Indonesian Christians say no to Christmas protection by Muslim radicals

by Mathias Hariyadi
In league with Indonesia’s police chief, Islamic Defender Front leader Risieq Shihab promises to protect Christians but only if their communities are authorised. Catholics and Protestants reject the offer because it would curtail religious freedom and negatively affect relations between Christians and local authorities, who alone have the right to provide security to churches.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian Christians have criticised the Islamic Defender Front (FPI), an Islamic fundamentalist group, for saying that it would protect Christian communities during Christmas celebrations. “Why would this radical group, which is notorious for its anti-Christian violence, want to be so nice to us? We say no to their offer,” a Catholic man from Semarang diocese said.

“Let Christians celebrate Christmas in peace. It is their right and all Indonesian citizens should respect that,” FPI chief Risieq Shihab said during a meeting with Police Chief Timur Pradopo on Tuesday.

Yet, the peace and protection he has in mind would only be for those Christian communities that respect Indonesia’s strict religious laws. For Shihab, his group would stop any Catholic or Protestant celebration held in violation of the law.

Another Christian in Jakarta, anonymous for security reason, said that Shihab’s offer and the FPI’s close ties to police are sound reasons to be concerned. He pointed out that Chief Pradopo was present at the 12th anniversary of the founding of the FPI.

“The extremists of the FPI want to be recognised by other parties, whilst the police uses the group (which claims thousands of members) to improve its reputation with the population,” the source said.

Fr Benny Susetyo Pr, from the Indonesian Bishops of Conference’s Interfaith Commission, explained that it was rare for Catholics to organise security details at Christmas time. In fact, he was quite surprised by the FPI statement.

In Indonesia, each parish organises Christmas activities in cooperation with local authorities. In addition, any involvement of Muslim groups has to be examined with members of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a moderate Muslim group involved in interfaith dialogue.

Andreas Yewangoe, chairman of the Synod of Christian Protestant Churches, said that the FPI did not issue any official statement in regards to security measures. Even if it had, very few Christians would actually like to see it present during Christmas celebrations, he said.

For the past seven years, the FPI accumulated a track record of violent attacks against Catholic and Protestant communities. The recent episodes of intolerance in Bandung (West Java) are evidence of that. On this occasion, Muslim extremists destroyed two house churches and five homes belonging to local Christians.

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