This week fresh violence erupted against some of Indonesia’s religious minorities. Now the question is whether the government will identify and prosecute those who did it.
On Sunday, a bomb planted by unknown perpetrators exploded inside a Buddhist temple in downtown Jakarta while congregants worshipped, injuring three men. Police are investigating. The violence comes just weeks after Indonesian Islamist militants vowed vengeance against Buddhists for attacks in Burma by members of the Buddhist majority against the local Rohingya Muslim population. A day later, unknown perpetrators tossed Molotov cocktails into the yard of a Catholic high school in Jakarta. Staff scrambled to extinguish the flames and kept the devices from igniting by dousing them with water from the school’s bathroom.
While those responsible for the attacks and their motivation remain under investigation, they occur in a context of rising religious intolerance and related acts of violence against the country’s religious minorities. Human Rights Watch issued a report in February 2013 documenting an alarming rise in religious intolerance and related acts of violence. The report also addressed the unwillingness of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government to prosecute the perpetrators, amend existing laws and regulations that discriminate against religious minorities, and uphold religious freedom as embodied in Indonesia’s constitution and International law.
Human Rights Watch warned that a failure by Yudhoyono to act decisively against religious intolerance would foster a form of “toxic osmosis” and only encourage Islamist militants to target new victims. Instead, Yudhoyono’s spokesman dismissed such concerns as "naïve" and said that “Even in a homogenous country there is friction between groups.”
The events in Jakarta over the past few days suggest that such “friction” may have increasingly dangerous consequences for Indonesia’s social fabric and the lives of its citizens. The Jakarta Post headlined a short, but important, message, with the temple attack: “Bomb threatens pluralism.” Yudhoyono needs to end his ambivalence to that danger or the Indonesian people will pay the price.