Sectarian Violence Rises in Indonesia
In the last two decades, Indonesia has been able to maintain an environment of relative coexistence among its various ethnic and religious groups. However, religiously-motivated attacks in recent years suggest an increase in sectarianism.
Just this week in Yogyakarta, a Catholic mass was interrupted by a sword attack, which left four – including the priest – injured. The 22-year-old assailant also cut off heads of statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
While being dubbed a “lone wolf” attack, this is not the first sectarian attack against religious groups.
In 2016, similar attacks occurred with knives in Medan and Samarinda. Knife attacks are also becoming more commonplace due to the ease with which they can be carried out.
Revelations that these attacks have all had radical support or connections has also been a cause for concern. It is suspected that the attacker, in this case, may have ties to extremists in Poso—a region riddled with violence between Christians and Muslims in the 1990s.
The increased frequency of attacks has jolted religious organizations to try and step in to ease tensions. Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdatul Ulama, has called for an end to violence against religious leaders.
They have urged cooperation from security officials and have also asked for an end to extremist actions against both Muslims and Christians.
Messages like Nahdatul Ulama's are becoming increasingly relevant as culture, ethnicity, and religion play an increasing role in Indonesian politics, the most poignant example being the ousting of Jakarta's Christian governor in 2017, which was organized by an extensive Islamic fundamentalist campaign. Similar examples have begun to crop up amongst Muslims communities as well, dividing various schools of Islam.
It is thought that at least part of this rise is due to the increasing difficulty with which radicals can reach the Middle East from Indonesia. Following heightened security measures, there has been a spike in calls for attacks at home.
This threat is placing a strain on domestic security forces, which themselves also often face attacks from extreme groups, for supporting the “nonbeliever” government.
Now another challenge presents itself for Indonesia, as its upcoming election season in 2019 approaches. Politicians and citizens alike must decide regarding the extent to which they will allow religious and ethnic differences to rule the platforms.
NOTE: The original article incorrectly mentioned the ouster of "Yogyakarta's Christian mayor in 2017." Yogyakarta's mayor, Haryadi Suyuti, was reelected in 2017 and remains in office. Jakarta's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was voted out of office in 2017.