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Jakarta Post

Desecrating a nation

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, January 5, 2019   /   08:51 am
Desecrating a nation Grave encounters: The grave of F. Sriyati at the Segadoeng Cemetery had its cross damaged on Sunday in Tidar Krajan village, Magelang, Central Java. (The Jakarta Post/Bambang Muryanto )

Increasingly speechless is one reaction to the latest desecration of graves. At least 19 cross-shaped grave markers were vandalized in three cemeteries in Magelang, Central Java, as we reported on Friday. Although the graves of three Muslims were also vandalized, the crime is nevertheless yet another stab not only to Java’s heart, but also to the peaceful coexistence of Indonesia’s diverse faiths, particularly in highly plural areas. It was likely inspired by the earlier shocking case of locals sawing off the top of a cross of a recently deceased Catholic man in a Yogyakarta cemetery.

Such incidences should never be accepted as local crimes perpetrated by thugs; — we should see it as attacks on our efforts to remain a plural and peaceful nation. Although targeting graves might be unprecedented, evidently conditions have become more and more conducive to intolerance, regardless of the motives behind the latest incident. 

This increasing conduciveness to barbaric intolerance should be curbed by our leaders, especially President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. He cannot afford to continue the off-handed approach of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who blamed local authorities for failing to manage local conflicts. Jokowi’s Nawacita program pledged that the state would be “present” to protect citizens.

Such a promise faces a stern test, especially when it relates to the marginalized and minorities — a test that the state has failed too often. Witness, for instance, entire families being kicked out of their homes and allowed to return only if they come back to “true Islam”. As people cannot easily dump their faith, the Ahmadis of Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, and the Shiites of Madura, East Java, have remained refugees in their own country for years.

Following the Yogyakarta incident just before Christmas, public figures issued the Jakarta Treatise, which was submitted to Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin. They urged the government to take a more active role in bolstering religious moderation, to overcome the threat of conservatism morphing into “religious exclusivism and extremism” and becoming “a tool for political interests”.

The public is still waiting for the results of the Magelang investigation. We cannot be expected to accept outrageous explanations like those offered after the Yogyakarta incident — the plot was supposedly earmarked for Muslims and that was why they sawed off the top of the cross-shaped grave marker. The criminals in the last case might not even be trying to seek justification because the nation is becoming a previously unthinkable haven for tyrants claiming to speak and act for the majority. After all, they can freely cite the Blasphemy Law with tacit support or inaction by law enforcement officials — the vague law that the Jakarta Treatise is urging to revoke. 

Many among the Muslim majority have long voiced disgust, though clearly not loudly enough, at those claiming to represent them through exclusivism, extremism and even permissiveness to incite violence against minorities. Sure, many feel “dislocated” as the treatise cited, in this era of “disruption”. The foundations in the Constitution and state ideology Pancasila must remain our guidelines in managing our differences, precisely because of rapid changes.