The impending dangers of religious war in Indonesia

Religious fanatics continue to attack places of worship in Indonesia. The country’s prided religious tolerance is at stake.


Christian churches should be safe places at the heart of a community. Indonesian terrorists have attacked these places of worship on several occasions.

In the latest attack, a 23-year-old Islamic student injured four people in Yogyakarta. So-called Islamic State (IS) or other radical groups reportedly influenced him. He used a sword to harm the priest, two worshippers and a police officer. He also destroyed statues.

The attack was not an isolated incident. Indonesia prides itself on its religious tolerance. However, people continue to disrupt religious houses and events. It is clear that this tolerance does not apply to all. These attacks are a worrying trend. Should Indonesia now brace itself for a religious war?

Sources: Channel News Asia, The Straits Times

The attackers have links to radical groups, including IS

Counter-terrorism officials warned that an attack on the church was likely. Officials claimed militant groups urged people to carry out knife attacks on churches. Groups postponed planned attacks over the holiday period.

Counter-terrorism officials believe attacks will only increase. They are likely to rise because IS has switched focus. Instead of bringing together fighters in the Middle East, it wants them to wage war at home.

There is no evidence that the Yogyakarta attacker was part of any particular group. Police believe IS influenced him. He may also have links with Poso, an area where religious tensions run deep.

Police attributed another attack in Samarinda to a lone wolf. However, he had links with Jamaah Anshorud Daulah, a group affiliated with IS. Police believed the Yogyakarta attacker self-radicalised. He had attempted to join IS in Syria.

Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance is at risk

At a community level, the Yogyakarta attacker brought Christians and Muslims closer. The priest forgave his assailant. He urged fellow Christians to resist the temptation to avenge that attack.

Muslim leaders condemned the attack. Muslims helped the Christians clear up afterwards. Those actions showcased the religious tolerance on which Indonesia prides itself.

The country’s moderate religious leaders promote harmony and religious tolerance. They say they do not recognise or condone the actions of religious radicals. At the same time, there is a growing urge for a more radical Islam to prevail. Moderate Muslims are finding it hard to speak out against intolerance. They may fear retribution from radicals. Intolerance is growing.

Sources: 2010 Census, Human Rights Watch

Politicians are campaigning against the backdrop of religious tension

Hard-line groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), want shariah law in Indonesia. FPI was once a small group with little influence. The group used social media to grow, and their impact is now clear. In Jakarta, FPI helped bring down then-governer Ahok.

Although the majority of the country is moderate, politicians cannot ignore the radicals. Younger people are embracing radical views. The country’s Muslim population is becoming more radical. Politicians are already campaigning against a religious backdrop.

Indonesia holds regional elections later this year and the presidential elections in 2019. Religious tension is at its highest during election campaigns. Officials predicted that more attacks would come as the nation goes to the polls.

Is Indonesia ready for them and what can it do to prevent them? It will be easier in some places than others. Yogyakarta, for example, is one of the most intolerant cities in the country.

President Widodo has urged a crackdown, but can he deliver?

Following the Yogyakarta attack, President Joko Widido called for harsh measures. “Our constitution guarantees religious freedom. Therefore, we will not give even the slightest amount of room to those who promote and spread intolerance in our country,” he urged.

He had already taken some actions. He banned some radical groups from operating. Indonesia is no longer a haven of tolerance and harmony. Its democracy index is falling as religious tension increases. The state’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. It cannot deliver that promise to every citizen.

Widodo and his government face a battle against religious intolerance. Those carrying out attacks are deepening tensions. Political stability is unlikely if more people adopt conservative or radical views.

Source: Channel News Asia

Indonesia’s counter-terrorism operations face a severe test

One thing in Indonesia’s favour is that it runs effective counter-terrorism operations. The state identified the switch to lone-wolf attacks and mobilised accordingly. Detachment 88 was set up with the specific goal of combating this particular threat.

As elections approach, this is a significant test of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism capabilities. It is time for Indonesia to find out whether Detachment 88 is fit for purpose. Moderate Christians and other minorities depend on it. Indonesia may have lost some initial battles against the hard-liners, but it may still win the war.