Opinion

View Point: The Appeal
of Conscience Foundation’s
schizoid choice

Watch out folks, there’s a rising global mental health crisis!

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illnesses such as depression, paranoia, trauma, bipolar mood disorder and schizophrenia are on the rise worldwide. Most people think it’s a personal issue, but guess what? It looks like institutions can also be afflicted.

I discovered recently that the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (ACF), an interfaith coalition of business and religious leaders founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965, is suffering from schizophrenia. I say this because they seem to be unable to tell the difference between what’s real and what is not.

Maybe it’s just a case of cognitive dissonance. Whatever the cause, there sure seems to be a serious gap between perception and reality within the ACF.

Just look at ACF’s website, appealofconscience.org. It gives its slogan as “A crime committed against religion is the greatest crime against religion”.

And yet on May 30, they are planning to give President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) their Statesman Award “in recognition of his work to support human rights and religious freedom in the country”.

Huh? Maybe members of the ACF should come to Indonesia and see for themselves how our government turns a blind eye to religious intolerance and is sometimes even complicit in religious persecution and violence. Or perhaps just a minute or two on the Internet would have been enough.

After all, the press here and overseas is replete with stories about rising religious intolerance in Indonesia and the persecution of Ahmadis, Sunnis, Christians and other religious minorities. Headlines blare: “Indonesia’s Rising Religious Intolerance” (The New York Times, May 21, 2012 — the local rag for the ACF!), “Jakarta Condones Religious Violence” (The Asian Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27), “Rights group says Indonesia a hotbed of religious intolerance and corruption” (Global Post, Feb. 28).

And there are oodles of articles and letters from readers stating their objections to SBY being given the award, as well as a petition on Facebook and on change.org, titled “SBY is no statesman! — Foundation should withdraw World Statesman Award to Indonesia’s President”.

For something in more depth, check out the website of Kontras (the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence) for an excellent account — in English — of why SBY is undeserving of the World Statesman Award (www.kontras.org).

Then there’s the video made by Humanitad, an international interfaith and intercultural organization about the tragic case of Anand Krishna, Indonesian spiritual teacher and prominent proponent of religious freedom (www.humanitad.org). The video is shocking not just because it details the persecution of Anand but also because it reveals that certain groups want to crush religious freedom in Indonesia.

And closer to home, how about reading the Human Rights Watch February Report In Religion’s Name: Abuses against Religious Minorities in Indonesia. Their headquarters are at 350 Fifth Avenue New York, not far from the ACF’s HQ on 119 West 57th Street. But guess what? You can download the report from the Internet wherever you are in the world!

Sure, SBY talks the talk — especially in international forums — but does he walk the walk at home? Nope. He engages in lofty rhetoric supporting religious tolerance abroad but falls sadly short of acting decisively in support of the rule of law and the rights of religious minorities.

He even fails to take disciplinary action against government officials such as Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali who encourage abuses (see “Minister: Christians bring discrimination on themselves”, The Jakarta Post, April 2; “Minister calls for Ahmadiyah to be disbanded”, the Post, Aug. 31, 2010).

In this way, SBY seems to be ignoring not only the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Indonesia ratified in 2005, but also the guarantees of freedom of religion in our own Constitution. Another case of schizophrenia?

So why is the ACF making the same mistake as the Queen of England (who bestowed the Honorary Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on SBY in October 2012) by giving an award to a man who doesn’t deserve it?

Maybe it has something to do with the politics of award giving. Outfits like ACF are always on the lookout for someone to award — it’s sort of self-serving after all. You create a raison d’être for yourself,
so you go down the list, ticking people off and eventually you think, hey, wouldn’t it be nice to “recognize” the elected, democratic leader of the world’s largest Muslim nation?

There is, however, something deliciously ironic in the fact that SBY will be given the award by a Jewish rabbi when Indonesia doesn’t even include Judaism as a recognized official religion. Maybe someone should point this out to Rabbi Schneier?

Yes, I know, the ACF is a pretty innocuous, moderate and mainstream group that “works on behalf of religious freedom and human rights throughout the world”. But giving an award to SBY endorses his weak and hypocritical response to the religious intolerance that is beginning to tear our nation apart.

The Setara Institute is an Indonesian based NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy and human rights. Their website setera-institute.org is a mother-lode of information about religious intolerance in Indonesia, and now they’ve developed the hypothesis that intolerance is the starting point of terrorism.

Is this what we want? Is this what the world needs? Is this really what the ACF is awarding? How
schizophrenic!

The writer (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of Julia’s Jihad.

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