14 December 2008

Blasphemy in Indonesia

Blasphemy is an issue that is always interesting to write about as the possibilities are endless, at least in terms of the hypotheticals - the what ifs? This is even more so the case in Indonesia where even the slightest hint of blasphemy leads to violence and the destruction of private property and the desecration of religious property in some instances, it is fair to say there is nothing funny about blasphemy in Indonesia.

Indonesia is still not at the point of trying, as Malaysia has, to ban the use of certain words and restrict their usage only to Muslims. Malaysia decided that "Allah" was a Muslim term to refer to God and because it was a Muslim term then no other religions had a right to refer to their God as Allah. I would guess that to do so would amount to blasphemy.

Nevertheless, Indonesians, at least in some instances, have voiced extreme opinions on the issue of apostasy. The demand is for death for all apostates. The issue has come to the fore yet again as the government is set to continue its pursuit, some might say persecution, of Lia Eden, the leader of a messianic cult, who by all accounts is as mad as a two bob watch, for blasphemy. The most recent arrest is hot on the heels of the arrest of a teacher for supposedly scorning the Prophet. For some background on the Eden cult you can go here, here, and here.

The teacher, Welhelmina Holle, sparked a violent protest that led to the burning of churches and homes on Seram Island in the Moluccas. It remains unclear exactly what she said but obviously for some it did not matter. The fact that the allegation was made was enough for some to set out on a violent protest.

The actual law on blasphemy was a Presidential Decree that was enacted into law in 1965 (No. 1/PNPS/1965) and the key elements have in essence been extracted and included in the current Indonesian Criminal Code (Kitab Undang-undang Hukum Pidana / KUHP) as Article 156(a). The combination of these laws is designed to prevent "deviant interpretations" or any challenge to the long-standing norms particularly with respect to Islam, and to prevent any public discourse on religion by outlawing any utterances that can conceivably be deemed hostile or abusive or insulting of any particular religion.

This is problematic in a secular state as it gives the government or its appointed proxies the power to make subjective interpretations of what constitutes blasphemy or heresy. In many ways the power is a similar one to what has been seen before, as granted to the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisitions. For many this might be a difficult concept to digest. However, it is as simple as recognizing that there is not the same separation of Church and State or in this case Mosque and State that many of us from a Western democratic tradition would recognize.

Yet, there is some separation in Indonesia as the Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulema Indonesia / MUI) has the power to issue fatwas (edicts) on all things Islam but these fatwas are not legally binding. In that sense it is a toothless tiger whose growl is much bigger than its bite. Although, it is a brave government that aligns itself against the MUI as to do so would expose it to charges of being anti-Islam or not sensitive to Muslim issues and needs.

I guess the point of this little musing was that on a personal level I have a real problem with people being jailed for their non-violent religious beliefs no matter how crazy and left or right of mainstream they might be. For example, if a shaven-headed woman wants to claim that she is the Archangel Gabriel and people want to believe that and follow her then so be it. Similarly, if someone wants to claim that there was another prophet after Muhammad and there are people prepared to belief that then so be it.

I leave you with these random thoughts.

If God sends his only son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for our sins, then doesn't this suggest that Jesus is the most likely candidate to have been the last prophet (at least until the second coming of Christ)? And, therefore, would it be blasphemy to suggest that God got it wrong by sending his only son and decided to have another go at getting it right by selecting some random fella, who in this case just happens to be a fella named Muhammad, to be his final prophet on earth and to bring Islam to the world?

Then, if it is to be accepted that Muhammad followed Jesus as a prophet, then why is it not possible that God could have had second or third thoughts and decided that another prophet was necessary in order to perfect any imperfections that may have arisen?

Would it be blasphemy to suggest that Buddha never really reached enlightenment by suggesting that the Buddha has been reincarnated for another stint back in the real world?

Oh well! As Uncle Ned once said, "such is life"!


GJ said...

Rob, I think you are absolutely correct here;

Then, if it is to be accepted that Muhammad followed Jesus as a prophet, then why is it not possible that God could have had second or third thoughts and decided that another prophet was necessary in order to perfect any imperfections that may have arisen?

But do you know why?

You see God is a woman and you know how many times these lovely creatures change their minds. Just think about how many times their outfits change before going out. Ha

But we love them all the same.

How's Will enjoying life??

Cheers GJ

Rob Baiton said...


Ahhh, I see!

Will is doing fine and enjoying life on the outside. It is a pretty good gig as a baby being doted over, fed, cleaned up after, and generally not being able to do anything wrong in the eyes of awestruck and love struck parents :D

You know how it is...

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