Indonesia would be our home if we were not currently residing in the Land Downunder. Yet, a recent story our of Tanjung Balai in North Sumatra has me wondering whether Indonesia is all that it claims to be when it comes to arguing that it practices a moderate form of Islam and that there is a constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of religion. To my mind, this piece of news out of North Sumatra suggests that not all religions are equal under the constitution, particularly if they are a minority faith. This piece of news is also indicative of a lack of leadership across all levels of government and the community.
The news relates to a rather large 6-meter statue of Buddha which finds itself sitting atop of a 3-storey temple located in the heart of Tanjung Balai. After a great deal of agitation by a local Islamic group, the Forum for United Muslims, there was allegedly an agreement reached that would see the Buddha moved to a more "respectful" location. More respectful seemingly means out of the eyesight of Muslims. I am not sure that there are all that many Muslims that would be tempted to convert to Buddhism based solely on seeing a large statue of the Buddha, but then again, perhaps the temptation is just too great that it is better to remove it.
However, the longer the statue remains where it is the more likely it is that there will be protests to see it removed with all haste. The local Islamic Community Council seems to think that removing the statue is all about maintaining religious harmony. Perhaps some other minority religions in Indonesia would beg to differ. This is about one religion using its numbers to dominate other religions by forcing compliance and issuing threats. If the situations were reversed and some followers of a minority faith linked together with others and demanded that all local mosques not use loud speakers to make the call to prayer as it disturbed them, what then would the likely outcome be?
Tolerance is a two-way street. It requires the ability to tolerate and be tolerated. Yet, I am not sure this current dispute evidences a two-way street. It seems more likely this is a one-way street where you do as your told or suffer the consequences of your non-compliance.
The cold hard reality here is that Buddhism is an officially sanctioned religion. Followers of the faith have a constitutionally guaranteed right to practice their faith. They also have a right to their religious symbols and deities in order to fulfill their religious obligations.
The government and courts at all levels must do all that they can to protect religious freedom. Unfortunately, another cold hard reality is that populism means that elected officials rarely maintain the testicular or ovarian fortitude that they extol as candidates.
I wonder whether this is another nail in the coffin of tolerance in Indonesia?