The politicisation of religion

As published in the edited version in The Jakarta Globe.

Those who bias-ly portray Islam as an extremist religion obviously haven’t heard about Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the so-called “Catholic Monarch” in the 15th century, who got rid of the Muslims and Jews in their kingdom and slaughtered thousands of non-believers to “preserve the purity of Catholic religion” in the Iberian peninsula.

Their descendants, also a Catholic fundamentalist, slaughtered the Protestants in the Dutch Revolution in 16th century. Hence, translated into these bias people’s way of thinking, Catholicism is ALSO an extremist religion.

And there’s of course the Israeli government, who from time to time is trying to justify their human rights violations on Gaza by quoting religion. So that’s Judaism checked too. Or those Hindu extremist who siege the Mumbai hotel few years ago, and the Buddhist extremists in Myanmar that slaughter the Rohingyas. If you read deep into history, the Aryans in the steppes were starting to invade neighbouring tribes around 4500 BC on behalf of their god. And don’t forget about the devout Christian George W Bush who controversially named his offense “Crusades” in the War on Terrorism.

My point is: Religion is not violent or peaceful, but people are violent or peaceful. And religion is an interpretation. These religious extremists (all religion) have different interpretations on what supposed to be a sacred and peaceful way of life, or they simply use religion to mask or justify their disgraceful conducts.

There are around 1.6 billion Muslims around the world right now, so even if there are 1 million extremists, they are not the majority.

I condemn what Al-Qaeda did on 9/11, but I can understand how they were frustrated with the Saudi corrupt regime and its “strong ally” United States of America, and with what the US is doing with the Middle East in the name of oil. If US “extremist” can come to Arab land and make significant destruction and death toll, why Arab “extremists” that come to US land and trying to do the same, with far less damages made compared with what the US did, became a global problem?

Of course, neither of their conducts have anything to do with religion, because if you dig deep into their stories it’s all politics, and that is also my point. Al Qaeda is using religion as their justification, so frankly speaking they are destroying the sacred image of Islam (and Western media propaganda isn’t helping either). The dangerous thing is not solely Al Qaeda, but also their groupies. Hence the presence of Jamaah Islamiyah’s Abu Bakar Basyir in Indonesia.

I have no idea what Basyir and other extremists are trying to do in Indonesia, but one thing is for sure: the people they recruit mostly are unemployed and uneducated people who are easily manipulated by religious doctrines. And for the milder case of extremist groups, you have no idea how many rich Ustads out here in Indonesia. Just like what L Ron Hubbart said “if you want to be a millionaire, start a religion.”

And it’s getting uglier by the year. In Jakarta, a lot of “religious events” deliberately take place in the middle of a busy street with seemingly thousands of devout followers sitting idly, or sometimes the events are located snap bang in the center of Jakarta’s night live scenes. And the law enforcement? They didn’t do a thing about it, in fact as the years progressed the governor of Jakarta also attended one of the events despite of public outrage.

One prominent extremist group, FPI (Ironically named Front Pembela Islam, or Islam Defendant Front), are terrorising the Indonesian citizens (a lot of moderate Muslims at that) with their extreme version of “law enforcement”, destroying “unholy places” in night life areas (but they somehow miss one particular bar that hypocritically owned by one of the Ustads). FPI also famously protested very vocally against the existence of Playboy Indonesia (which in Indonesia didn’t show naked pictures) but yet they stay quiet on those nastier magazines (which, according to a widespread public opinion, pay bribe to them).

Yes religion is a lucrative business for them, and those hard core (and undoubtedly sinful) night clubs in Jakarta (logically their biggest targets) stay untouched, perhaps because they pay big bribes or these extremists simply too afraid to bother the mafias.

Sadly the Indonesian government are too afraid to tackle most of them.

Their excuse? Too afraid to disrupt religious activities (including those who bluntly terrorising the citizens) in the name of religious tolerance. How ironic, considering that religious life in Indonesia had been relatively harmonious before these extremists started to appear (I’m personally a Muslim with family ranged from Muslim to Christian, Catholic and Buddhist. My loving grandmother is a Pentecostal. And we all live very happily together). And now these so-called defendants of Islam are actually tainting the image of the peaceful religion, and starting to slowly divide Indonesian society with brutal extremism. How long will the Indonesian government keep quiet?