AL KHANIF, The Jakarta Post
London | Sat, July 25, 2015 | 10:15 am

Most Indonesians were shocked by the incident in Tolikara, Papua, when Muslims who held an Idul Fitri prayer service in a local mosque were disrupted by a violent Christian mob affiliated with the Evangelical Church of Indonesia (GIDI). Some Muslims overreacted and wanted to retaliate, while others called on their fellow Muslims to exercise restraint.

Some Christians were also convinced that the incident had no bearing to Christianity, even though the restrictions on celebrating Idul Fitri in Tolikara were written in an official letter signed by the local chair of the GIDI.

The Tolikara incident shocked us because Muslims, the majority faith in Indonesia, were the victims, even though they are a minority in Papua. In regions that are predominantly Muslim, Christians and
other religious minorities are usually the victims.

In the post-reformasi era, repression of minorities is still increasing, even though there has been significant development regarding religious freedom in the Constitution. This shows social norms and cultures have yet to include respect of minorities. 

Yet, whatever the reason, we must realize that similar incidents have already occurred and will potentially occur in other regions. Until recently, the segregation of intra and interreligious public spheres in Indonesia often causes social and religious disharmony, which usually results in the alienation of religious minorities.

When there is advocacy to protect these minorities, the majority often sees it as the promotion of liberal human rights, which is considered alien to Indonesian legal norms and culture.

Tolikara and similar incidents suggest that majority groups generally justify their repressive actions against minorities because they accuse minorities as being transgressive. They argue that minorities break or challenge established community norms, or the communal character of religious practices.

In many cases, these ‘community norms’ generally force minorities to follow certain rules set up by the majority, which are potentially detrimental to their rights.

This practice illustrates that most religious majority groups in Indonesia have inadequate knowledge of human rights, especially regarding how to respect religious differences.

However, the government usually prefers to accommodate these ‘community norms’ when enacting regulations.

For example, a Joint Ministerial Decree that regulates the construction of places of worship requires each religious organisation to obtain 60 signatures from people in the surrounding area who agree to support the establishment of the place of worship.

Additionally, it also requires agreement from 90 people who will use the place for religious congregation.

This decree basically regulates two main matters; protecting religious harmony and controlling the establishment of places of worship.

Even though the decree was enacted by the government to prevent conflict and to preserve religious harmony, in practice it has caused rather than prevented religious violence.

The repression of religious minorities in Indonesia also suggests that the majority still monopolizes the interpretation of constitutional religious freedom and religious pluralism as a foundation of the nation. They repudiate the Indonesian concept of religious pluralism that all minorities should have the right to religious freedom equal to that of the majority faith.

This means that Tolikara and any other similar incidents demonstrate exclusive interpretation of religious faith from the majority, which generally sees religious difference as a threat to their community members.

When the majority has this kind of interpretation, they create socio-religious barriers to segregate communities. If the minorities demand particular rights without fulfilling their obligations to respect the ‘community norms’ determined by the majority, it is seen as a kind of social confrontation, or more specifically a human rights confrontation; basically a sort of a clash between individualism and communalism.

It is especially so in rural communities like Tolikara because this discourse is closely related to customary norms that generally give precedence to the larger community over minorities and individuals.

This also suggests that even though Indonesia does not uphold a theocratic state where the state is the manifestation of the social group that adheres to a certain religion, repressions of minorities show an uneasy relationship between religion and the state, and the position of religion as a pillar of collective identity within society.

Therefore, the protection of religious freedom and the recognition of religious pluralism do not only require non-interference from the government, but also oblige other religious groups to have adequate knowledge of the rights of others.

If the majority does not have adequate knowledge, they claim to represent themselves as the will of the people and as the source of legal order that leads them to oppress minority groups.

Thus minority groups are threatened not only by the state, but also by the social majority that renders minorities vulnerable to significant injustice at the hands of the majority.


The author is a PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and is writing a PhD dissertation titled ‘Protecting religious minorities within Islam in Indonesia: A challenge for international human rights law and Islamic law’

Source: The Jakarta Post

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