On Tuesday, February 8, reports surfaced in Indonesia of Christian Churches being burned by a Muslim mob after tempers flared at a courthouse in Temanggung, a region about 400 miles from the capital city of Jakarta.
The attacks began after Antonius Bawengan, a 58 year-old Christian, was sentenced to five years in prison for distributing pamphlets blaspheming against Islam. Despite the issuance of the maximum sentence allowed, the Muslim crowd attending the hearing was irate, saying the verdict was too lenient and calling for Bawengan’s death.
A crowd of about 1,500 people then set about burning two churches while chanting “kill, kill, burn, burn” and “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) outside of the courthouse. When the police finally arrived to calm the situation, three people had been killed, five suffered severe injury, and two were reported missing.
The attacks came just months after President Obama visited Indonesia in November, and praised the country’s “spirit of religious tolerance”. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Indonesian constitution, the aforementioned blasphemy law has been in place since 1965; a law which the Indonesian government deems vital to “religious harmony”.
It is important to note that the controversial law is meant to protect against the “distortion” of the tenets of the country’s six major religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
Similar events occurred in Egypt just two months ago, as a Christian church was bombed in Alexandria on New Year’s Day, however the bombing was blamed on foreign terrorist groups, not native Egyptians.
It is appalling that in the 21st century events such as these continue to occur all over the world. Regardless of the religions involved, things like this simply shouldn’t happen in today’s increasingly interconnected world. Understandably, as the world gets smaller, peoples from different backgrounds, opinions and religions are thrust together in situations that would have been impossible in the past. This, however, is no excuse for the outright intolerance that can be found worldwide, including the US.
I intend to use this event as a starting point in a series of articles on the current state of religion, and more specifically religious intolerance in the world from a purely objective viewpoint. This series will be an exercise in patience and tolerance for all of us. It is always easy to point the finger elsewhere, but sometimes a little introspection can be a good thing. As always, your input is welcome. Stay tuned.