A statue of Jesus at St. Lidwina Catholic church in Yogyakarta had its head cut off by a sword-wielding assailant in February. (Antara Photo/Fitri Atmoko)

Intolerance, Identity Politics on the Rise Ahead of 2018 and 2019 Elections in Indonesia


FEBRUARY 21, 2018

Jakarta. Indonesians would do well to keep to their official national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or unity in diversity, ahead of June's regional elections and next year's legislative and presidential elections, one hundred prominent public leaders said in a joint statement in Jakarta on Tuesday (20/02).

The religious leaders, human rights activists, researchers and lawyers said they have been alarmed by the spate of violent attacks on priests, monks and Muslim clerics and places of worship across the country, especially in Java, which some in the media have been blaming on attackers who suffered from mental illness.

"Why have these people been attacked? Why did they say people who were involved in the attacks were mentally ill?" Hendardi from human rights watchdog Setara Institute said.

Just this month, a sword-wielding assailant attacked the Saint Lidwina Catholic church in Yogyakarta and injured four people, including a priest and a policeman.

Another incident took place in Bandung, West Java, when a Muslim cleric suffered heavy injuries after being tortured by a group from a different Islamic sect.

Also this month, a Buddhist monk was kicked out of his home in Tangerang, Banten, by his Muslim neighbors.

Last week, a Muslim ulema was beaten in an attack in Lamongan, East Java.

Local media reported the attackers in East Java and West Java were people who suffered from mental disorder.

"Our dearly held principle of plurality has been under attack this year," Hendardi said.

The group making the statement urged the Indonesian government to do more to prevent threats to the country's unity.

"The elections this year and next year should not be a reason to use Machiavellian ways to manipulate the public, using attacks on religions, black campaigns or hate-mongering. No one should be allowed to use SARA [ethnic, religious, racial and group] sentiments to sow divisions among our people," the group's statement said.

They also said religious leaders will play a key role to keep the country united, since they have a lot of clout over their  followers and can educate them to help prevent the disintegration of the country.

Radicals Back in Favor

Taufik Andrie, the executive director of Institute for International Peace Building (IIPB), warned that a lot of canny political operators in Indonesia have been trying to curry favor with radical religious groups ahead of the elections in 2018 and 2019.

"They're capitalizing on these groups, though many of them by principle still refuse to vote in elections," he said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

"Many leaders in regional areas made political compromises with radical groups, for on anti-alcohol regulation, and this has serious implications. Just how far and for how long will they play to the interests of these radical groups?" Taufik said.

Navhat Nuraniyah, an expert on radicalism from the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict, meanwhile said identity politics can be, and has been, used to divide people along sectarian lines.

"Anti-Shia sentiment for example. This has been used to provoke the more radical Muslim groups," she said on Tuesday.

The sporadic attacks on religious leaders and places of worship, according to Taufik, may have been proof that radical groups are being manipulated for others' political gain.

But Taufik admitted incidents of intolerance are on the rise in Indonesia, and that things can only get worse if the government fails to stamp them out.

"Intolerance can be a seed of division. It can lead to radicalism," Taufik told the Jakarta Globe.