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Don’t diss gods in Indonesia

Atheist Alliance International is condemning the jail sentence for Alexander Aan. Aan is the Indonesian man who wrote “god does not exist” on a facebook page, and has now been sentenced to 2½ years in prison for blasphemy. I’m mentally adding up the number of years I’d get for Pharyngula…I’m just relieved I’m not posting from Indonesia.

The whole ruling is confused and inconsistent, but that’s what religion does to you. Here’s an interview with a newspaper editor that’s also confusing: he can’t come out and say that there’s a problem with this decision, and I can’t tell whether it’s because he agrees with it or he’s afraid to say. The comment about the problem being that they are extending tolerance to intolerant groups (the Muslims) suggests that maybe he is seeing the problem, but is being cautious in expressing it.

The Indonesian constitution mandates freedom of religion, but requires everyone to have a religion. Right. They have a little discussion about Indonesia’s reputation as a tolerant place…I’m sorry, I don’t see it. If they ever had such a reputation, it’s gone now.

Comments

  1. says

    You have to have a religion in Indonesia? Well, that’s all right: according to some believers, atheism is just another religion, so we’re covered. We could probably call some expert witnesses if it ever came to court. I guess you can’t be officially agnostic, though.

  2. gworroll says

    At least he’s not up for execution.

    Though when that’s the best that can be said of your laws… there’s a problem.

  3. says

    So… Saying God doesn’t exist is blaspheming, and freedom of religion is guaranteed as long as you’ve got one.

    My blog actually gets a decent number of hits from Indonesia. I’m amazed they’re not scared to look at it.

  4. says

    Very minor thing in the grand scheme of even this incident, but is anyone else irritated to see the word ‘atheist’ in scare quotes on that video title?

    Yet another way of implying we don’t exist, or don’t have a valid stance.

  5. okstop says

    But, PZ – you apparently have the same heavy-handed policies! Why, according to one “Steinmaster” (does he drink a lot of beer…?) over on The Uncredible Hallq, you are “a bigot” who “promotes hate.” Apparently, you also quash dissent, except when it’s funny.

    He said it, and he provided… well, he said it, anyway.

    So how many years does he get?

  6. asinanbasah says

    Here’s a correct description of religious freedom in Indonesia: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/opinion/no-model-for-muslim-democracy.html

    jonnyscaramanga: we’re not afraid because the authorities don’t really care about atheism. That is, not until someone file a report and the media attract attention to it — Then the authorities have to pretend to care.

    Which is also why that newspaper editor afraid to say what he really think because he’s on TV.

    Basically in Indonesia, you don’t mess with the majority’s opinion. Ever.

    What’s truly amazing for me, is that most people here don’t even take their religion seriously in their personal lives, yet when responding to news or events such as this, suddenly most of them adopt a fundamentalist position.

  7. mattand says

    The Indonesian constitution mandates freedom of religion, but requires everyone to have a religion.

    This pretty much the default view of most Americans, unfortuately.

  8. Gregory Greenwood says

    We should probably all pay close attention – this is the legal arrangement that fundies would dearly love to institute the world over, with only one significant difference; professing atheism would probably carry a death sentence.

    Declaring freedom of religion, but only so long as you profess a religion, completetly misses the point. Freedom of religion only has worth if it includes freedom from religion. It is staggering that Indonesia has a reputation for ‘tolerance’ despite failing to meet even so elementary a standard for freedom of conscience.

  9. says

    I moderate heavily?

    On my site, the only comments that have ever been deleted have been from banned commenters who change their pseudonyms to avoid filters.

    I ban approximately one person a month on a site that gets about 30-40,000 comments per month. There have been a few instances where people were nearly instantly banned (mainly extremely foul-mouthed racist ranters), but generally the trolls get a fair amount of time to hang themselves.

    I’ve even recently moved to a different scheme, where creationists, godbots, and other objectionable idiots are first asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves to a specific thread dedicated to allowing whatever inanities they want to be expressed, rather than banning.

    Also, I’m really lazy.

  10. says

    He said that he wishes that they were more outspoken about protecting people with different beliefs, including atheism, and he’s noting that intolerance of religious minorities is being allowed.

