Blas­phemy in In­done­sia

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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