An interview about the how state and religion interact with each other in Indonesia, and the challenges it brings to atheists living in Indonesia.
On August 17th, 1945, standing atop the steps of his modest verandah, the mononymous Javanese revolutionary Sukarno declared the independence of Indonesia. The announcement signified the belated liberation of the Indonesian islands from over 300 years of Dutch colonial rule and Japanese occupation during World War II. In practice, however, enormous obstacles remained. It would require a long and sanguinary revolution to permanently dispel the Netherlands and attain their official recognition. Further, internal Communist and Islamic movements compounded the difficulty of uniting the world’s largest archipelago. As the New York Times’ editorial board wrote on November 15th, 1946 [italics added]: “Japan’s ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ has collapsed, but a new one, along democratic lines, may rise. This is the beginning of a future the end of which is veiled.” The prescience of this final word was, perhaps, more accurate than the editors intended.
Fast-forward to today, near the 68th anniversary of Indonesian independence, and one finds a nation of contrast. Despite that the 1945 Constitution guaranteed to all citizens the right to practice their religion, the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) raids food outlets during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Despite claims by the likes of Hillary Clinton and David Cameron that Indonesia represents the paragon of Muslim democracy, the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) ranked Indonesia’s judicial system the most corrupt in Asia. And despite judicial chief Mahfud MD’s recent reassurance that “the Constitutional Court has guaranteed the freedom of atheists and communists in this country,” as if the two were synonymous, Indonesian civil servantAlexander Aan was sentenced to two and a half years in prison last year for stating on Facebook that God does not exist.