Friday, June 15, 2012

My kind isn't welcome here

There is a trend among Western politicians and pundits to describe Indonesia as some sort of example of religious pluralism -- a place where democracy and Islam can coexist and promote tolerance amid diverse cultures.

Don't you believe it. While Indonesia has yet to give in to its nationalistic tendencies and kick out those troublemaking bules, there is a growing atmosphere of intolerance and impunity among Islamic hard-liners, a development aided by authorities being either unwilling or unable to stand up to extremists for fear of losing the hard-liners' support come election time.

What's worse, the extremists have a growing list of successes. There was the high-profile chasing-off of Lady Gaga, as well as quashing the discussion and publication of books that offend their delicate sensibilities. Now a man has been jailed for the heinous, unforgivable crime of not believing in Allah.

A civil servant in West Sumatra was sentenced on Thursday to two and a half years in jail by a local district court for admitting to being an atheist.

Alexander Aan, an aspiring civil servant in the Dharmasraya district, came into the public spotlight in January when he was assaulted by a mob for posting on his Facebook account that he did not believe in a deity.

Prosecutors later charged him with hate crimes under the 2008 Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law and with blasphemy under the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six years and fines of up to Rp 1 billion ($106,000).

Tolerance advocacy group the Setara Institute said on Thursday that the charges against Aan set a bad precedent for freedom of expression in Indonesia.

“Criminally charging Alexander is a mistake because what he wrote on his Facebook page does not contain provocations, urges or calls, as described in the ITE law or in the Criminal Code,” the group said in a statement.

Indonesia guarantees the freedom of expression under its 1945 constitution as well as the 1999 law on Human Rights.

In 2005, Indonesia also adopted into law the International Covenant on Civilian and Political Rights.

“With this conviction, anyone has the potential to be charged over what they say, which is then subjectively deemed by a group of people or law enforcers as spreading hatred, blasphemy, or provoking others,” the institute said. “Aan’s verdict is a step backwards for human rights in Indonesia.”
Apparently the judges cited several sentences that they claimed were "defamatory," such as "Muhammad tertarik kepada menantunya sendiri" (Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law) and "Kisah Nabi Muhammad bersenggama dengan babu istrinya" (The story of Prophet Muhammad having sexual intercourse with his wife’s maid). This is spreading "religious and racial hatred," huh? Leaving aside the obvious reply that blasphemy is a victimless crime, this is awfully close to invoking the Streisand effect. If you can't joke about Muhammad, talk about Muhammad's life outside that which is approved by his acolytes or even draw a picture of him, you're just begging for an eventual backlash from people who refuse to be censored.

Indonesia -- where you can be jailed for three months for killing someone who believes in the wrong kind of Islam but 30 months for not believing at all. Indonesia -- where local officials can ignore Supreme Court rulings and shutter churches, forcing Christians to worship on the street or in secret. Indonesia -- where Shariah law is welcomed but Christians are not. Indonesia -- "the most tolerant country in the world." My flabby, white ass.

Let's be clear about this: There is no god, and no amount of oppression, coercion or indoctrination by governments and religions will change that fact. You wanna bring me in for that, Tifatul? Come get me.

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