As thousands of followers of the conservative Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir, held demonstrations Sunday against the planned visit of the US President Barack Obama, human rights activists said they hoped he would foster greater respect for pluralism.
From continued violence against Ahmadiyah followers to the burning of churches across the country, scholars and activists admit there are many pitfalls in Indonesia’s embrace of religious and cultural difference.
“Discrimination and violence against minorities still exists. And such intolerance occurs both within and among religious groups,” said Hendardi, the executive director of the Setara Institute.
Hendardi said that although Obama’s visit could be used by some officials to justify the progress of the country’s condition in terms of democracy, human rights and pluralism, he and other activists would voice the real condition of the country to urge the US to help solve problems resulting from intolerance.
He said the election of a black American as the US president, which was previously unimaginable, could inspire Indonesians.
“Obama’s story itself is a living example of how we can fight intolerance and discrimination.
“We don’t believe the US should be silent about human rights violations in the country just because it has economic interests in Indonesia.”
The veteran activist said that Obama and his Democratic Party, which is known for its attention to issues such as human rights and democracy, could help solve problems such as the current plight of the Ahmadiyah.
The Ahmadiyah are deemed as heretics by mainstream Muslims for recognizing Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the sect, as a prophet.
Islamic teaching says that Muhammad is the final prophet.
For years, Ahmadis have suffered attacks from various hard-line Muslim groups, including the fire-bombing of their mosques and homes.
Recently, a number of human rights activists filed a judicial review of the 1965 Blasphemy Law with the Constitutional Court, arguing the law had been abused to justify attacks on minority groups.
Yunianti Chuzzifah, the chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said that her organization had received several reports from women who faced discrimination because they were followers of religious sects and traditional beliefs not officially recognized by the government.
“Female members of some faiths and beliefs that aren’t recognized by the state can’t obtain an ID card unless they list one of the official religions [on the ID], which is done against their will.”