    He seems to be speaking carefully, yet criticizing Indonesia’s lack of actual tolerance–which is still miles ahead of the complete intolerance of all except Islam found in most of the Persian Gulf states.

    Glen Davidson

  11. TonyJ says

    asinanbasah:

    What’s truly amazing for me, is that most people here don’t even take their religion seriously in their personal lives, yet when responding to news or events such as this, suddenly most of them adopt a fundamentalist position.

    That’s pretty much how it is here in the USA. Hell, most people don’t even know the most basic facts of their own religion.

  12. okstop says

    “That’s pretty much how it is here in the USA. Hell, most people don’t even know the most basic facts of their own religion.”

    Somehow, that doesn’t stop them from taking it really seriously.

  13. natashayar-routh says

    This is part of a nasty world wide trend, remember Ireland has a blasphemy law that could potentially do the same thing. Then there are the frequent attempts to get the U.N. to endorse blasphemy laws.

    This all makes me think that the religious know their religions are a house of cards that could come down with the slightest push. Otherwise why the push to ban even the slightest critiscim?

  14. says

    What a primitive world we live in still, if people can be arrested and jailed on blasphemy charges. If God exists, why does he care about such things, anyway? Is he so insecure that he cannot tolerate anyone insulting him, or perhaps not even believing in him? Why is this such a big deal for Allah, Yahweh, and Jesus?

  15. Gregory Greenwood says

    No One @ 8;

    My question is what can we do to help this guy?

    If you follow the link in PZ’s post, it takes you to a page where Atheist Alliance International asks people to contact the Indonesian authorities and protest Aan’s imprisonment. The page includes links and contact details. I sent the following email to Indonesia’s UK embassy.

    —————————————————————

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am writing to you with regard to the imprisonment of Alexander Aan for professing atheism on Facebook. I do not doubt that my email is but one of a great many that your various embassies and government agencies have received in relation to this case.

    I would put it to you that the imprisonment of Aan for the notional ‘crime’ of blasphemy with regard to his statement of atheism online is an action that should have no place in the kind of modern, progressive state that Indonesia seems to aspire to be. The world is watching your country, and events such as this do nothing to inspire confidence. What is the point of a constitution that enshrines freedom of religion if the subtext is a de facto requirement that one must profess a religion? Freedom of religion is meaningless without freedom from religion, and a country that refuses to acknowledge the freedom of speech and conscience of its citizenry can hardly expect to continue to be viewed as tolerant or progressive by the international community at large.

    Part of being a mature democracy is the need to accept that some people will hold opinions that others find offensive, and that the proper response to such a situation is rational discourse, not the heavy handed application of law in an attempt to establish an Orwellian set of ‘thought crimes’.

    Indonesia is an emerging economy and society with vast potential on the global stage – to demonstrate that a majority Muslim country does not automatically conform to the grotesque caricatures promoted by the Right wing elements of the Western press. To open up new markets and economic opportunities. To stand as an exemplar of progress and tolerance in the region. It would be a tragedy to see such potential squandered in the name of outmoded, reactionary blasphemy laws and the appeasement of militant religious groups.

    Regards,

    Gregory Greenwood-Nimmo.

  16. Dick the Damned says

    Funny how people say that their god is ‘great’ or ‘almighty’, but it can’t do its own dirty work. The Bible Bogey calls for non-believers to be killed, (Luke 19:27), but wants the believers to do it.

    Why can’t people see through this crap?

  17. Amphiox says

    Public displays of piety have nothing to do with personal belief and everything to do with social dominance hierarchies and status displays.

    Once you look at it through that lens you can easily understand how it is that people can be almost completely oblivious to their professed religion most of the time, but turn instantly fundamentalist in certain publicly high profile instances.

  18. No One says

    Gregory Greenwood-

    Thank you. I don’t have enough time to research or click through links, as I am in pixel hell at the moment. As soon as I get some time I will send them an email.

  19. Sastra says

    natashayar-routh #18 wrote:

    This all makes me think that the religious know their religions are a house of cards that could come down with the slightest push. Otherwise why the push to ban even the slightest critiscim?

