The recent sentencing of a popular Chinese Christian gubernatorial candidate for Jakarta to two years in Indonesian prison was met with almost no surprise by most of Jakarta’s residents. In the recent years, religious and racial intolerance against the Chinese in Indonesia has been spreading at a disappointingly rapid rate.
The old, predominantly Muslim political forces behind the election itself have resorted to using childish and cheap moves by attacking the race and religion of middle-class-favourite candidate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and taking advantage of that sentiment effectively to the gullible religious Indonesians. The unfortunate aftermath of the April 19 elections saw Ahok not only lose, but be sentenced to two years of jail over an alleged blasphemy charge over his quotation of a controversial and often-misinterpreted passage from the Al-Quran which states that it is wrong to elect a non-Muslim leader. In the lead up to, during and after the elections, new sentiment against the Chinese race, which Basuki is part of, took to its tensest levels since the riots of 1998, visible both in the streets and in the obvious battlefield of the internet. An era of Muslim dominance has sprung up to the point that many of Indonesia’s citizens seem to forget their cultural roots in favor of an Islamic identity.
Religious fundamentalism is a weapon that is too valuable to be given up by Indonesia’s political elite, as their existence relies on the use and upholding of its ancient, religiously-charged legal and social system. It is like the AK-47: an incredibly powerful weapon that is cheap, deadly and easy to distribute, effective to bring one to their knees and then later having those knees shot, robbing one of the freedom and ability to move, grow and exercise their humanity.
While it may not be the only reason, it is an unfortunately major force that caused the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election to end up how it was and the vicious aftermath of religious and racial hate that followed. There is no indication from the election’s victor, Anies Baswedan, to quell this kind of mindset to stop it from breeding into the future, as it is the force that helped drive away votes for Ahok.
The usage of Islam as a political weapon has discredited the country’s politicians and crooked legal system in the eyes of many even further. In the heat of this discourse, it is easy to forget a religion’s true roots.
In essence, the bare principles of any religion teaches only acceptance, forgiveness, brotherhood and tolerance. The factors of hatred slipped inside are a result of powerful men in history amending the rules of religion to benefit their political agendas, to go to war or to seize power. In the heat of scaremongering, the principles have simply become forgotten.
Even if a religion does teach one to hate in the first place, why do many humans lack the ability (or will) to simply not follow those teachings? It does not cross their minds that it is possible to hold on to a religion while not putting into practice the aspects which contradict the initial principles.
Many have chosen to not do so because many hold on to their pride. Men, especially, have benefitted from the centuries of patriarchy and having the nerve to amend history and distort religion to their own selfish liking, because they know that religion is seen as something that can never be challenged.
Throughout history, the need for kings and generals to engage in war with their neighbours has served as a sign of their frailty. The cultural need for a man to dominate over their women or minorities shows the insecurity and slight fear against an equal and tolerant society, where everyone is accepted as they are. By inserting this idea into religion, and accepting it, it justifies and maintains the man’s dominance over society at all costs: a power that men rarely ever want to give up.
This fact is not lost on Indonesia. Instead of being more welcoming, many of Indonesia’s religious whether they be young or old, rich or poor, academic or non-academic have shown more visible intolerance. In a way, this is an example of social devolution: a step backwards from the proper use of the innovative human brain in favor of utilizing the reckless impulses of the heart. Devolution occurs only if the basic principles that make religion are ignored in favor of everything that goes against it.
This is regrettable for a country which has been described by its foreign allies as a beacon of tolerance.
Tolerance in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, is now up to those who have come to their senses to exercise a religion’s bare principles to maintain, even if the government does not want to assist.