Indonesia’s Religious Violence

Nov 2nd, 2011, in Featured, News, by

Andreas Harsono on whether Muslim journalists cover up or distort stories of religious violence.

Andreas HarsonoJournalist Andreas Harsono says that his fellow Indonesian journalists have a tendency to downplay religious violence against minorities.

In “Indonesia’s Religious Violence: The Reluctance of Reporters to Tell the Story” Andreas says after the Cikeusik, West Java incident, when villagers belonging to the “Cikeusik Muslim Movement” attacked a home belonging to an Ahmadiyah sect person and beat three people to death the coverage of the event locally and internationally was quite different:

Jawa Pos, Kompas, Pikiran Rakyat, Republika, and Suara Merdeka, five of the largest newspapers in Java, as well as TV One and MetroTV, Indonesia’s most important news channels, used the word bentrokan or “clash” in describing what happened, leaving the impression that it was a fair fight. The channels broadcast the first part of the amateur video—showing villagers throwing stones—but they did not show the killing.

On the other hand:

Al Jazeera, ABC Australia, Associated Press Television Network, BBC and CNN used the verb “attack” in their reporting, and this word helped them place the news story in the context of the rise of Islamist violence in Indonesia. They blurred the brutal video scenes, but they broadcast them. Al Jazeera even broadcast a report on Islamist attacks against Christian churches and Ahmadiyah properties in Indonesia.

Similarly, when two West Papuan men were filmed being tortured by Indonesian soldiers in 2010, local tv did not broadcast the videos, he says.

There is a persistent pattern since the downfall of the New Order, where there have been:

  • 430+ attacks on churches since 2004 (when SBY came to power)
  • 180+ attacks on Ahmadiyah properties since the 2008 decree against them


Given the frequency of such attacks, the international news media took up the story of Muslim violence in Indonesia.

Local media on the other hand are conflicted and practise a form of self-censorship when dealing with Islamic violence; a survey of Indonesian journalists found that:

  • In an average Indonesian newsroom, most media workers identify closely with an Islamic and nationalist identity. Asked to complete the sentence, “Above all, I am a(n) …” the primary identity cited by about 40 percent of respondents was “Indonesian” (40.3 percent) and “Muslim” (39.7 percent). Only 12 percent said they were a “journalist” first.
  • When asked if they supported banning the Ahmadiyah sect, 64 percent of the surveyed journalists said yes.

As an anecdote, Andreas says he has heard of a Muslim chief editor of a newspaper telling an editorial meeting:

Our policy is to eliminate the Ahmadiyah. We have to get rid of the Ahmadiyah.

And that in other cases news chiefs avoid screening certain news events because they do not wish to create a negative impression of Indonesia (Papua torture case) or incite further violence (Cikeusik), or because they wish to avoid upsetting Muslim clerics.

Meanwhile, on the ground, ordinary journalists

continue to use their religious and nationalist reflexes

to sometimes twist and distort the perception of events, Andreas says.

52 Comments on “Indonesia’s Religious Violence”

  1. agan says:

    Speaking of which, Indonesia has also been the dumping ground for electronic black market like cannibalized hand phone cameras, DVD bootlegging, social media marketing and in the hand of creative and yet oversexed youths, it was a perfect storm. Cellular revolution complete with the whole gado gado of unintended disturbing effects if you will.

    Now I, tukang becaks or even vulnerable kampung kids -whose testicles have not even descended yet -not only can watch but also upload our own seksi home made ML soiree that would make a poofter vomit and thanks to the cheap henpon and omnipresent fly by night warnets/video rentals near you.

  2. Oigal says:

    I would suggest it has less to with the electronic aids and more to do with attitudes.

    I invariably find it highly amusing that on just about any survey Indonesia for all the PKS etc huffing and puffing, Indonesia always manages to win first place on Internet Search statistics tops the table for sex and porn searches :-). Indonesia easily out paces the decadent West, impressive huh?

