Moderate groups under fire for silence over radicals

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Thu, 06/19/2008 9:59 AM

Moderate Muslim organizations and political parties have come under fire for failing to demonstrate their religious tolerance following a government decree against an Islamic minority sect.

As major moderate groups, the nation’s two largest Muslim organizations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah should have prevented the issuance of a joint ministerial decree against Jamaah Ahmadiyah, say Muslim scholars and political observers.

They told The Jakarta Post the decree showed the NU and Muhammadiyah were powerless to counter extremist and conservative elements in their campaigns for Islamism.

The anti-Ahmadiyah decree was issued by the government earlier this month amid intense pressure from many extremist groups, including the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

The government-sanctioned Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) landed support for the decree.

“The NU and Muhammadiyah have so far been just too soft and too tolerant against small militant groups,” political expert Indra J. Pilliang of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said.

He said the two organizations had given too much space for hard-line groups to take the public stage claiming to represent Indonesian Muslims.

Indra warned that a “culture of violence” against minority groups would rise more quickly thanks to the inaction of the NU, Muhammadiyah and moderate political parties to foster religious tolerance and pluralism in the country.

The issuance of the anti-Ahmadiyah decree and a recent attack by FPI members on pro-pluralism activists from the National Alliance for the Freedom of Religion and Faith (AKKBB), who were staging a rally for religious tolerance, were clear examples of the dysfunctionality of the two moderate Islamic groups and political parties, he added.

“They have to get tough against extremist groups and strongly condemn any attacks to avoid widespread violence that can turn into mass fascism,” Indra said.

Muslim scholar and Paramadina University rector Anies Baswedan said the NU and Muhammadiyah had failed to control the MUI with their pluralism mission.

The MUI is led by clerics from the NU and Muhammadiyah but the council has often issued extremist fatwa, banning pluralism, liberalism and secularism as well as branding Ahmadiyah a heretical sect.

“What happens is the MUI doesn’t represent the voice of Muslims as a whole,” he said.

Anies said the NU and Muhammadiyah should take the lead in preventing several Muslim individuals or groups from taking violent actions in the name of Islam.

Rafendi Jamin of the Human Rights Working Group blamed the political parties for only caring about their short-term political interests and neglecting their mission for the betterment of the country, including promoting religious pluralism and tolerance.

All the parties should work together to fix Indonesia’s international image by not tolerating violence and respecting human rights, he said.

Indra said the country’s political parties were trying to woo more voters ahead of the 2009 elections by giving support for the anti-Ahmadiyah decree or taking side with the majority Muslim groups.

Such a stance was more popular than acting otherwise, he added.

Anies warned the religious violence could increase due to the government’s failure to provide jobs for people.

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