    Yes, that’s a big part of it. But it’s also because religion is often seen as a matter of tribal identity. Critiquing the truth claims is automatically translated into condemning or attacking the person, group, or culture — bigotry and intolerance. Laws then seem to be viewed as a form of group-protection.

    Religion suffers from a split-personality. On the one hand, a believer believes what they do because they can see it is true: reason and evidence both support it. But on the other hand, they can only see that it is true because of who and what they are: this are in this group, therefore this is what they believe. It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!

    It’s why faith is so dangerous. They make claims about the world that aren’t open to open disagreement. You’re allowed to disagree only if you keep it to yourself. When the religion is very strict, then you are allowed to disagree only if you fool yourself into thinking you sometimes suffer from attacks of doubt — but you’re trying hard to overcome that problem. If the culture loses the social consensus that there’s something very noble and desirable about at least wanting to believe in the supernatural, it will all start to unravel.

  20. ronster666 says

    Since the concept of blasphemy presupposes the existance of a deity; until proof or a least overwhelming evidence is presented for said deity, blasphemy does not exist. No evidence has ever been put forth, therefore no case can reasonably be made against Mr. Aan. The problem here is that his accuser, the State, does not use reason.

    PZ – Lazy is not a bad thing. The lazy person will always come up with the easiest, most efficient way of performing a task, if the task is necessary.

  21. Aquaria says

    You have to have a religion in Indonesia? Well, that’s all right: according to some believers, atheism is just another religion, so we’re covered. We could probably call some expert witnesses if it ever came to court. I guess you can’t be officially agnostic, though.

    Agnostic isn’t a belief position, but a knowledge position.

    Thanks for playing.

  22. Marc Abian says

    This is part of a nasty world wide trend, remember Ireland has a blasphemy law that could potentially do the same thing

    Ireland’s blasphemy law is pretty weak, and it’s unlikely that anyone will ever actually be prosecuted over it.

    Section 36 defines a new offence of “Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter”,[35] which carries a maximum fine of €25,000.[35] The offence consists of uttering material “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, when the intent and result is “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”.[35] A defence is permitted for work of “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value”.[35] “Religion” excludes profit-driven organizations or those using “oppressive psychological manipulation”

  23. Davros says

    this Makes Me wonder what would happen is our Prime minister (Australia) a self proclaimed atheist Visited and said something
    would she Get thrown in Jail ?

  24. knut7777 says

    I lived and worked in Jakarta about 20 years ago and can vouch for everyone having a religion. I decided the prudent response when queried was “I don’t practice” and change the subject. This was usually met with blinking incomprehension.

    This faith also seemed a mile wide and an inch deep. The display of piety seemed mostly for public consumption and did nothing to ameliorate the widespread depravity everywhere you turned.

  25. antigone10 says

    This makes me a bit nervous. My husband is applying for a flight job in Indonesia, and I was really looking forward to being in a centralized location for all the traveling I want to do (Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand) but I also don’t want to go to jail.

    It’s probably worth the risk, but I do wonder how much being an American would protect me.

  26. bassmanpete says

    You have to have a religion in Indonesia? Well, that’s all right: according to some believers, atheism is just another religion, so we’re covered. We could probably call some expert witnesses if it ever came to court. I guess you can’t be officially agnostic, though.

    Unfortunately Indonesia only recognises six religions; Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. The law also requires that all citizens hold a card that identifies them as belonging to one of those religions. What a fun place to live!

  27. says

    A few months ago when I read about the law regarding one having to choose a religion (from a list of six – ooh, how open-minded of them!), I was inredulous. Not to mention the requirement that it be identified on a card. There’s nothing positive in either of those things. They managed to mingle state sponsored theocracy and fascism into one. The only thing missing are the German accents from the war movies saying ‘Papers please?’

  28. says

    Davros wrote in #29:

    this Makes Me wonder what would happen is our Prime minister (Australia) a self proclaimed atheist Visited and said something would she Get thrown in Jail ?

    Well, if she visited in her role of a government representative, I think the concept of diplomatic immunity would kick in.

    It is one of the reasons our minster of foreign affairs (Germany) can visit for instance Saudi Arabia without risking flogging or the death-penalty. On a private visit I guess he might risk both — not because he’s such a big jerk, but because (and totally unrelated to the fact of being a jerk) he is openly gay.