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That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

If you asked typical American citizens to name the world's largest Muslim nation, in terms of population, most would probably pick a land somewhere in the Middle East -- not Indonesia.

However, if there is one fact that many Americans do know about Islam in Indonesia, it is that most Muslims in this sprawling and complex nation practice a "moderate" form of the faith (whatever that "moderate" label means). This has allowed believers in various faith groups to live in peace, for the most part.

Thus, terrorist attacks in Indonesia linked ISIS are big news -- at least in the American news outlets that continue to offer adequate coverage of international news. Sadly, an ominous cluster of attacks this past weekend in Indonesia probably received little if any attention in most American newspapers.

The New York Times, of course, was a notable exception. Here is the lede in its report:

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A wave of deadly bombings on Sunday and Monday and evidence of more planned have shaken Indonesia just ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, with entire families -- including children -- carrying out suicide attacks against Christian worshipers and the police.

The troubling discovery Monday of completed bombs in a housing complex outside Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, came a day after members of a single family carried out three attacks against separate churches in the city around Mass time, killing seven people.

The use of the word "Mass" implies that the attacks focused on Catholic congregations, when the reality was more complex than that -- since Pentecostal and traditional Protestant churches were targeted, along with Catholic sanctuaries. In other words, the attacks were aimed at all Christians (and police), not just Catholics.

But that was not the main issue here. The Times report quickly reminded readers:

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, practices one of the most moderate forms of Islam in the world, but still has a homegrown terrorism problem

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NPR gets it right about how bad things are for non-Muslims in Indonesia

 NPR gets it right about how bad things are for non-Muslims in Indonesia

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, my employers were looking for the next place where Islamic militants were hiding out and I proposed a trip to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country -- where there was a potential massacre awaiting Christians in one of its eastern provinces. The plane tickets were all bought and plans were for me and a photographer to fly to Palu, a city in central Sulawesi, an island shaped like something between a swastika and a pinwheel.

At the last minute, a top editor cancelled the trip because he was afraid that if we were kidnapped, the newspaper didn’t have the means to rescue us. Being that journalists were getting killed in Afghanistan, it was a very real fear. But I was terribly disappointed not to go.

North Sulawesi, it turns out, is quite Protestant and reputed to have a church every 100 meters. But central Sulawesi was much more Muslim, so we planned to drive to Poso, then south to Tentena, a Christian village that was in some danger of being wiped out by Islamists. This CNN article tells of how some 7,000 Muslim guerillas were planning war on about 60,000 Christian villagers. A few years later, guerillas were using machetes to chop off the heads of young Christian girls.

The reason for this long introduction is that NPR recently did a piece on the utter lack of religious liberty for Christians in Indonesia, as illustrated by a small church outside of Jakarta that the local Muslims will not allow to open. A sample:

The city of Bogor, on the outskirts of greater Jakarta, is a conservative Muslim area with a strong Christian minority. To open a church here, Christian groups must meet a lot of requirements, including getting permission from Muslim authorities.
Starting in 2003, the Taman Yasmin Indonesia Christian Church, also known as the GKI Yasmin Church, got all the necessary legal permits. But vocal Muslim citizens opposed construction of the church and pressured the local government to cancel the permits.
The local government acquiesced to the demands. But the church group went to court, and won. On an appeal, they won again. Finally, the case went all the way to Indonesia's Supreme Court — where the church group won a third time, in 2010. But to this day, the congregation can't worship there…

Why do I bring this up? Because this NPR report contradicts the widespread media fantasy of Indonesia as this happy inter-religious paradise.

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