A group of liberal Muslim leaders said at a conference on Saturday that the prevalence of mob rule threatened to cause the break-up of the country.
Painting an ominous picture of religious intolerance and national disintegration, a group of activists and intellectuals warned that Muslim hardliners threatened to destroy the country's unity. Speaking at a one-day seminar, they said that sharia-based ordinances being adopted by an increasing number of local administrations and the controversial pornography bill represented a danger to national unity.
The seminar featured young intellectuals from the Indonesian Youth Circle, which brings together pro-democracy activists from the country's two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, as well as from NGO's and academia.
Speakers said Islamic hardliners were increasingly gaining sway over mainstream society, as they took advantage of an administration in Jakarta disoriented by newfound democracy and human rights issues. Weak government, combined with ineffective law enforcement, has allowed mobs to take the law into their own hands with no intervention by the state, the activists said in a joint statement.
They pointed to the recent attack by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) on the building housing the editorial office of Playboy Indonesia, in protest of what they considered the magazine's un-Islamic content.
An intellectual from Muhammadiyah, Zuly Qodir, said sectarian groups saw the democracy the country has pursued since the 1998 fall of the authoritarian Soeharto had failed to bring about the envisioned prosperity.
Now the sectarian groups are pressing their agenda to change Indonesia into a theocratic state. They seek to formalize Islam as the state ideology.
The campaign for sharia, he went on, is part of the euphoria following the fall of Soeharto, who while in power suppressed all attempts to replace the state ideology Pancasila.
Numerous municipalities and regions have passed sharia-inspired ordinances on public behavior and morality. Tangerang municipality, just outside Jakarta, has adopted a highly controversial prostitution bylaw that critics say degrades women. A similar ordinance is being considered by Depok municipality in West Java, and Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and several regencies in South Sulawesi have also enacted Islamic by-laws.
The pornography bill being debated in the House of Representatives has been widely criticized for its perceived lack of respect for cultural and religious diversity and gender equality.
Zuly said that because Indonesia was predominantly Muslim, the government found it tricky to deal with religiously motivated matters.
The government tends to bow to the majority's will
said Zuly, who is also the coordinator of the Center for Security and Peace Studies at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
The young intellectuals at the seminar also raised concerns about the use of violence by hard-line groups in pursuing their political agendas.
Zuhairi Miswari from Nahdlatul Ulama said he believed educational institutions had a major role to play in saving Indonesia from disintegration through sectarian conflicts.
Scientists, teachers and students have to act as role models in showing respect for differences and humanity.
Scientist Effendy Ghazali called on the media to promote tolerance and decency, rather than fanning the conflict.
Two cases illustrating the problem, one involving singer and dancer Inul Daratista, and another targeting night-spots in Tangerang.
Inul Daratista, whose home had been surrounded by a mob demanding that she not appear in any edition of Playboy, and who bravely marched in a demonstration against a draconian public morality law later that week, was again targeted by moral fanatics. Reports have it that a group called "Massa Forum Betawi Rempug" (FBR) descended on a karaoke bar owned by Inul in south Jakarta, last night.
Inul is most well known for the performance of the ngebor dance, or "drilling" dance, the name of which should give you an idea of its provocative, hip-gyrating nature.
The thugs demanded that Inul close the establishment unless she was willing to support the proposed law against pornography and public indecency. They demanded that Inul make a public apology for her participation in the rally.
Meanwhile in Tangerang, Banten, a youth group went about to various restaurants and bars demanding that they stop selling alcohol and providing opportunities for prostitutes to meet up with potential customers. They carried out their actions, they said, in support of regulation No.8/2006 passed by the local government outlawing prostitution and sale of alcohol.