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President Widodo Insists That Indonesia Maintains Reputation as Moderate Islam Country

President Widodo Insists That Indonesia Maintains Reputation as Moderate Islam Country

Residents cry as they attend a Sunday mass prayer near a burned church at Suka Makmur Village in Aceh Singkil, Indonesia Aceh province, October 18, 2015. | Reuters/YT Haryono

Indonesian President Joko Widodo assured that his country remains to be a model of moderate Islam as he sought to downplay critics' claim that the country's reputation for tolerance pluralism is crumbling as evidenced by the jailing of a Christian politician and the rise of Muslim radicalism.

"Pluralism has always been a part of Indonesia's DNA," Widodo said, citing former U.S. President Barack Obama's remark that the country should preserve its history of tolerance. "Despite many challenges, Islam in Indonesia has always been a force for moderation," he added.

Indonesia is known to be an open society despite being the largest Muslim-majority nation. But its vaunted religious tolerance was challenged by the recent election which was marked by sectarian and ethnic tensions due to the jailing of Jakarta's first Christian governor for committing blasphemy.

Hardline Islamic groups that were banned under the authoritarian regime of former President Suharto have resurfaced as of late and are targeting homosexuals. The second-largest Muslim group called for a boycott of Starbucks because of the international coffee chain's pro-gay stand.

Defense minister Ryamizard Ryacudu likened the LGBT movement to a proxy war and branded homosexuality as a national security threat that is more dangerous than a nuclear threat. "It's dangerous as we can't see who our foes are; out of the blue everyone is brainwashed," he said.

The war against the LGBT community has sparked police raids that subjected gay men to public humiliation. The raids peaked to up to 10 a month last year and were done in collusion with hardline Islamists who identify the homes to be targeted by the police, the Guardian reported.

The U.N. has expressed concern over the erosion of cultural diversity and freedom in Indonesia. But Widodo seemed to defend the things going on in his country by saying: "We are the largest majority Muslim country so Indonesia has its own religious norms, unique values and also cultures that must be respected."


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