November 18, 2015: Strategy Page
In Aceh (westernmost Indonesia), the local government ordered several Christian churches to be shut down in October 2015. This was the result of an effort to deal with Islamic intolerance of other religions by trying to use local councils, with clergy from all local faiths (usually Moslem, Christian and Hindu) working out and agreeing to who could build new churches where. The problem is that hardline Islamic clergy dominate in Aceh and make no secret of their desire to drive all other religions out of Aceh. The recent violence led to Islamic clergy leading mobs to burn down Christian churches they considered “intrusive” and illegal. The violence spread to local Christians and so far over 10,000 have fled their homes.
The central government does not like to oppose Moslem clergy and will try to avoid intervening to halt this sort of violence. Since 2004 the government has had no doubt about the dominance of Islam in the country. In that year the Indonesian parliament passed a law that required every citizen to declare their religion. However, only six religions were recognized (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). Many Indonesians still practice traditional (pagan) religions, while many others follow modern religions not "officially recognized." All of these people fear persecution and their fears turned out to be well founded. Some 90 percent of the 220 million Indonesians are Moslem. The new law was seen as a ploy by Islamic conservatives to halt the spread of religions that seek converts (increasingly successfully) among Moslems. There was also a growing split between Islamic conservatives (influenced by hardcore Arabian Islamic practices) and the more traditional Indonesian approach to Islam (which incorporated many pre-Islamic religious practices and was much less militant.) The new law backfired, and encouraged local Islamic radicals to undertake more violence against local non-Moslems.
Aceh has always been the most Islamic part of the country. That makes sense as Aceh was where Moslem missionaries first landed centuries ago. With great difficulty the government put down a violent separatist movement in Aceh, A 2006 peace deal granted provincial authorities a lot of power over religious practiced. Out of a population of 4.4 million less than two percent of the Aceh population is non-Moslem and about twenty percent are ethnic minorities. An even larger minority opposes Sharia law, mainly because it did not, as promised, reduce corruption and improve the quality of government. The religious police, who harass and sometimes arrest people for "un-Islamic behavior" are particularly unpopular.