    Although Agan you must be mistaken? The “twittering fool” has already assured there is no internet Porn in Indonesia (except that already saved on PKS laptops one assumes).

  3. Oigal says:

    Mmmm… I think I would be pushed to nominate the last time I saw a really crappy motor bike. Buses, taxis and public transport on the other hand.

    True story, got a SMS from a “friend” the other day, she needed 2 juta to pay her credit card. Unfortunately (?) not really inclined to help. This week she sent out a picture to all of her “contacts” showing off her new car WTF… I still remember the fab HR Holden on my apprenticeship days, we would go down the “wreckers” to get brake pads that were not as worn as mine as there was no way you could afford new ones on apprentice wages.

  4. berlian biru says:

    Fair enough I take aboard what you say and certainly judging by reports in this week’s papers Bank Indonesia is also getting concerned about a consumer-credit bubble that might just be getting out of control.

    However isn’t this simply the way it always has been here? OK so now people are blowing money on hp’s and motors but the profligate selling of family land to meet short term goals, getting in hock to money lenders, blowing cash on ephemera (the Haj used to be the big one, so now it’s a new Avanza). It has ever been thus in Indonesia.

    Any book or novel you read about life in Indonesia has always touched on these issues, young people loafing around sponging off their parents, middle classes obsessing about the latest fancy goods, Chinese money lenders taking advantage of the feckless locals.

    There’s nothing new under the sun here.

  5. Lairedion says:

    I can confirm what BB is saying here. During my younger days growing up here (70’s-80’s) this mannerism of buying useless thrash and pay later (or never) was already rampant. Merely the type of goods has changed.

  6. timdog says:

    I still remember the fab HR Holden on my apprenticeship days, we would go down the “wreckers” to get brake pads that were not as worn as mine as there was no way you could afford new ones on apprentice wages.

    When I was 16 I bought a 49cc Honda scooter (of the kind Agnes Monica wouldn’t be seen dead endorsing). The helmet cost more than the bike, and the insurance cost more than the bike and helmet combined. The colour was beige, by the way, and I made the L-plates out of cardboard, selotape and a marker pen.
    I got the money to pay for it by manning the bale-wrapper on the farm after school. Got 20p a bale. I then used the bike to get to my shifts at my first kitchen job, and never looked back from there.

    For that reason I have a distinct urge to violence every time some profligate Indonesian numpty says that I’m from a country where people are “kaya semua…”

    BB and Lairedion, you are right of course about the long-standing debt culture in Indonesia (I mentioned the gotong royong thing in an earlier post, and how the idea of it as selfless community-spirited proto-socialism rather than a means of locking people into a tight mesh of debts and favours, is rose-tinted to say the least).
    The questions of how European colonialism and its symbiotic fellow traveller Chinese immigration created this situation would be fertile ones for digressions, as would the story of how it was my old buddy Stamford Raffles who made the first attempt to generate a cash economy where one had never existed by forcing Javanese farmers who had never had a single silver dollar in their lives to pay their taxes in cash (and therefore to get heavily tangled up with the Chinese moneylenders for the first time)… But, I’ll restrain myself 😉

    But the point is that at present, with the booming economy and the surfeit of malls, this has all stepped up in pitch to an absolutely frenzied level and is rapidly reaching its tentacles far, far out into the provinces.
    And they just keep coming up with more and more crap for people to buy on credit (see the aforementioned status apartment blocks which are springing up all over the show). Credit is so easily available, and they whip out a new upgraded matic motor with trendy racing stripes every other week. I know it’s not something totally new, but it has definitely gotten worse in the last couple of years. And is very worrying.
    And then there are those wolfish mobs of angry young men with unpaid-for motorbikes, pretending to be ojek drivers out in the provinces. Those are the ones who really scare me; they weren’t there even a decade ago.

  7. agan says:

    I invariably find it highly amusing that on just about any survey Indonesia for all the PKS etc huffing and puffing, Indonesia always manages to win first place on Internet Search statistics tops the table for sex and porn searches . Indonesia easily out paces the decadent West, impressive huh?

