By Dioputra Ilham | 09 Jun 2017
Issue of the Month | 0 Responses | 1639 Views

Today, it seems that blasphemy has become the trendiest type of religious sacrilege in Indonesia and the discourse has permeated the region if not the world with the conviction of a well-known Indonesian politician. Much dissent has been made towards the persecution of blasphemy such as claims that the punishment of religious sacrilege are in fact a violation of the freedom of thought and expression that is in itself sacred to modern civilization. However, one cannot deny the rationale to protect the religiously sacred as wherever organized religion exists, blasphemy is taboo and, “It is an intolerable profanation of the sacred as it affronts the deep-seated beliefs of worshippers and the basic values that a community shares (Coleman and White, Negotiating the Sacred in Multicultural Societies).”

In fact, the importance of sacredness seems to be a characteristic of societies in lieu of being a part of the personal domain. Hence, punishment of blasphemy does not merely serve to appease the offended deities, but also to substantiate communal norms. Toleration of blasphemy goes beyond risking divine wrath later in the afterlife as it might also lead to public disturbances. Without legislative control, violence against the blasphemer might be invoked, and individuals who believe that treason has been committed against the highest powers of the universe might undertake his or her own private reckoning when authority has failed.

Even in ancient Athens, known for its freedom of expression and intellectual innovations, it is high treason to mock its gods or defile the customs of honoring them. This principle has maintained to this day as the presence of a transcendental God on earth is in fact mediated by specific individuals, practices, and places that form a boundary between what is profane and sacred. Breaching that barrier may result in violent self-protective responses by the community. This is even truer when the religious and political populace are tangled up in each other; thus, inevitably welding a state’s social peace with how its constituents pursue salvation.

An Indonesian tabloid, Monitor’s October 15, 1990, edition showcased fifty individuals who were most admired by its readers based on a postcard poll. The Prophet Muhammad modestly took eleventh place in the list, falling behind to many well-known Indonesian figures as well as the chief editor of Monitor, Arswendo Atmowiloto. The affront was taken seriously-- the Prophet Muhammad is sacred to the Muslim belief, it cannot possibly be that his influence was outranked. That offence had thrown the Indonesian Muslim community into an uproar, and without the conviction of Atmowiloto to five years in prison with Indonesia’s blasphemy law, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that there would be masses of people to vindicate such sacrilege. However, such misdeeds can even be found on a daily basis at the tips of our fingers through our laptop and phone screens. It is easy enough for anybody to type in a few words of offense or pop up their video cameras and film a short spoof of a priest’s statement about polygamy as such happened to the Ustadz Arifin Ilham. It is no longer necessary to be an individual with public appeal to wreak havoc upon social order by blaspheming, perhaps making the case that it is now more than ever that the Indonesian state must legislate and judge such acts with even more discretion.

In Indonesia, the existence of the anti-blasphemy law is a litmus test for the standards Indonesian society places upon the enforcement of law upon the sacred and profane as a means to preserve its unity, peace, and morality. The fact that it still exists means that the result of the test shows how the Indonesian public still fasten their social order to their means of salvation. To support this point, the initial establishment of the Presidential Decree of 1965 upon the Prevention of Abuse and/or Blasphemy of Religion (Penetapan Presiden Republik Indonesia No. 1/PNPS/1965) itself aims to prevent seemingly errant beliefs that have managed to arrange themselves into functional organizations which put the unity of the infant Indonesia at risk, such as the Darul Islam/Tentara Islam Indonesia (DI/TII) crisis of the same year. The decree illustrates the unwillingness of the Indonesian state to risk the tenuous integrity and social order, and the sense of responsibility it has to subjugate potential blasphemers as they are potential wreckers of unity.

Ideally, Indonesia’s anti-blasphemy laws are constructed to protect the mutual respect essential for bhinneka tunggal ika; unfortunately, the law has often been misused for political gain and almost exclusively to the benefit of the religious majority. In fact throughout the numerous blasphemy cases reported and convicted, it seems that the law has left vulnerable minorities to tend to their own devices when it should be protecting differences instead. The necessity for the anti-blasphemy law presently may be unquestionable, but the necessity to have it enhanced with safeguard measures against maltreatment towards religious minorities along with a discreet and capable judicial system is also an urgent matter to tend to with Indonesia’s unity on the line.


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