Indonesian scholar fights for religious minority rights

Khabar Southeast Asia

Indonesian scholar fights for religious minority rights

slam in Indonesia is fundamentally non-radical, says Muslim intellectual Dawam Rahardjo. [Yosita Nirbhaya/Khabar]

slam in Indonesia is fundamentally non-radical, says Muslim intellectual Dawam Rahardjo. [Yosita Nirbhaya/Khabar]

“There is freedom of religion in this country, but unfortunately religious freedom tends to be a source of conflict among Indonesia’s religious groups,” Dawam Rahardjo says.

Scholar Dawam Rahardjo won the 2013 Yap Thiam Hien Award for championing the rights of Indonesia’s religious minorities. An economist by training, Dawam headed the All-Indonesia Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) from 1995 to 2000, and currently leads the Institute of Religious and Philosophical Studies (LSAF).

In an interview with Khabar Southeast Asia, Dawam recalls challenges he has faced as an advocate of tolerance, and shares his thoughts about religious freedom.

Khabar: What does freedom of religion mean to you?

Dawam: Equality and tolerance are two main keys to religious freedom. Indonesia is more than 80% Muslim but it has diverse religions and beliefs. This is captured in its constitution, “believe in the divinity of God”.

There is freedom of religion in this country, but unfortunately religious freedom tends to be a source of conflict among Indonesia’s religious groups.

Khabar: If freedom of religion exists in Indonesia, why is there religious conflict?

Dawam: It is because of the lack of communication between the religious groups.

There is a separation between them that often leads to misunderstandings, so it is important to build an open, respectful dialogue. That is what I have been fighting for all this time, by myself or through my organisation.

However … my outspoken approach has drawn threats and intimidation. I was fired from Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organisation, for defending the Ahmadiyah group, whose practices were denounced in 2006 as deviant from Islam.

Khabar: Recently, religious conflict tends to happen in Java. Why?

Dawam: Religious conflict in West Java targeted the Ahmadiyah group while the religious conflict in East Java has targeted the Shia group the past few years. Saudi Arabia, which is dominated by Sunni Islam, is funding a number of local organisations to influence the Muslim community and limit the ability of both Shia and Ahmadiyah to grow.

The Indonesian government is not brave enough to stop those interventions because Indonesia is dependent upon Saudi Arabia for the Hajj to Mecca and the employment of Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

Khabar: What does the world need to know about Islam in Indonesia?

Dawam: There are many interpretations of Islam, ranging from fundamentalism and conservatism to liberal and traditional. Islam in Indonesia is not radical.

The fundamentalist group is in the minority, but they are brazen enough to speak out with their actions. However, sometimes we have to wonder whether they understand what they are doing, because some of them are being paid to join demonstrations, and they do not understand why they are there.

Khabar: What is the root of Indonesian radicalism?

Dawam: Radicalism is triggered by poverty. Fundamentalist groups allegedly pay poor people to perpetrate religious attacks to alter public perception.

Those poor people do not support the issue being protested; they just care about being paid. If the economic problem were fixed, the growth of radicalism would slow down or even stop. But that is a big homework assignment for the government.

New MataMassa app empowers regular people to help monitor elections

Khabar Southeast Asia

New MataMassa app empowers regular people to help monitor elections

by: Yositha Nirbhaya

Free mobile application encourages citizens to monitor violations during the election, inviting greater engagement in the democratic process.

A smartphone app offers greater Jakarta area residents a way to help ensure free and fair upcoming 2014 general elections.

The Jakarta branch of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the ICT Laboratory for Social Changes (iLab) launched MataMassa (“Eyes of the Public”) in November as a way for citizens to monitor and anonymously report administrative, criminal or ethical violations during voting or campaigning.

Those could include installation of campaign banners in houses of worship, highways, or hospitals; vote buying; or other violations as defined by the General Election Committee (KPU) and the Election Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu).

Nelson Simanjuntak, Bawaslu committee commissioner, said the app encourages direct societal participation of the process.

“It needs to be understood that MataMassa really helps us improve the 2014 election,” he told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Users can download MataMassa for free and use it to submit a report of a violation by text, photo or video to AJI Jakarta. Project personnel investigate and submit verified reports to Bawaslu.

Between December 15th last year and March 13th, MataMassa received 1,249 reports, and verified 1,154 of them, according to AJI. Because of limited funding, project personnel could only verify violations in Jakarta and outskirts including Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, AJI Jakarta Chairman Umar Idris told Khabari.

