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A whisper of persecution

"A whisper of persecution" Continued...

Issue: "50 family-friendly movies," June 28, 2003

A resurgence of Muslim-Christian violence could come just as Indonesia puts Jemaah Islamiah terror chief Ali Gufron (also known as Mukhlas) on trial for the Bali bombing. Mr. Gufron, 43, says he knows Osama bin Laden well. Indonesian prosecutors have tracked that tie and are charging him with 11 counts of plotting, organizing, and carrying out terror crimes.

Indonesia's religious minorities, including Christians, are also keeping their eyes on the province of Aceh-but not because 45,000 government troops swooped in two months ago to quell an independence movement. The imposition of martial law in Aceh invoked reams of protest from UN and human-rights quarters, but those groups have said little about an internationally brokered peace agreement that allowed the province to implement Shariah (Islamic law) last year. The first Islamic court opened in March. If the Shariah experiment gains traction in Aceh, it could be a green light for hard-line Muslims in other provinces to push for the same in their own locales.

Last year national Muslim organizations and parties pressed for an amendment to the constitution that would oblige all Muslims in the country to obey Shariah law. Under the amendment, the phrase "the nation is based upon the belief in one supreme God" would expand to include the words, "and Shariah for the Muslims." The idea itself, known as the Jakarta Charter, is not new. Hard-liners unsuccessfully pressured the newly independent country to institute it in the 1940s and 1950s. Many fear its adoption now would quickly lead to the imposition of Shariah on non-Muslims.

Muslim groups and parties have gained ground in Indonesia since the fall of Mr. Suharto five years ago. Pro- Shariah views are becoming common currency in the country, said Shirley Doornik, country representative for the Jubilee Campaign. As they spread, publicly supporting those views becomes politically expedient.

Current president Megawati Sukarnoputri picked hard-liner Hamzah Haz of Indonesia's largest Muslim party as her vice president. The vice president was a strong public supporter of the new education law.

Radical Muslims also hold high-ranking ministerial positions in the government: The education minister is vice president of Muhammadiyah, the main organization supporting the education bill. The minister of Justice and Human Rights is a member of the Islamic Star and Crescent Party. The chairman of the national assembly also heads a political party affiliated with Muhammadiyah. "It's going to be hard for Christians," Ms. Doornik predicted. "The education bill is the second layer of what they call Shariah."

The new education law is also one more way to single out non-Muslims. Ms. Han said Jakarta state schools are now requiring Muslims to come dressed in religious garb on Fridays, creating an easy outward way to distinguish them from other students. "For us it creates an uncomfortable environment, like we're second-class citizens," she said. "In some areas, Christians wear a veil because they want to adapt to the culture."

But while hard-line Muslims are gaining ground nationally, Christians have tended to retreat into their own communities. The prospect of the education bill becoming law is prompting them to see the importance of Christian principles applied in the social and political realms, said Ms. Han, who is raising awareness among Christian leaders. "Because of this there are more chances to talk to church leaders," she said. "It's a starting point for revival."

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