Indonesia Cracks Down on Atheists


A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Benedict Rogers made the case for Alex Aan, the 30-year-old Indonesian who gave up his beliefs when he saw all the war and famine going on around the world. Aan was beaten by radical Islamists and charged with blasphemy, then jailed for becoming an atheist. As the largest Muslim country, Indonesia is facing religious intolerance on a larger scale; it is important to understand why Indonesians reacted this way and turned on someone in their own religion. Understanding this could be one of the keys to understanding the world's largest  Muslim country.

As Rogers’s points out, there is still hope for Indonesia to find these extremist and radical Islamists and make sure that necessary action is taken. Noted Indonesian-Muslim organizations such as the Wahid Institute and Maarif Institute work to fight against radical groups and ensure that Indonesia is a peaceful place for all people. A Gallup poll found that Indonesians are more likely to perceive corruption to be more widespread in their own country than in other Southeast Asian countries. The disparity between reality and perception is prevalent throughout Indonesia. 

It's not so easy to make sure that all people get along with one another in order to fight extremists; Indonesia’s problems with religious intolerance are rooted in the moderate belief system which many Indonesians hold. Recently, Lady Gaga had to cancel her concert in Indonesia due to the chaos which ensued as a result of protests stemming from her questionable appearance and manner. This is only one example of the outbreak of religious backlash taking place throughout Indonesia.

A report done by a UC Davis student found that religion in Indonesia was associated with the willingness of Indonesians to help and trust individuals within their own country, but not strangers. Religiosity is determined to be more of a religious discrimination and is also associated with greater ethnic discrimination. People in Indonesia characterize their country as an Islamic state, yet they do not see themselves as people who would easily turn away a person from another religion, despite the nation's heated protests.

In his article, Rogers notes that there are three factors which play into how Indonesia undermines religious freedom: the silence and passivity of the majority, growing radicalization, and the weakness of the government at every level. There should also be a fourth factor, which is outside influence. The government surely plays a large role in terms of how Indonesians perceive religion and ideals, however influences from western media also play a part in how religious freedom is viewed.

The key to understanding why Indonesians react to the issue of faith so strongly is related to why religious intolerance is prevalent in the country. In a Muslim country such as Indonesia, there are some with strong feelings about what their faith is and they then pressure those emotions onto the majority. Indonesia's status as the world's largest Muslim country is not faltering, but it is time to make room for a broader system which encompasses all faiths.