Alex Aan wants to see a better world

Alex Aan could get up to 11 years in prison for “blasphemy.”

His case has stoked a debate in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, whose 240 million citizens are technically guaranteed freedom of religion but protected by law only if they believe in one of six credos: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Those who question any of those face five years in prison for “insulting a major religion”, plus an additional six years if they use the internet to spread such “blasphemy” to others.

I don’t see how that’s freedom of religion at all, technically or otherwise. I think the word should be “ostensibly.” If you can get 5 years in the slammer for questioning a religion and 11 for doing it on the intertubes, that’s not freedom.

Activists say Aan’s is the first case in which an atheist is being tried in relation to the first pillar of Indonesia’s state philosophy – pancasila, which requires belief in one god.

Mandatory monotheism for short.

What a bizarre (and stupid) “philosophy.” What an intrusive requirement.

“What Alex has ‘done’ is exercise freedom of expression,” says Taufik Fajrin, one of the five lawyers defending him pro bono. “We’ll try our best to get him freed but just hope he’ll get a minimum sentence. Promoting human rights here is hard because you face fanatics and hardline culturalists. Even we, as his lawyers, are worried that hardliners will come to our office or homes and throw stones at us. It’s a challenge.”

Indonesia is the place that people always point to as the example of “moderate” Islam. It’s clearly not moderate anything.

Activists argue that the country is increasingly influenced politically and financially by conservative Wahhabi clerics from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, who help to incite intolerance in Indonesia. But the country’s discriminatory laws – ranging from vaguely worded decrees against proselytising to requirements to state one’s religion on one’s national identity card – as well as the increasing number of Muslim hardliners who have taken the law into their own hands, are also to blame, Harsono says.

“Victims keep getting longer prison terms and perpetrators less, while the human rights we set in place 10 years ago are  becoming unravelled,” he says. “We’re seeing a motion to ban mini-skirts in government buildings whereas [before] it was OK. Beauty queen contests were OK’d in the 1970s but have  been banned in some provinces, while Valentine’s Day celebrations were given the green light 30 years ago but this year were banned in Aceh.

“The situation is getting crazy,” Harsono continues. “We used to discuss these issues. Now there is no discussion. The discourse today is ‘This is un-Islamic and immoral’.”

So the third fourth most populous country on the planet totters toward being a hell-hole of fanaticism like Saudi Arabia.

Aan, who has the support of the US-based Atheist Alliance International and Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, says he knew from an early age that he was an atheist, but recognised that he would have to hide it from others. “From 11, I thought ‘If God exists, why is there suffering? Why is there war, poverty, hell?’ Because, to me, God would not create this hell. My family would ask me my thoughts but I knew my answers would cause problems, so I kept quiet.”

He looks out the window to where a group of inmates are celebrating their Sunday by performing karoake to drum’n’bass in the dusty prison yard, most of them smoking, all of them barefoot. “I only want to see a better world and help create a better world,” he says. “If I cannot … then I would prefer to die.”

We need an atheist superhero who can swoop in and rescue people like Alex Aan and Hamza Kashgari.



  1. iknklast says

    Are you saying the third most populous country on the planet in your next to last paragraph? Because the 3rd most populous country on the planet is – the United States. Did I miss something? Did we veer into a discussion of the US here? I’m confused.

    Also, I find it odd that their constitution requires belief in one god, but they protect Hinduism. That is not a belief in one god, but many. I guess maybe they’re a bit inconsistent…

  2. iknklast says

    OK, now I’m unconfused (actually not, since I just had a rather strong Crown and Coke, but I’m not confused about this article anymore, only life in general). Easy mistake to make. I teach population ecology, so I have to keep up with demographics, but most folks don’t spend much time thinking about whose the biggest (unless their Texans, and then they spend their life worrying about Alaska).

  3. Brigadista says

    I’m with iknklast here, i.e. confused. At least the first three of the six credos listed are absolutist, are they not? So wouldn’t the very act of going to prayers/mass qualify as a “blasphemy” against the others?

  4. speedweasel says

    It’s more of this ‘belief in belief’ bullshit. The authorities just want you committed to the concept of some kind of divine authority. They want you to be predictable and controllable.

    They don’t mind what target you’re firing at as long as you’re aiming down range.

    It’s only once you start asking the really big questions that you become dangerous to those in power.

  5. says

    “For many of those who consider themselves defenders of Islamic culture, such as the Padang clan chief, Zainuddin Datuk Rajo Lenggang, religious minorities like Aan pose a serious threat to Indonesia’s national identity – and atheists are particularly risky.

    “‘If you are not a religious person, you might be dangerous to others, behaving without control and doing anything you like,’ Lenggang says. ‘Religion brings order. You cannot be an individualist.’

    “Although Aan has issued a public apology for his Facebook message and has since converted to Islam, the hardline Islamic Society Forum has called for the use of the death penalty in his case, and Lenggang says it is too late to be forgiven by his community: ‘Once you doubt the existence of Allah, you are kafir – you are no longer accepted. In the old days, he may be beaten until he died. But that could still happen today. This is about faith and people can be very strict.'”

    Brigadista, you are quite right. The ridiculous part of all this is that every one of the six permitted religions blasphemes the other five anyway, as a matter of course. It is, as this rooster Lenggang says, all about conformity.

    And it certainly casts a cloud over the alleged growth of democracy in Indonesia. Where there is no liberalism, there cannot be democracy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *