Discourse : ‘I want every citizen in our country to feel at ease’
Last Friday an unidentified group attacked an Ahmadiyah congregation in Tasikmalaya, West Java, the latest of hundreds of incidents against the minority group. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said the Ahmadiyah community, considered heretic by mainstream Muslims, must obey the regulation that bans them from spreading their beliefs. His deputy, Nasaruddin Umar, stressed the need to ensure security for minorities. The following are excerpts of a phone interview on Tuesday with Nasaruddin, a co-founder of interfaith organization Masyarakat Dialog antar Umat Beragama (Public Interreligious Dialogue), with The Jakarta Post’s Amahl S. Azwar.
Question: You have taken a slightly different viewpoint from your superior regarding a series of attacks against Ahmadiyah groups. Will it create a conflict between you and him?
Answer: I think our viewpoints are not different as long as both of us refer to the  Constitution. Please, you do not have to pit us against each other. I am optimistic that we can manage our views well.
Why do you seem concerned about protecting Ahmadis’ rights and other minority groups, while Minister Suryadharma has been telling Ahmadis to “abandon their defiant beliefs”?
What I really want is for every citizen in our country to feel at ease about themselves, without exceptions. If one minority group feels insecure, the others will suffer the same thing. The government should find a fair solution that meets the needs of everyone. I am sure that we can find a solution for the Ahmadiyah.
Aren’t you afraid of the consequences, such as being dismissed for saying different things from the
I think we must find another way for the minister and other people to stand by the Constitution. We must put aside all political interests ahead of the 2014 [general elections].
Personally, I am not afraid of being dismissed. I am an academic [lecturer at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta] and I have never pursued any specific position within the government. I was on duty in the US when the President asked me to fill this position in the Religious Affairs Ministry. Pak Suryadharma operates democratically, so we can still have a discussion with him.
The minister has always referred to the 2008 joint ministerial decree that bans Ahmadi followers from spreading their religious beliefs. What do you think about the decree?
The decree is meant to bridge the gap between members of the Ahmadiyah Indonesia Congregation [JAI] and the mainstream Muslim community. While the Ahmadis would be violating the law if they defy the regulation, the perpetrators of violence acting against them violate the law as well.
Earlier this week, you said minority groups did not have any legal guarantee for their protection. Do you think the religious harmony bill could fill the gap?
The bill currently discussed by the lawmakers is the solution to shielding minority groups from violent acts. We have so many bills addressing political issues that were passed into law, how come we do not have a crucial regulation like this?
The 2008 decree might be abused by certain groups without a higher level of regulation on the rights of minority groups.
Human rights activists believe that the 1965 presidential law on religious blasphemy is used to attack minorities. Is the decree still relevant?
Currently, that law is the only regulation that addresses the issue of religions in the country. That is why I insist our lawmakers pass the bill on religious harmony into law immediately.
On one hand, we cannot move on from the 1965 law without a new one. On the other hand, that law is the only regulation on religion that we have right now.
The Constitutional Court upheld the 1965 law in 2010, when activists filed for its judicial review.
Could you imagine how horrible the situation would be without a single law addressing the issue of religions? The situation would be worse for minorities because people could judge one another without any interference from law enforcers.
The police do not have any other option besides the 1965 law when dealing with cases related to religions.
But if the lawmakers pass the religious harmony bill into law, will the 1965 law be annulled?
Of course, if we have a new law that addresses the religions issue including protection of minority groups, the  decree will be automatically dismissed.
Currently, a Shiite cleric faces trial at the Sampang District Court on Madura Island, East Java, for violating the 1965 law, specifically spreading religious blasphemy and insulting mainstream Islam. Your comment?
If he is proven guilty by the police, this is one of the consequences of the existing law.