Reject Laws on
Blasphemy: 'God Needs no Defense' (The Jakarta Post, Indonesia)
across the world, as well as in Indonesia, would do well to learn to ignore
insults of Islam, God and the Prophet. With advances in communications
technology, such insults and attacks will be more frequent and more fierce. The
angry reactions not only play into the hands of provocateurs, but of extremists
in the Muslim world who exploit anger for their own political purposes.
...blasphemy laws not only stifle free
speech, they endanger freedom of religion for Muslims and non-Muslims
Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at the opening of the 67th session of the U.N. General Assembly, calls for an international instrument to 'prevent incitement to hostility or violence based on religions or beliefs' Sept. 25.
Indonesia is the last country in the Organization of
Islamic Cooperation [OIC]
to be leading a campaign for a global law against blasphemy.
After all, it is one of our former presidents, the late Abdurrahman Wahid,
who eloquently objected to just such a law. It was Wahid who once famously
observed, “God needs no defense.”
Yet now, President SusiloBambangYudhoyono, at the opening of the U.N.
General Assembly and as a reaction to an anti-Islamic video tailor which has
triggered violent protest across the Muslim world, is taking the initiative to
push for a global protocol banning insults to religion [see photo box, left].
With the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has
seen its share of angry protests over the film Innocence of Muslims, which was
produced and released in the United States. But of the demonstrations that have
taken place in Indonesia, only one outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta
deteriorated into clashes with police. (Eleven officers had to be treated for
injuries.) The others were relatively peaceful.
To his credit, President Yudhoyono
was quick to respond to the release of the video and the violent protests it
By condemning the video and the riots it provoked, he
reflected the feelings of most of this nation's Muslims. The government was
also quick to demand that Google remove the offending video from YouTube. The
film is no longer accessible in Indonesia.
There was no need for the government go beyond these actions,
and there was no reason for Indonesians to indulge in the same sort of
self-destructive protests that erupted in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority
Yet on the eve of his departure to New York for the
opening of the U.N. General Assembly, President Yudhoyono
said he planned to propose a global law criminalizing blasphemy.
The president is reviving an unsuccessful IOC campaign
waged a few years ago. The OIC tried to persuade the U.N. Human Rights Council
to issue a resolution condemning defamations of Islam. Pakistan, backed by the
OIC, led the campaign in Geneva. Indonesia supported the motion, although it
was not the nation taking the initiative.
Why President Yudhoyono decided
to take the lead this time remains unclear. He should have heeded his
predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid, who served from 1999 to 2001. Abdurrahman
repeatedly criticized any attempt to criminalize defamation, in Indonesia or
Abdurrahman, a Muslim cleric by training who was elected
Indonesia’s third president, articulated his view of blasphemy laws in an
article that became the foreword to a 2011 book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea
titled Silenced: How Apostasy and
Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide.
“Those who claim to defend God, Islam, or the Prophet are
thus either deluding themselves or manipulating religion for their own mundane
and political purposes,” wrote Abdurrahman, who died in 2009.
The book warns that OIC members are trying to expand blasphemy
laws into the Western hemisphere and elsewhere through the U.N., which, the
authors say, would stifle freedom - and not just in the Muslim world.
Indonesia’s national blasphemy law is not an inspiring
precedent. It is a law that has been used to stifle the diversity of other
religious voices, and even within Islam itself.
Posted by Worldmeets.US
The latest victims of the 1965 Blasphemy Law in Indonesia
include the followers of Ahmadiyah and Shiite Muslims sects.
The court ruled their teachings to be deviations from
Islam, effectively targeting them for persecution because of their beliefs.
An imam who led his congregation to prayer in Indonesian
was sent to jail for “insulting” Islam, and a self-confessed atheist is also in
jail under the law.
In 2010, a petition to have the law repealed was defeated
in the Constitutional Court. The Yudhoyono government
joined hands with several Islamic organizations to defend the law as a means of
shielding religion from public ridicule.
President Abdurrahman addressed the issue of free speech,
which many Muslim leaders say has been abused to insult their God, religion,
and the Prophet: “Defending freedom of expression is by no means synonymous
with personally countenancing or encouraging disrespect toward the religious
beliefs of others. Rather, it implies greater faith in the judgment of God than
Muslims across the world, as well as in Indonesia, would
do well to read Abdurrahman comments and learn to ignore insults against Islam,
God and the Prophet.
With advances in communications technology, such insults
and attacks will be more frequent and more fierce. The angry reactions in much
of the Muslim world over these past few weeks not only play into the hands of
provocateurs, but also of extremists in the Muslim world who exploit anger for
their own political purposes.
As the Indonesian experience shows, blasphemy laws not
only stifle free speech, they endanger the freedom of religion for Muslims and
*Endy M. Bayuni is Senior Editor
at The Jakarta Post.