Letter to the Editor: Response to Indonesia and Religious Intolerance

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Last week, Chimes ran an article that targeted the Republic of Indonesia and offered what appears to be a critique of Indonesia as a religiously intolerant country and thus painted to readers an image of a nation that is both violent and dangerous. On the front page of the paper, readers were drawn to the article by a poor choice of words stating “Indonesian Attacks” placed underneath the Indonesian flag which brought offense to some Indonesians here at Calvin. The entire premise of the article is structured in a way that first features major journalistic errors in the piece, and second, poorly frames the issue in Indonesia.

As an Indonesian and a Christian, I was surprised that the article failed to acknowledge and reach out to the roughly 25 Indonesian Christians already attending Calvin College. The only single quote made was taken, without any attribution, from a three-year-old article in The Jakarta Post. Here, the article falls short of providing any context to the story as the church leader is from one specific province and does not reflect the situation in the rest of the country as the article leads readers to believe.

Moreover the article makes the mistake of generalizing the entire Christian population in Indonesia by stating, “The 20 million Christians in Indonesia are suffering” and “The Christians themselves are forced by extremist groups to destroy the churches.” The reality is only certain regions are affected. For instance, I am an Indonesian Christian. I am not suffering or being forced to destroy my church. The same can be said for other Indonesians at Calvin had their opinions been included. It is not accurate to make the bold statement, especially as a non-Indonesian, that all Indonesian Christians are suffering and are forced to destroy the churches.

The article also brings forth misleading information in stating that only churches are required by the government to obtain “60 signatures of local residents of different faiths to approve their building request,” but the actual legislation is not targeted toward Christianity but is applied to all “places of worship.”

The article poorly frames the issue through failing to acknowledge that not all of its Muslim population are extremists and fails to provide a single statistic as background information. This gives the impression that Indonesia is filled with extremists causing turmoil everywhere. The article also failed to account for Indonesia’s history of religious tolerance and Islamic moderation and fails to compare the nation properly against other Muslim populated nations. It is not fair nor accurate for the author to intensively describe and portray only one example of church persecution and exacerbate the incident as the face of the growing issue of intolerance and violence. It directly frames the entire narrative in a way that is one-sided and paints a negative perspective on Indonesia as a nation with the same brutality as entire nations under Sharia law.

Rather than critiquing a nation with a list of facts, I recommend that the issue continues to be discussed under a different framework where the experiences and perspectives of Calvin’s very own Indonesian Christians are incorporated.

Alden Hartopo (‘15) was a head editor on Chimes leadership for the 2014-2015 school year and has worked in Indonesia’s leading English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Globe.