Panel – Religion and Society in Indonesia after the Cikeusik Murders

By Tess Jaeger

A panel hosted by the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law earlier this year highlighted an issue largely ignored by the mainstream Australian media. The discussion centred on the social and political implications of violence toward members of the Ahmadiyah faith in Indonesia. Dr Julian Millie chaired the panel, which included Professor Dr Dadang Kahmad, Professor Dr Asep Saepul Muhtadi and Mr Hendar Riyadi, with translations provided by Mr Basoeki Koesasi.

In February this year, a violent attack on an Ahmadiyah community in the subdistrict of Cikeusik, Banten province, resulted in the deaths of three Ahmadi followers, with at least five injured. Images of the attack were broadcast via social media, sparking concern from overseas aid organisations such as Amnesty International. In July, “a court in Serang District, Banten, sentenced 10 men and two boys to three to six months’ imprisonment for their involvement in the killing of [the] three Ahmadis.”

Deden Darmawan Sudjana – a security chief and the only Ahmadi to be tried as a result of the incident – was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment after being “found guilty of breaching the Criminal Code Article 351 (1) on physical abuse”. Despite his prosecutors earlier dismissing Article 212 from their indictment, the judges also charged him in accordance with this article, which pertains to acts against the state.

Ahmad … attract[ed] criticism from conservative religious leaders for his departure from traditional Islamic teachings.

Ahmadiyah is named after Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the religion in India during the mid-1880s. From the outset, Ahmad identified Ahmadiyah as an Islamic movement, attracting criticism from conservative religious leaders for his departure from traditional Islamic teachings. “The greatest conflict with orthodox Islam is caused by Ahmad’s claim that revelation did not cease with the Prophet Muhammad, but that he himself was the spirit of the Prophet incarnate, or the Mahdi the Messiah expected by Muslims to arrive before the end of the world to lead the faithful.”

The Castan Centre panel focusing on the incident in Cikeusik offered requisite time to consider the development of social and cultural circumstances that may have influenced the events culminating in three Ahmadi deaths, however briefly. Their cause is clearly multifactorial.

The decline of the New Order regime in 1998 gave way to an inspiring political climate that allowed people to freely express their views when in the past they had been silenced. While there has been an ongoing debate between Ahmadiyah and non-Ahmadiyah Muslims concerning ownership of faith and religious identification, there has been an increased degree of criticism and violence toward Ahmadiyah since 1998. An influx of outsiders – both Ahmadiyah and otherwise – to Cikeusik has intensified the situation in that particular subdistrict.

In his address to the audience, Dr Muhtadi noted that none of the people involved in the February 2011 attack were actually from Cikeusik. There were dubious circumstances surrounding the synchronous travel of different groups to the subdistrict from such vast distances as Bandung and Jakarta.

Religious perspectives are not extended to the marginalised and impoverished.

Mr Riyadi commented that the notion of identity propagated by conservative Islamic religious groups is focused on the identity of individuals, rather than a concept of a holistic, plural Indonesian identity. Religious perspectives are not extended to the marginalised and impoverished. He continued by underlining that, while reactions to factors such as this ostensibly take their form in challenges to opposing religious views, material suffering and deprivation may just as easily be at the root of religious violence.

Dr Millie raised an interesting point with me following the panel’s conclusion: it is worthwhile considering the mainstream Australian media’s coverage of human rights abuses occurring in Indonesia. Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua and its past offences against the people of East Timor are often taken as the human rights lens through which we view one of our nearest neighbours. Too often are other issues worthy of international reportage glossed over or ignored.

The Cikeusik incident received relatively little coverage in Australia when it happened. Now, as time elapses, the persecution of Indonesian Ahmadis carries on with scant observance from international media.

Keep up to date with more of the Castan Centre’s panels and forums raising awareness of marginal legal and societal issues.