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Flowers fight radicalism in Indonesia

Catholics join nationwide effort to stamp out extremism

Flowers fight radicalism in Indonesia

Priests and seminarians of St. Peter Major Seminary in Ritapiret, East Nusa Tenggara bring flower boards to the local police station on May 7 as part of a nationwide show of solidarity against religious radicalism. (ucanews.com photo)

Catholics in Indonesia have joined efforts to fight religious radicalism as fears grow that hard-line groups are threatening to replace secular society with a caliphate.

In East Nusa Tenggara, a predominantly Christian province, dozens of priests and seminarians from St. Peter Major Seminary took flower boards to the local police station on May 7 calling on authorities to curb extremism.

Giving flower boards to security forces is a symbol of support against radical groups. It became popular after Tito Karnavian, the national police chief, said last week that they needed public support in combating radicalism. In response, citizens sent flower boards to the headquarters of the police and military in Jakarta, as well as the Presidential Palace. 

Father Inosentius Mansur, a mentor from St. Peter Major Seminary in Ritapiret, said the flowers were a symbol of peace. "This nation must remain peaceful and should not be infected by radical ideas," he said.

The priest said they were concerned about hard-line groups such as the Islamic Defender's Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia who want to replace Pancasila with a religion-based ideology. Pancasila, which means "Five Principles," is enshrined in the constitution and has been a bonding influence on diverse Indonesia since the country gained independence 71 years ago.

Epin Budiman, a seminarian, was worried by their rhetoric, "They feel more righteous than others and call them infidels who deserve to be annihilated," he said.

Muhammad Saleh Sukanda, the local deputy police chief, thanked the priest and seminarians. "We are trying to maintain the integrity of the nation and maintain peace and security," he said.

In East Nusa Tenggara, Christians are vigilant against extremists. There have been several high-profile arrests in recent years, including a suspect with links to the so-called Islamic State group and another suspected terrorist in West Flores in 2015.


Disbanding radical groups

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Public concern is high after the Jakarta runoff election on April 19 which experts described as the country's most polarizing election yet.

Riding a growing wave of religious conservatism, former education minister Anies Baswedan won, beating incumbent Christian Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was dogged by allegations he had committed blasphemy while on the campaign trail.

Some political experts said Anies owed his success to Muslim voters who decided to throw their support behind him, mobilized by extremist groups, including the Islamic Defender's Front.

Following Ahok's defeat, worries about the influence of radicals in politics peaked. The situation was not improved after a video of university students declaring their intent to establish a transnational Muslim caliphate went viral. 

The government gave a robust response. President Joko Widodo said on May 5 that he had instructed Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Wiranto to identify radical organizations and what actions have the potential to disrupt state security and national unity. 

Hendardi, chairman of Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace supported the plan.

"Radical groups' thoughts can't be suppressed because the right to freedom of conscience can't be limited but the government can limit the spread of their ideology," he said.

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