Indonesia has evolved to be one of the most democratic Muslim countries in the world. The story began with the demise of Suharto’s New Order authoritarian regime in 1998 that heralded a freedom of expression. Despite its success in undertaking the whole process of democratic transition, Indonesia by no means has encountered no challenge in transforming its political landscape. The biggest challenge was related to the rise of militant Islamist groups that engulfed the political arena of Indonesia by calling for jihad and other violent actions. Interestingly, although these groups have lost their momentum to take control over the Indonesian public sphere along with the on-going democratic consolidation and global war on terror, violent discourses and actions continue resonating. Demonstrations organised by conservative Muslim groups, including the Indonesian Muslim Solidarity Forum (Forum Solidaritas Umat Islam) and the Anti-Apostasy Movement Alliance (Aliansi Gerakan Anti Pemurtadan), erupted against minority religious groups. They threatened to close and burn down a dozen churches deemed illegal and suspected to be the headquarters where hidden Christianisation projects are taking place. Conflicts occurred not only between religious groups, but also within religious groups. Key examples of conflict occurring within religious groups include recent attacks on Ahmadiyya and Shiite communities in several Indonesian provinces.
The growing tide of religious conflicts and violence against minorities after Suharto seems inseparable from the failure of Reformasi to touch upon the fundamental issue of reforming the state’s management of religious diversity that requires democracy as a precondition for it to develop. Without a significant touch on this issue, the position of religion vis-a-vis democracy has remained problematic for religion is at the intersection of a struggle between state, society and political forces. Individuals, groups and political forces thereby compete to represent the right to define boundaries in support of their organized claims and delegitimize those of others. The matter takes more urgency as democracy necessitates sustained responsibility of individuals, groups and the state to promote fundamental values, notions, and principles which are essential for democracy. As Almond and Verba (1989: 340-345) have put it, there is a strong correlation between successful democratization of a country and democratic culture and structure of polity. From this point of view, democratic culture is an amalgamation of freedom and participation on the one hand, and norms and attitudes on the other. It is rooted in a civic culture that features high levels of social trust, civicness, mutual cooperation and responsibility.
This paper will look at how the explosion of militant religious activism and violence against minorities in post-Suharto Indonesia is embedded in the state’s failure to apply a proper management of religious diversity and civic pluralism. In the bottom of this issue lies controvertial Law No. 1 of 1965 on the prevention of the abuse or insulting of a religion, known as the Blasphemy Law. Debates have abounded on the extent to which the Law has transgressed the principles of religious freedom guaranteed by the Indonesian Constitution. This paper will thus also examine petitions filed by human rights activists and civil society organizations to demand judicial reviews of the Law before the Constitutional Court.
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