citizens.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period. Citizens were generally free to practice the religion of their choice. Government officials, including the police, were nonetheless often ineffective in upholding law and order and were sometimes slow to assist religious minority victims of harassment and violence. The Government and many civil society leaders stated that violence against religious minorities normally had political or economic motivations and could not be attributed only to religious belief or affiliation.

There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice during the period covered by this report. Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist minorities experienced discrimination and sometimes violence by the Muslim majority. Harassment of Ahmadis continued along with demands that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. In meetings with officials and in public statements, U.S. embassy officers encouraged the Government to protect the rights of minorities. Publicly and privately, the Embassy denounced acts of religious intolerance and called on the Government to ensure due process for all citizens. The Ambassador and Charge d′Affairs made several visits to minority religious communities around the country. The U.S. Government sponsored the successful visit of a prominent U.S. Muslim cleric who spoke to audiences about Qur’anic interpretations that support tolerance and gender equity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 55,126 square miles, and its population is 154 million. According to the 2001 census, Sunni Muslims constitute 89.7 percent of the population and Hindus account for 9.2 percent. The rest of the population is mainly Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. Ethnic and religious minority communities often overlapped and were concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and northern regions. Buddhists are found predominantly among the indigenous (non-Bengali) populations of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Bengali and ethnic- minority Christians lived in many communities across the country; in cities such as Barisal City, Gournadi in Barisal District, Baniarchar in Gopalganj, Monipuripara in Dhaka, Christianpara in Mohakhal, Nagori in Gazipur, and Khulna City. There also are small populations of Shi’a Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’is, Animists, and Ahmadis. Estimates of their numbers varied from a few thousand to 100 thousand adherents per group. There was no indigenous Jewish community, nor a significant immigrant Jewish population. Religion was an important part of community identity for citizens, including those who did not participate actively in prayers or services.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice, profess, and propagate any religion, subject to law, public order, and morality.

While the Government publicly supported freedom of religion, attacks and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities continued during the reporting period.

While the right to propagate the religion of one’s choice is guaranteed by the Constitution, local authorities and communities often objected to efforts to convert persons from Islam.

In general, government institutions and the courts protected religious freedom.………

Since 2001, the Government has routinely posted law enforcement personnel at religious festivals and events that are easy targets for extremists.

In 2001 the High Court ruled all legal rulings based on Shari’a known as fatwas to be illegal. However, the ban had not been implemented because of a pending appeal filed by a group of Islamic clerics, which remained unresolved at the end of the reporting period.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

On March 15, 2008, the Special Branch of police in Brahmanbaria prevented the Ahmadiyya from holding a religious convention. The convention ultimately was held peacefully after the Special Branch lifted its objections following intervention by higher authorities. A similar incident occurred at Shalshiri in Panchagarh district on March 21, 2008.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There were approximately 100,000 Ahmadis concentrated in Dhaka and several other locales. While mainstream Muslims rejected some of the Ahmadiyya teachings, the majority supported Ahmadis′ right to practice without fear or persecution. However, Ahmadis continued to be subject to harassment from those who denounced their teachings.

Since 2004 anti-Ahmadiyya extremists such as the International Khatme Nabuwat Movement Bangladesh and a splinter group, the Khatme Nabuwat Andolon Bangladesh (KNAB), have publicly demanded that the Government pass legislation declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. The Government rejected the ultimatums and successfully kept protesters a safe distance from all Ahmadiyya buildings. Since the proclamation of a state of emergency in January 2007, the anti-Ahmadiyya groups have not held demonstrations. However, discrimination against Ahmadis continued. On August 24, 2007, local authorities in Kushtia stopped religious classes organized by the Ahmadiyya community inside their mosque.

In December 2006 the Awami League upset many of its minority and liberal supporters when it signed an electoral pact with the Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, a splinter Islamist group tied to violent Islamist militants. The agreement committed a future Awami League-led government to recognizing some fatwas and an official declaration that the Prophet Mohammad is the last prophet, a direct challenge to the Ahmadiyya community. Ahmadis and liberal citizens criticized the agreement as politically expedient and inconsistent with core party principles. Following this criticism and open rebellion among senior party leaders, the Awami League quietly allowed the agreement to lapse after imposition of the state of emergency.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with officials at all levels of the Government as well as with political party leaders and representatives of religious and minority communities. During the period covered by this report, the Embassy emphasized the importance of free, fair, and credible national parliamentary elections by the end of 2008 with full participation of all ethnic and religious communities. The Embassy continued to express concern about human rights, including the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. Embassy staff traveled to various regions investigating human rights cases, including some involving religious minorities, and met with civil society members, NGOs, local religious leaders, and other citizens to discuss concerns about violence during the next election. They also encouraged law enforcement to take proactive measures to protect the rights of religious minorities.

Embassy and visiting U.S. government officials regularly visited members of minority communities to hear their concerns and demonstrate support.

The Embassy assisted U.S. faith-based relief organizations in guiding paperwork for approval of schools and other projects. The Government has been willing to discuss such subjects and has been helpful in resolving problems. The Embassy also has acted as an advocate in the Home Ministry for these organizations in resolving problems with visas.

The Embassy encouraged the Government through the Ministry for Religious Affairs to develop and expand its training program for Islamic religious leaders. After an initial pilot program, the U.S. Government provided, among other topics, orientation sessions for religious leaders on human rights and gender equality. For the third year in a row, the U.S. Government sponsored the visit of a prominent U.S. Muslim cleric to tour the country and speak. He visited the northwestern city of Rajshahi and also addressed groups in Dhaka about Qur’anic interpretations that support religious tolerance and freedom and that promote gender equality.

During the reporting period, the U.S. Government continued to make religious freedom, especially the problems facing the population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a topic of discussion in meetings with government officials. Embassy officers visited the Hill Tracts over the course of the reporting period and met with senior government officials to relay concerns over the treatment of minorities.

Democracy and governance projects supported by the United States included tolerance and minority rights components.

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