Achieve Religious Harmony in Indonesia First, Activists Tell SBY

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaks about religious tolerance at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday. Activists responded by telling the president to address religious intolerance at home first. (Agency Photo)

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to protect minority groups from violence inside his own country before telling others to embrace religious tolerance, activists and lawmakers say.

On Tuesday, Yudhoyono attracted world attention when he discussed the need to “lower the temperature of warm peace” by adopting a new strategic mind-set and perfecting instruments of global diplomacy and order during his address to the UN General Assembly.

Citing the UN’s inability to resolve a prolonged crisis in Syria, Yudhoyono asserted that the international community needs new approaches to conflict resolution, including a refined approach to resolving religious conflicts around the globe.

Against that backdrop, he proposed the adoption of an international protocol to prevent denigration of religion as part of “a universal culture of mutual tolerance and mutual appreciation of one another’s religious convictions.”

“As a nation that celebrates its diversity of culture and religions, Indonesia calls for mutual respect and understanding among peoples of different faiths. Despite initiatives undertaken by states at the United Nations and other forums, the defamation of religions persists. We have seen yet another one of its ugly face[s] in the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that is now causing an international uproar,” Yudhoyono said.

The Democratic Party president called for an international mechanism to be put in place to thwart instances of religious antagonism. He said that “this instrument, a product of international consensus, shall serve as a point of reference that the world community must comply with.”

Yudhoyono did not specifically mention which UN resolution should be utilized to put in place such a plan.

Political analysts said on Thursday that in 1981 the UN General Assembly had adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which could be used as the anchor for the proposed protocol.

But Eva Kusuma Sundari, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said the credibility of Yudhoyono’s proposal depended on his success in taking action against those who attacked minority groups in Indonesia.

Ahmad Muzani, secretary general of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), said that in order to convince the global community of Indonesia’s sincerity it must first set the right example within its own borders.

Gerindra backed Yudhoyono’s plan, he said, but the country that proposes it must be the role model for the world in terms of religious harmony.

“The government has the responsibility to ensure … religious tolerance in society,” Muzani said.

He added that if Indonesia could become a beacon of fair treatment against transgressors of religious harmony laws, the rest of the world would follow.

The Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group said Yudhoyono’s proposal was a setback for Indonesian diplomacy because it would exacerbate tensions between religious groups and limit freedom of speech.

The Muslim United Development Party (PPP) backed the proposal, urging all members of the Organization of Islamic Conference follow the Indonesian lead and press the UN General Assembly to issue the protocol.

But even if the UN adopted such an instrument, its implementation would be problematic. Analysts claimed that as an international protocol, signatories would not be obliged to enforce it among their citizens.

The term “protocol” is used for an additional legal instrument that complements and adds to an existing treaty.

Addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday, President Barack Obama made it very clear that the US government will never discourage its citizens from expressing themselves freely in any form.

“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. And the answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech,” Obama said.

“Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country and commander-in-chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day — and I will always defend their right to do so.”

With Obama having drawn such a red line, the effectiveness of Yudhoyono’s proposal is in question.

The Indonesian leader’s answer is that he has to communicate what he believes is right, “remaining focused, sharp, and constructive, by using the kind of language that can be measured, so all parties will understand and accept it. What is important is that we have conveyed the message.”

During the visit to New York, Yudhoyono received an award for his leadership in promoting world peace and cooperation. It was presented to him by Noel Lateef, president of Foreign Policy Association, during a panel discussion at the PricewaterhouseCoopers building on Thursday.

George Soros, founder of Open Society Foundation, acknowledged Indonesia’s economic growth, supporting Yudhoyono’s remark that the country has become a new global economic power.

Soros, a wealthy businessman, came under fire in the late 1990s for his currency speculation, which some senior figures in Southeast Asia blamed for a financial crisis that imperiled development. JG

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