The rise of new Islamic sects is playing a role in rising intolerance in the country, but police indifference is the main cause, a leading academic says.
“New sects are not even the main contributor in the growing intolerance; the biggest factor is the weak law enforcement,” said Ismail Hasani, a researcher at the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy.
He added Indonesia was already vulnerable due to political instability and widespread poverty — problems that were easily manipulated by some groups to advance their political agenda.
“We’re already susceptible to intolerance due to stupidity and rampant injustice. This vulnerable state is used as a way for these fundamentalist groups to establish a position and our people easily accept them,” said Ismail, who is also a lecturer at Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN).
He added that Indonesians were generally permissive toward intolerance.
“Most people don’t view intolerance as a crime. We can’t prosecute people just because they believe that their belief is the truest. But when they start burning or closing down others’ houses of worship, we should see it as pure crime, and nothing less,” he said.
He demanded the government, especially the police, take action against those groups attacking or enforcing their will on other sects.
Ismail said that while the rise of the ultra-conservative Wahabi brand of Islam might not be suitable for Indonesia, the belief should be respected.
Some Islamic scholars say the spread of Wahabi, a fundamentalist teaching from Saudi Arabia, is responsible for rising intolerance and violence in Indonesia, which is generally moderate.
“We liberal Muslims demand respect, so we have to treat [Wahabis] the same, as long as there is no violence or coercion involved,” the academic said.
Ismail said extreme sects and groups, like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, would not have become as powerful as they are if the government enforced the law properly .
“Instead of enforcing the law properly, the government is fueling the growing intolerance,” he said.