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Editorial: Holier than thou
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
When you call my name, it’s like a little prayer, sang Madonna, the diva with a Catholic background who later followed the Kaballah faith, which is based on an ancient Jewish belief system.
If any of her Indonesian fans had followed suit (though the singer has reportedly left the sect), their fate might well have followed a continuous trend — being ostracized from their communities. This despite the fact that even though the explanation to the 1965 law on blasphemy states that apart from the officially sanctioned religions, “It does not mean other religions such as the Jewish [faith], Zoroastrianism, Shinto, or Taoism are banned in Indonesia. They are entitled to a full guarantee [as stated in the Constitution], and are to be left alone, as long as they do not violate regulations or other laws.”
The crimes under this law include “deliberately persuading … general support [for] interpretations of a religion followed in Indonesia, or engaging in religious activities that duplicate the teachings of that religion, where those interpretations and activities violate the principle teachings of the said religion.” The officially sanctioned religions are Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hindu, Buddhism and Confucianism The first president Sukarno signed the 1965 law, passed, among other reasons, to secure the “goals of the National Revolution and national development” and noting, at that time, the widespread emergence of various sects “which violate religious laws and teachings”.
Until today, reports of obscure sects come and go; at some time, somewhere, someone will claim to hear a voice, “like an angel sighing … feels like flying”, so the song goes — and somehow gain a few or a multitude of converts. Lia Eden, serving time following her conviction for blasphemy, is famously one of these self-proclaimed angels of a somewhat chilling but not unique sect, in which followers torture themselves. Followers of the Ahmadiyah are harassed everywhere, accused of not acknowledging the Prophet Muhammad, a basic tenet of Islam.
Today at the Constitutional Court, we hope to hear the wisest of the wise in a hearing of a judicial review request of the 1965 law. We may see the usual crop of demonstrators around the building near the State Palace, who will loudly defend the Almighty, demanding that the law remains unchanged. The petitioners, grouped in the Advocacy Alliance for Freedom of Religion, demand the law be annulled. The government, its lawyer said, creates policies which potentially justify conflict against certain religious groups.
The group echoes earlier critics, who have pointed out the law’s contradiction with the 1945 Constitution which states the equal right of all citizens to freedom of worship in their faiths; although atheism is not recognized.
It is hoped that the experts to address the court hearing will enlighten us on what laws are really for. Are they instruments of the state to facilitate relationships between citizens of diverse backgrounds and interests, and faiths? Are they instruments of those in power, those that follow the principle of “L’etat c’est moi”, and use the law at whim? The 1965 law continued to be effective in the Soeharto years, while he actually inserted official sanction of the synchretist beliefs, aliran kepercayaan, of which he was a follower.
Annul the law — and remove the state’s blessing of those who insist on the monopoly to say they are holier than thou.