    No worries Pak Oigal, we’ll ever try so hard to keep up with the decadent west
    (who are still the most prolific porno distributor btw) for crying out loud.
    But kidding aside you are prolly right, Indahnesia is the land of contradiction and paradox. The good, the bad and the fugly have been hidden in plain sight.

  8. ET says:

    berlian biru

    There’s nothing new under the sun here.

    You could be right. Before in Bali it used to be the cockfights that ruined people and forced them to sell their land and assets. Now that cockfights – as well as other games of chance – are forbidden other channels had to be found for squandering money and valuable possessions. But what used to be a typical male vice now has also spread to the female gender, which is a more disturbing trend. In the past when you had to pay a significant amount to a Balinese household you’d better done it into the hands of the ibu rumah tangga to be sure it would be used wisely instead of on macho display in the tajen arena. This is no longer a certainty given the irresistable temptation of all this new gadgetry on the female need for attracting attention, chatting and gossiping. :-;
    One thing however stays the same: long term saving and planning are not typical for the Indonesian (and probably for the entire Southeast Asian) mindset. It could have to do with the abundance of food and resources, the climate which invites a more careless and relaxed attitude, and a general culture of laissez faire and relying on family and social networks. To be honest, qualities which also have lured many bules away from the confinement of the western regulative harness.

  9. timdog says:

    You know that thing I was saying about the sheer, banal inanity of the current orgy of consumerism?
    Nuff said.

  10. Mauricio says:

    What’s the ultimate middle-class accessory and gadget that proves your “modernity”, social sophistication and that you’ve arrived? The bule trophy husband, of course! No matter whether the trophy happens to be a batik-wearing, mullet-haired bogan who knows dick (except for the Blok, “satu lagi” and beach vacations in Bali) about your country.

  11. David says:

    Hope they never have a $2 Blackberry waffle makers sale in Jakarta.

  12. berlian biru says:

    When I told my missus about this story she was most amazed by the discount on the BB’s, I immediately tut-tutted about her consumerist mentality until she gave me the withering stare that no man wants to get from his wife.

    She patiently explained to me that a phone worth over 4.5 million going on sale for just over two could easily be resold for about 5 million. An almost 130% markup and in cash terms more than most Indonesians make in a month, a nice little earner for simply having to queue for an hour or two.

    Put that way it rather takes the edge off “dumb Indonesian middle classes” and the JP photo perhaps shows some sharp Indonesians trying to make some money for themselves and their family.

  13. timdog says:

    Hope they never have a $2 Blackberry waffle makers sale in Jakarta.

    Nobody ever whipped out a $2 wafflemaker in a restaurant and spent the duration of dinner staring at it instead of talking to the other diners (who were all doing the same thing anyway), did they? Still less felt that they must have one, even at the cost of four months’ salary, to look good.
    The nature and circumstances of the waffle mob are probably sociologically closer to the mobs trampling each other to death to get some Idul Fitri handouts, and that’s another issue.

    BB, well yes, but I suppose the fundamental point is the sheer hold sh*t like blackberries has that lies behind this kind of thing, regardless of the individual motivations of the stampeders (though they certainly weren’t all there with canny business heads on, were they?).

    Anyway, my phone is a 12-year-old one of these, if that helps explain why I come slightly unhinged on such topics:

  14. ET says:

    Hope they never have a $2 Blackberry waffle makers sale in Jakarta.

    I suppose this video was made on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when America’s Christmas shopping rage gets unleashed. I know because I ‘m in the area now. People

  15. David says:

    ET must have been trampled on by all those lunatic shoppers over there.

    Timdog, this – – hideous bizarre minute by minute account has a lot of photos and videos on it, nobody is crying in them that I can see but still, it’s similar sort of thing; difference is presumably the cost of an iphone is not four months’ salary for those people.

