Blasphemy in Indonesia
This appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
An Indonesian court has sentenced Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the loser in the governor’s race in Jakarta, to two years’ imprisonment for blasphemy against Islam. Known as Ahok, he is a Christian of Chinese ethnicity, a double minority in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority state. His sentence represents a setback for the country’s reputation and future as a moderate, secular democracy.
Indonesia’s political contests are vigorous, but generally reasonable in nature. This is fortunate considering the nature of the country. It is composed of 17,000 islands, with a population of 264 million, the world’s fourth largest. Muslims, mostly Sunni, make up 87 per cent the country. Ten per cent are Christians and a there’s a small Chinese ethnic minority.
Ahok became governor of Jakarta, the capital, starting in 2014. His predecessor, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi (many Indonesians go by one name), became president and remains in office, with the next presidential elections scheduled for 2019. Ahok was defeated in a race for governor April 19 as he sought a second term. That would not have been a problem, but an increasingly militant Muslim movement in Indonesia zeroed in on him for remarks he made about Islam during the campaign that his opposition charged was blasphemy. (He had sought to refute through verses of the Quran the charge that it was forbidden for Muslims to vote for a non-Muslim.)
President Jokowi will need to scramble to dispel the impression that Ahok’s conviction is an unchallenged perception that Indonesia, an important country, is descending a slippery slope toward Islamic extremism.
In a sense, Indonesiahas been a poster child for a responsible combination of democracy and Islamic majority.
President Jokowi should take the bull by the horns and have Ahok released promptly.