While the recent attack in Bali has put Indonesia and its extremist Muslim groups in the spotlight, there are also increasing instances of Christian-Muslim clashes in some areas and attacks against Christian churches around the country.
Christians — Catholics and Protestants all taken together — make up about 10 percent of the Indonesian population. In an interview with RW, Andrée Feillard, a French scholar who has been studying religion in Indonesia for the past 30 years, said that radical Islam begun to develop in Indonesia in the 1970s. but the trend intensified following the fall of President Suharto in 1998.
But the roots of Christian-Muslim tensions have a longer history and do not only relate to religious issues. During the 1990s, there was trend toward Islamicization, for instance in the civil service. While the expectation that Muslims should make a majority of the civil servants was perfectly acceptable in those overwhlemingly Muslim areas, it created feelings of marginalization among Christians in religiously mixed areas. In the Moluccan Islands (Maluku), the immigration of Muslims from other parts of the country also created resentment among Christians.
On the Muslim side, there is a fear of Christianity spreading, especially in Java. Christian social aid is understood as a proselytization tool. Locally, churches of a Pentecostal type are the most irritating to Muslim militants — and indeed, more Protestant than Catholic churches have apparently been burnt down. However, in ideological discourse, Roman Catholicism is perceived as the principal threat, since Catholicism is supposed to be stronger due to its unity.
The incidents and growing hostility of the past few years have often made interreligioius dialogue at a local level much more difficult. But, according to Feillard, at the top level, Muslim and Christian religious elites have intensified their contacts: they are acutely aware that a worsening of the situation and increasing clashes between Christians and Muslims could become a major threat to democracy in the country.
— By Jean-François Mayer