    I resisted getting a phone for a very long time, now though I have a pretty fancy one, I choose a phone purely on the basis of its camera and video abilities, so that means fancy, I don’t have an actual camera or handycam so the phone has to do that for me.

    Opposite Petra Univ. where there is a Starbucks and an apartment block there was and maybe still is a giant billboard with a pic of Steve Jobs, it has on it his years of life and then

    Thanks Steve

    It’s rather weird…

  16. berlian biru says:

    (though they certainly weren’t all there with canny business heads on, were they?).

    Well judging from the photo in the JP they certainly weren’t middle class mall rats either, no bug-eyed sunglasses pushed up over pantene hair and pashminas in that mob, they look more like Glodok ponsel stall-owners to me.

  17. ET says:

    Something went wrong or I hit the button by accident.

    Hope they never have a $2 Blackberry waffle makers sale in Jakarta.

    Judging from the racial mix and general display of obesity and bad taste this little video could have been shot somewhere in a Wal Mart shopping mall on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when America’s Christmas shopping rage gets unleashed. Two days before you can see people already camping out in front of shopping malls, ready for the attack when the doors open. But usually people are let in one at the time and once inside things proceed rather orderly. I’ve never seen or heard of the chaos shown in the video and I should know because I’m in the area at the moment. But then again, the US is a vast and sociologically diverse place, difficult to range under a common denominator.
    Except for greed, of course.

  18. Czeslaw says:

    Kind an interesting. When I started reading this column it was about the violence, murder and all of that. Then out of nowhere in a cool manner the discussion went to some cell phone issues, buy or not to buy? Amazing…

    So much for human life worth in Indonesia?

    Or, so much for human life worth in Indonesia because no Muslim was hurt?

    It is still the religious self serving expediency and efficiency of the savage nature of the human kind?

  19. Oigal says:

    Ya, it is shocking Czes, Seems these ultra religious freaks get far too much latitude from us all. It reminds me on the litany of lies, cover-ups and evil involved with the sytematic and international child abuse issues within the Catholic Church. Did you hear that various Catholic Organanisations in the US are declaring bankruptcy (not like the vatican is short of a dollar, still what was the term you used ‘religious self serving expediency’) to avoid paying the damages to their victims? Talk about morally So yea I am with you on this..

    Although, it should be pointed out that yes it does not pay to be one of the great unwashed in Indonesia and human life is cheap. However, far more Indonesians lose their lives to the greed and grasping hands of the robber barons who in turn facilitate the rise of the zealots (oh and Muslims get crushed as well, there are no winners).

  20. Czeslaw says:

    If you look at the “catholic” child abuse in the States, in my view, and I am Catholic, a one child molested is one child too many – molested regardless by whom. It is a stain regardless of the size of it on the Catholic Organization.

    However, the Protestant churches in the Sates are beating catholic by far in on this issue, as per one Jewish (non-Catholic) lawyer’s report from Michigan, if I recall it correctly. I even have somewhere his work on the subject. I don’t defend here Catholic Church, just pointing that the attacks on the Catholic Organization on the States is at its highest levels. So, perhaps, taking in the account this child molestation issues, including Muslims, the child molestation knows no religious boundaries.

    Some time ago, I was involved in the discussion on Indonesia matters when some Imam? Married some 9-10 years old girl in Indonesia. Just amazing…

    As I said, it is the deplorable under human capability to do dirty stuff with kids, which is just to low blow to human kind, and here we are.

    The power grows with the money accumulated, or it may be individual heredity. And when money meets the mindless person, or is inherited and it happens a lot, then the disaster is in the sight.

    I appreciate you warm comment and your own view on the issue. It is nice to meet you my friend.

    Peace and prosperity to you, and your family. 😉

  21. Chris says:

    Interesting update on the theme:

    A survey of Indonesian journalists has found religious intolerance remains high, with 45 per cent of respondents saying Indonesia needs to implement Islamic law.

    That figure is a considerable increase from the 2009 survey, where only 37.5 per cent of respondents were in favour of Sharia law.


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