Jakarta archbishop voices militancy concerns

Pastoral letter for Lent warns Catholics that 'fundamentalism and intolerance are getting stronger'
Jakarta archbishop voices militancy concerns

In this Feb. 11 photo, anti-riot police can be seen on the streets of Jakarta during a rally in Jakarta ahead of the Feb. 15 governor election. Authorities feared a repeat of huge demonstrations by conservative Muslims against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is on trial for alleged blasphemy. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta has strongly condemned growing Muslim fundamentalism and intolerance in a politically charged pastoral letter to mark the start of the Lenten season.

In the letter, sent to 66 parishes, the prelate told Catholics that rampant violence, human trafficking, and the elimination of the common good by groups, and individuals were infecting Indonesian society.

All aim to weaken the country's secular principles, it said.

"Religious fundamentalism and intolerance are getting stronger," the prelate warned, referring to the growing influence of groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front.

The archbishop was particularly concerned over tensions in Jakarta ahead of the first round of the gubernatorial election on Feb. 15, when hundreds of thousands protested against the governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok," a Christian of Chinese descent.

Tensions have started to resurface ahead of the runoff election scheduled for April 19. Several mosques in Jakarta have reportedly prohibited praying for dead Muslims if there is evidence that they supported Ahok.

Ahmadiya followers were also being subjected to intimidation.

Last week, local authorities reportedly closed a mosque belonging to the Muslim sect in Sawangan, West Java, following pressure from hardline groups.

Mainstream Muslims regard Ahmadiya followers as heretics.

Religious fundamentalism and intolerance have grown stronger since 2010, and have become two of the realities faced by the archdiocese, Archbishop Hardjoatmodjo told ucanews.com on Feb. 28.

Fundamentalism appears in people not recognizing other people's rights to exercise their religion, he said.

"The highest level of violence is leveled against a person or community who disagrees with these peoples," he said.

Monica Meifung, a parishioner at the Sacred Heart Church in Jakarta, said fundamentalism blinds many people.

Meifung claimed some Muslims abused her last month for sheltering other Muslim families whose homes had been damaged by fire.

They were angry a Christian was helping Muslims, she said.

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Such a thing would not happen if fundamentalism were not growing in those people, she said.

According to the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, Jakarta ranked second behind West Java in terms of intolerance during 2016.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the rights group said religious intolerance is starting to take hold among urban people, especially the educated middle class. It used to be more common among the rural poor, he said.

"This could be seen from the demonstrations in Jakarta supposedly to defend Islam [against Ahok]," he said.

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