On December 6, Muslim hardliners grouped under the Ahlu Sunnah Defenders (PAS) stormed into the Sabuga auditorium in Bandung, and broke up a Christmas service held by the Christian Revival Service (KKR). As PAS members had their way, police officers merely stood by and allowed the incident to run its course. A month earlier, in predominantly Muslim East Kalimantan, a bomb exploded in a church courtyard. leaving four people badly injured, including a child (who later died).
Three days after this incident, President Joko Widodo decided to act: he announced a plan to set up a task force to deal with “radical, violent and fundamentalist violence.” Intolerance in this country, he concluded, has “undermined freedom of expression and even academic life.” But as soon as the president disclosed his plan, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan dismissed the intolerance as “a minor incident.”
To his credit, Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil, referred to as one of Indonesia’s “few good men,” would have none of that. He has issued a nine-point directive, one of which required PAS to send an apology to KKR. And should it decide to ignore the notice, Kamil threatened to ban all PAS activities in the city. For its part, PAS has refused to heed the mayor’s call, in a defiant move becoming increasingly familiar with Muslim militant groups.
The statement by Heryawan, an Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician, illustrates how officials have different views on intolerance, and on how to deal with those who practice it. In June, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo vowed to disband an unnamed organization he said was anti-Pancasila, the state ideology promoting tolerance. A few months later, Said Aqil Siradj, the chairman of the second-largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), called on the president to disband organizations that reject Pancasila. Nothing happened, however, as the government faced a multi-layered wall of bureaucracy.
In a way the presidential task force also reflects the failure of the Religious Affairs Ministry to inculcate tolerance. Conversely, the task force is only as good as its mandate to deal with the issue. In the event, for example, it decides an organization has no place in society, things can be complicated. Under the prevailing law, banning an organization requires the Indonesian Police, the Office of the Attorney General and the Home Ministry to act in unison, with feedback from the BIN intelligence agency.
Public reception to the task force idea has been positive but lukewarm. For what the public wants is not yet another state unit that wastes taxpayer’s money, but firm action. They also wonder if our democracy will remain messy if the Police, like it did November 4 and December 12, keeps issuing permits for a mass demonstration to be held just 50 meters from the presidential palace. In blunt terms, intolerance is primarily not about the great divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. Seven decades after independence, Indonesians are worse than ever in sectarianism. If the task force is to have any value, it must address why Indonesians have become more intolerant in inverse proportion to their improved social