Thousands of Indonesians participate in rally in Jakarta protesting against extremism. (ucanews.com photo)
An estimated 3,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta on Nov. 19, in a show of unity against Muslim hardliners and ethnic discrimination.
Similar rallies were also held across the country, including in Catholic majority East Nusa Tenggara province, against what they claimed were efforts by militant groups to undermine the country’s secular constitution.
The rallies follow a large protest by hard-line Muslim groups on Nov. 4, demanding the arrest of Jakarta’s Christian Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — popularly known as Ahok — for alleged blasphemy, which also saw Chinese owned shops attacked and looted.
The gatherings also follow the bombing of a Protestant church in East Kalimantan province on Nov. 18, which killed a two-year-old child and injured three others.
Both events sparked fears in Indonesia that religious minorities and the ethnic Chinese community were being targeted by hardliners.
Nia Sjarifudin, coordinator of activist group Unity and Diversity National Alliance, said the protests were not politically motivated but an expression of public concern over a rise in militancy in Indonesia.
"Through these activities, we want to assure those who perceive themselves as a minority, that they are not alone," Sjarifudin said.
"The state accommodates, guards, and protects them," she said.
Charles Lelu Umbu Sogar Ame Talu, a Franciscan seminarian joined the rally along with 32 fellow seminarians.
The threat to Indonesian unity by extremist groups is serious and everyone must not stay silent, he said.
"We must fight against them," he said.
According to a survey released in August by the Wahid Foundation, an organization that promotes religious harmony, and the Indonesian Survey Institute, about 12 million Indonesians have hard-line views or have the potential to commit extremist acts.
Media reports have said about 2 million of them are supporters of the so-called Islamic State group.
Police believe some of these supporters were behind bombing of the Protestant church.
Nong Mahmada, one of the organizers of the rally in Jakarta said the gathering was intended to remind people that Indonesia has a diverse ethnic, cultural, religious and racial background.
"No group can impose [ideology] on other groups, especially if it is through violence," he said.
The ideology of Pancasila (Five Principles), enshrined in its constitution, has been the bonding power of Indonesia’s cultural and religious diversity since the country gained independence 71 years ago.
"We must speak out against any movement or group that aims to impose radical or religious beliefs," Mahmada said.
Peter Wersun of the Community of Sant'Egidio said Indonesia’s independence was gained through the blood of heroes, who came from different religious and racial backgrounds.
"These heroes fought for independence, and now we need to maintain it," he said.