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239 13 Religious politics and minority rights during the Yudhoyono presidency Robin Bush On most aspects of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s performance over his ten-year presidency, history will likely be kind—his cautious, indecisive , middle-of-the-road approach will earn more positive than negative accolades in areas of economic growth, foreign policy and even probably , at the end of the day, corruption. One area that is an unmitigated loss for him in terms of ‘legacy points’, however, is his administration’s performance on religious freedom and minority rights. Especially during his second term, minority groups such as the Ahmadiyah, Shi’a and even Christian groups experienced sustained and repeated attacks— increasingly involving the use of violence. Indonesia’s much-lauded international reputation for tolerance and pluralism has been tarnished significantly. The score card on this issue is so straightforward that this chapter will not focus its analysis on arguing that minority rights and religious politics in Indonesia have regressed over the past decade; others have already effectively, and repeatedly, made that point. Human Rights Watch (2013: 6), for example, declared that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been inconsistent at best in defending the right to religious freedom. The absence of leadership has emboldened groups willing to use violence against religious minorities and the local and national officials who cater to them. Similarly, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (2014: 125) concluded that Indonesia’s transition to democracy and economic stability has been marred by sectarian violence, terrorist attacks, the growth of extremist groups, and rising intolerance toward religious minorities and ‘heterodox’ groups. Update book 2014-15.indb 239 19/04/2015 11:39 am 240  The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation Numerous scholarly and media articles have also noted with concern that Indonesia’s famed religious tolerance appears to be on the retreat (Fealy 2011; Jones 2013; Harsono 2014).1 Rather than reiterate these arguments, this chapter will focus on the role of the president himself in at best allowing, and at worst contributing to, the deterioration of minority rights and the politicisation of religion in Indonesia. Yudhoyono was elected in 2004 on a platform of anti-corruption and forward-looking progress for Indonesia. By the end of his first term, however, significant problems in Indonesia’s religious relations were emerging. Nevertheless, he was re-elected in 2009 with a landslide victory and a huge mandate for reform (Timberman 2009). Observers felt that this would be the moment for Yudhoyono to take some bold action on minority rights. But as his second term began to pass by with no hint of such reform, observers, journalists and scholars began to question why the president was not taking action when he had been given such a large mandate for reform.2 As the end of his time in office neared, it became clear that Yudhoyono was not going to do anything to turn the tides of regression, despite the potential damage to his legacy. Accordingly, a second question now began to present itself. Was this just a matter of benign neglect—did Yudhoyono simply have more pressing priorities, and prefer to leave religious conflict and minority issues to others? Or did he in fact, despite some public statements to the contrary (usually made abroad), share the view of those who were actively seeking to constrict space for minorities and religious pluralism in Indonesia? Assessing the president’s motivations and intentions is important not just to understand the reasons for Yudhoyono’s inaction on this issue, but also to understand the nature of Islam and politics in Indonesia, and perhaps even the nature of Indonesian nationalism. When an incumbent president campaigns on a certain agenda, wins a landslide victory based on that campaign but then not only fails to implement but openly contradicts that agenda, there are important things to be learned. If he was simply focusing his energies elsewhere, that would tell us something about the role of religion at the highest levels of political office. If he was reacting to pressure from Islamist groups that had no public mandate and whose actions stood in stark contrast to public opinion, then that would tell us something about the power of these fringe groups. If, however , he was being true to his own internal belief system, then that may tell us something about both Indonesian Islam and Indonesian national1 Media coverage of the issue has been particularly extensive in Indonesia’s English-language press. See...


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