Direct participation

Renanda Laksita, a Partai Demokrat candidate for the House of Representatives (DPR) wished the app could be more widely used.

“I think this is a new innovation to invite society to participate in our democratic process, as we know that many Indonesian people love to use gadgets. I hope society takes advantage of it,” the candidate from Bali told Khabar.

“It would be better if it is applicable all over Indonesia than greater Jakarta only,” she added.

Stefani Bilwa tried, but failed to submit a violation in the form of a massive poster of a candidate in Setiabudi.

“Unfortunately, I was unlucky in submitting it directly through my iPhone,” she told Khabar. “Therefore I have to submit it through the website, which is not as efficient.” Still, Stefani liked the idea of the app to help deliver a fair election.

Reports can also be submitted through SMS center to 081370202014 or via email at for people without a smartphone or the app.

Victims of violence hope to change terrorist mindset

Khabar Southeast Asia

Victims of violence hope to change terrorist mindset

Sudirman Abdul Talib, 31, a victim of the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, believes some terrorists do not understand the impact of their actions. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

Sudirman Abdul Talib, 31, a victim of the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, believes some terrorists do not understand the impact of their actions. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

Those who have suffered at the hands of violent extremists believe some recruits will be moved to repent once they understand how terrorism destroys lives.

Victims of terrorism gathered on Sunday (September 8th) to commemorate a tragic episode in Jakarta’s recent history – namely, the 9th anniversary of the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, which killed nine people and wounded at least 150 others.

“Many people might have forgotten [about the incident]. But I think it is important to make them aware that the terrorists’ victims do exist, and we are still struggling with the aftermath of the attacks,” said Mulyono Sutrisman, chairman of the Kuningan Forum, an association of people who have been affected by extremist violence.

Such atrocities must not happen again, he said at the event, which was sponsored by Alliance for Peaceful Indonesia (AIDA)

Sudirman Abdul Talib, 31, is a former security guard at the embassy. He lost his left eye in the attack and suffers from a permanent disability affecting both of his hands.

“As victims, we want to be involved in the government’s deradicalisation programme, in eliminating terrorism and preventing the growth of violent extremism in Indonesia,” Sudirman told Khabar Southeast Asia.

He believes that if all victims are united against terrorism and promote peace, it will make a difference in the future.

“We just want to be involved in making Indonesia more peaceful,” he added.

Sudirman, who now works as an administrative staff member for the security guard department, says he does not want to become a prisoner of the trauma he experienced. He believes his story can be used to change the minds of those who have been misled by violent and extremist groups.

“I have met a few former convicted terrorists. I told them about the impact of the terrorism. They were shocked and cried. They regretted their actions and apologised,” Sudirman said. “It is clear to see that sharing and explaining the impact of terrorism on the victims is an effective method to convince them [terrorists] to stop their actions.”

A crucial role in combating extremist notions

The director of AIDA, Hasibullah Satrawi, said that Indonesia has the potential to win the battle against terrorism – not only because of law enforcement efforts, but also because victims of terrorism have been willing to join in efforts to combat it.

“The victims play a strategic role in bringing Indonesia to a more peaceful place,” he said. Therefore, it is very important to empower the victims – whether mentally, physically, or financially.”

Al Chaidar, a terrorism analyst, agreed that those affected by violence have great potential to combat recruitment by extremist groups. He agreed that the government should involve victims of terrorist activity in deradicalisation programmes.

“By meeting and seeing the victims, the terrorists would consider the actions that they are going to take because they have seen the impact of their attacks,” he added.

Sudirman, the wounded security guard, says he is troubled that his hometown of Bima, in West Nusa Tenggara, is being appropriated by terrorists as a base for planning their attacks. In 2011, police raided the local Umar bin Khattab Muslib Boarding School, where they found bomb-making materials as well as weapons and jihadist videos.

“Bima is a very religious place,” Sudirman said. Muslims pray five times a day and have strong faith. As far as I know, they are not radical people. They need moderate religious leaders to tell them that Islam is actually a religion of peace,” he said.

Those vulnerable to the message of radical terrorists need to be aware of the consequences of violence, he reiterated. “They need to meet people just like us to show them the impact of terrorist acts. It is also hurting Muslims as well,” Sudirman said.