06 October 2010

Laws on the Building of Houses of Worship -- Indonesia...

One way of ensuring that the whittling down, and perhaps removal, of certain constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as the right to worship freely, is to put the decision making process to a committee of one's peers. In this case, a joint ministerial regulation on the building of houses or places to worship is set to be formalised into a law.

In essence, the regulation requires the approval of a majority of residents for a house of worship to be built in a specified area. In a country that is predominantly Muslim, this means that getting the requisite approval for a mosque is a real no-brainer. Besides, if the community did not approve a mosque it is almost certainly going to see large-scale protests take place, perhaps even violent confrontations as the FPI crazies are bused in under  the guise of being representative of Indonesian Islam. However, the flip side of this coin is that it is difficult to get houses / places of worship approved for minority religions such as Christianity (various sects) and other recognised religions in Indonesia such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

The recent trials and tribulations that have unfolded in Bekasi as a Christian group seeks to formalise the permitting process for its house of worship is testament to the difficulties minority faiths can endure at the hands of a minority of the local population who vocally and violently oppose the construction of a Church.

Yet, it must be noted that this is not exclusively a Muslim vs. Christian scenario. Let's face it, the declaration that the Ahmadiyya sect is a deviant Muslim sect has seen Muslim against Muslim occur on an ever-increasingly frequent level. And, Muslim vs. Muslim does not entail any polite courtesy as the "real" Muslims burn down the "deviant" Muslim's house of worship, in this instance a Mosque. Tolerance, or lack thereof, is an interesting thing.

The regulation is illuminating as it to all intents and purposes forces the ghetto-isation of minority religions. How so? The regulation requires that any proposed house of worship be approved by at least 60 of the households in the immediate vicinity of the site. Therefore, the best way to ensure your proposed house of worship gets the nod of approval is to ensure that all like minded believers live in close proximity to each other and therefore the land set aside for the house of worship will be surrounded on all sides by the "true" believers. Simply, if you permit interlopers of questionable commitment into your midst then they could conceivably derail your plan for a house of worship. Hence, we have the ghetto-isation of religion.

Is it too extreme to then ponder whether it is possible that Indonesia is moving towards becoming an Islamic state? To avoid confusion, Indonesia is a democratic and sovereign state, so if the majority of the people want the Republic to be an Islamic state, then so be it. Moving from the secular to the non-secular will require a constitutional change at least in my opinion. Maybe I should pose this question to a former student of mine Pan Mohamad Faiz who is now a recognised expert on Indonesian constitutional law.

It is sad that the president has not been pro-active on promoting tolerance in any significant and substantial way beyond, "yo, my fellow Indonesians, chill out!" If you are wondering what I mean by pro-active, I mean take a firmer and more hard line stance against groups like the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) who are nothing more than thugs in robes whose modus operandi is to enforce compliance through violence.

If this regulation becomes law then it is likely that there will be an immediate move towards ghetto-isation and walled compounds for minority faiths, and increasing levels of communal violence as the white-robed hoodlums of the FPI try to prevent the construction of any place of worship that is not an approved mosque.

No comments: