Indonesia | 22 September 2022

Indonesia: All intolerance is local?

The mayor of Cilegon in the province of Banten signed a pledge against establishing churches in his city. The national authorities have little leverage if the local pressure against Christians is strong.


Show: false / Country: Indonesia /
As Benar News reported on 9 September 2022, the mayor of Cilegon in the province of Banten signed a pledge against establishing Christian churches in his city.

World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller comments: “A video of the signing of the pledge went viral and fueled discussion in social media and beyond. Two points are particularly noteworthy: First, government authorities almost immediately weighed in and said that local leaders do not have the right to deny any religious group a place of worship, if it fulfills the prerequisites stated by law. As other cases have shown, it remains to be seen if the mayor is willing to uphold all his citizens’ rights: National authorities do not have much leverage if the pressure on the ground is strong. Secondly, it is interesting to note the origin of the church ban. As Asia News reported on 8 September 2022, this came from a deal made in 1975, when the Soviet Union helped in building the Krakatau Steel Mills in Cilegon (Indonesia’s largest steel works). One of the clauses in the agreement had been to make sure there was no visible church presence in the city. Whatever the origin, the result is the same: Christians cannot meet for worship in Cilegon and have to commute to the provincial capital Serang for church services.”

Thomas Muller continues: “The situation in Cilegon is a reminder that in Indonesia most cases of religious discrimination and restrictions are local and often have more to do with appeasing radical Islamic groups than upholding rights. The same goes for the local pressure on women and girls to wear a hijab or jilbab, as WWR reported in April 2021. In this case, while the countrywide situation is still under investigation by a commission reporting to the Vice-President of Indonesia, the pressure for women and girls at the local level remains high (The Diplomat, 14 September 2022). Of course, a growing Islamic conservatism in society makes it easier for radical groups to demand accommodation, thus, according to one commentator, the real danger lies in the ‘democratic backsliding of Indonesia (The Interpreter, 14 September 2022).

Thomas Muller adds: “As Al-Jazeera reported on 21 September 2022, recent research on Muslim consumers in Southeast Asia has found that one third of young people consider themselves more religious than their parents, while 45% call themselves simply ‘devout’. The research also revealed that 91% of respondents said that a strong relationship with Allah was the most important thing in life, on par with family and health. Even though the survey was only carried out with 1000 respondents and the geographic scope was limited to Indonesia and Malaysia, the findings fit in with research WWR has previously reported on (e.g. 4 May 2022: Malaysia/Indonesia: Beware of Christians and other radicals; 22 July 2021: Indonesia: Battling against Islamist influence; 15 September 2020: Indonesia: Strong religiosity confirmed), pointing to the fact that the growing religiosity among Muslims in Indonesia (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia) has consequences for religious minorities far beyond mere consumerism.”


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