Over a thousand extremist fanatics marched towards Cikeusik village in the Banten province last week. Twenty Ahmadis had gathered in a house here, which belonged to an imprisoned local Ahmadi Muslim leader accused of spreading beliefs considered ‘heretic’ by fanatics. The angry mob had come determined to punish the innocent Ahmadis for their ‘blasphemy’ and ‘heresy’. As they chanted ‘God is great’, they threw rocks at the house, then chased the Ahmadis who tried to run for their lives and lynched at least three in the most brutal way. They were stripped naked, thrown in the mud, pelted with rocks and beaten with clubs and machetes. The beating continued even after the bodies seemed to have lost all life in the video. Five men were critically injured and two are still missing. Two cars, one motorcycle and a house were also burnt down and other property looted in the assault.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s official motto is ‘love for all; hatred for none’ – a line which they practically live by. The moderate Islamic Sect, numbered at between two and five hundred thousand, has existed in Indonesia far before the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence. The very national anthem of the State was written by an Ahmadi Muslim. In recent times however, they have been the subject of repeated and severe attacks. Radical groups working in the name of Islam have passed edicts of ‘death’ against them. They have demanded the government outlaw the Ahmadiyya and ban them just as has been done in Pakistan. Bowing to extremist demands, the government passed a decree in June 2008 that prohibits Ahmadis from worshipping in public and talking about their beliefs. Some Ahmadis have faced jail.
Encouraged by their success, radical groups have started taking the law in their own hands. Many Ahmadi houses have been burnt in recent months, mosques razed to the ground and worshippers forced to flee ‘Muslim’ villages. The recent growth in anti-Ahmadiyya violence and fanaticism and extremism in general is a disturbing trend. It is a big blow to the Pancasila, the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian State, which ensures equality and social justice for all.
The state did respond to the rise in extremism – with silence. The Police had been informed beforehand of the possibility of an attack but no action was taken to protect the few Ahmadis. No barricades were built to prevent a clash and no extra police was called. The attackers were organized. They had colored ribbons on them to differentiate them from the victims. Police present at the attack site acted as mere spectators, doing nothing but watch. Of the thousands that attacked the Ahamdiyya in Bansten, not a single has been arrested. Apparently, the government relies on support from Islamic parties and is ‘forced’ to respect their demands.
In a recent visit to Indonesia President Obama praised the religious tolerance and the ‘spirit of inclusiveness’ in Indonesia. He also lauded Indonesia’s efforts to target growing extremism in society. True Indonesia is a US ally, but the fact is that it can be praised for anything but its religious tolerance in recent times. The Pancasila is drowning and so is the hope for a better human rights record in Indonesia. Indonesia must learn from the mistakes of the likes of Pakistan. If the moderate voices do not stand up to curb the growth in extremism in society, the whole country will suffer the actions of a few.
As an onlooker from the US, I see a healthy country known for its superior tolerance turning into a state plagued with bigotry and hatred. This trend must be reversed. The Pancasila must be saved from death.