Weak Indonesian government allowing growth of extremist Muslim groups, priest warns

Members of the Islamic Defense Front demonstrate.
Members of the Islamic Defense Front demonstrate.


Commenting on the rise of attacks by extremist Muslim groups in Indonesia, a local priest told Fides news on Thursday that a government weakened by corruption is partly to blame for the unrest.

On July 1, Fides reported on a recently launched campaign by several Islamic extremist groups, allegedly fighting “against the Christianization of Indonesia” and for “the adoption of Sharia in the country.”

In the past week, Bekasi, a town close Jakarta, has been hosting a conference for over 200 leaders of radical Islamic groups, including the Islam Defender Front (FPI), the "Bekasi Movement Against Apostates,” and the “Islamic Ummah Forum.”

Fr. Emmanuel Harja, priest of the Diocese of Jakarta and Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Indonesia, denounced the groups and gave his opinions as to why he believes the extremists are allowed to flourish.

“Radicals of the FPI  are taking advantage of the weak central government, rocked by scandals of corruption and misrule, which have affected political, financial, military leaders,” Fr. Harja told Fides. “This explains how militant Islamists have once again reared their heads and gained ground. The government itself fears them. The radicals also count on support from the political world.”

“It's often violent militants who openly encourage hostility against all Christians,” he added. “We ask the government to stop them and ensure freedom of religion and faith in all religious communities. It's a matter of justice and respect for fundamental rights.”

In addition to Catholics decrying the initiatives of the FPI, several political officials and Muslim leaders have called for their disbanding.

“The violence committed by the Islamic Defenders’ Front has been systematic and is threatening to society,” said lawmaker Ribka Tjiptaning, on June 30.  According to UCAN News, Tjiptaning also criticized the local police and the domestic affairs minister for their reportedly slow response to the issue.

Muslim leader Iqbal Sulam, Secretary General of  “Nahdlatul Ulama,” one of the largest Indonesian Muslim organizations, with 60 million followers, also weighed in on the situation.

“If we call for the Sharia in Bekasi, other religious communities in other provinces could do the same, calling for policies based on the principles of faiths,” warned Sulam. “Islam is a blessing for the whole universe and it is a duty for all Muslims to respect believers of other faiths.”

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