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A Protest against Indonesia (Photo: Alarabiya.net)

Responsibility for Silence

OurIndonesia – Almost two months ago the Human Rights Watch published In Religion’s Name, a detailed report of abuses and rising violence against religious minorities in Indonesia. Going through the pages I remembered all the media coverage when in February 2011, in Cikeusik, a mob attacked the members of Ahmadiyya and bludgeoned to death three of them.

A video showing the sickening attack and desecration of the victims’ bodies was posted on the Internet and later replayed by all Indonesian news services. Dozens of policemen standing and watching the crowd of two thousand people slaughtering these men. Nobody attempted to intervene.

There are many more examples, but of this one I cannot stop thinking, it became a haunting memory, even now when I am away from Indonesia. The number of violent incidents against religious minorities, particularly Shi’a, Ahmadiyya and Christians is on the rise – the HRW report gives a grievous warning.

Two months passed already and the warning is surrounded by silence. Does silence have to be broken by yet new heart wrenching acts of violence? There you go, for the last few weeks the Ahmadiyya mosques have been targeted again – shut down by the authorities and devastated by thugs – both parties allegedly acting to defend Islam and law.

The scariest now is the silence. Yet not the silence of Indonesian government which has been impotent in dealing with religious intolerance, which practically grants impunity to those committing violence, and which is continuously failing to protect religious minorities. This silence is outrageous. But the silence which precedes violence, the silence from within the society, is far more distressful, far more hopeless, and far more dangerous.

We always condemn the acts violence. Each time a church is pelted with rocks and faeces, each time a Shi’a imam is beaten or Ahmadiyya mosque burnt down, we will loudly and unequivocally condemn it as thuggery, bestiality and crime. But we fail to condemn the mindset behind it.

The first time I heard the expression ‘merusak aqidah’, I thought it was a misnomer. And I still believe it is, despite the thousands times I heard it later. It means ‘to destroy faith’. Whoever uses this expression depicts the convictions of another person as destroying or likely to destroy his or her own conscience. This hateful mechanism is everywhere the same. When you are exposed to it in your forming years, it leaves particularly ugly scars.

From my childhood in an ultra-Catholic country I remember one of the nurses at the kindergarten who told us to be careful when we played with the Jewish girl from our group. She said that Jews are dirty… Or that religion teacher at the elementary school who told us that Christians from different denominations are sent by Satan to misguide the righteous souls.

Each time our parents intervened, but the damage was done already. We knew that what the nurse and the religion teacher said was not true, because our parents told us so, and parents are always right. Yet as a child I sometimes wondered why did the teacher warn us of the non-Catholics, maybe he knew something that my parents did not know? That tiny seed of hatred had been sown.

We fear difference because we were taught to fear it, maybe by our teachers, maybe by our parents, or maybe by others whom we trust. We fear that those whose beliefs are not identical with ours may want to misguide us from the right path, and that they want to take the promised paradise away from us. We fear they want to destroy us in the hereafter. And we know that my words are absurd, but feelings often do not follow the rational path.

We are responsible for violence, although we are not guilty of it. Guiltiness can only be for acts which were committed with our active participation. Guilty are the killers. Each of them has a name, date of birth, and maybe an address too. We might wonder to what extent guilty are the authorities who allow the violence to unfold in front of their eyes. But while we are not guilty, we remain responsible.

And we are even more responsible each time we remain silent when at the mosque we hear that Shi’as, Ahmadis or Christians may ‘destroy our faith’. We are responsible each time we remain silent when our local authorities do not let minorities pray in their places of worship.

We are responsible each time we let our children be fed with hatred and fear. We are responsible for violence, for things we did not commit. It is the price we pay for living among other people. The more silent we remain, the worse and higher this price will become.