From the Indonesian courtroom where the defendant is on trial for inciting religious hatred, Murhali Barda, radical Muslim leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, now suspended from the movement, has launched new and serious threats against the Christians living in the area of Bekasi, one of the vast suburbs of greater Jakarta, the enormous capital city of Indonesia.
The new threats are especially directed to the Batak Protestant Christian Church. Barda invited all Christians to leave the area, to avoid the violent reactions of Muslim terrorists. Bekasi was already the scene of violence by Islamic militants who accused the faithful of wanting to "Christianize" the city.
"These radical leaders are in search of publicity and want to keep up tension levels in society," said Fr Ignazio Ismartono, a Catholic priest who has been involved for some time in inter-religious dialogue. "And the dark powers that are behind them - still - have a vested interest to do so. All persons and organizations in civil society engaged in interreligious dialogue in Indonesia now want to focus instead on the fundamental problem of corruption."
Christians in Indonesia see this as a wake-up call: in the city of Manado (Sulawesi island) a group of Christians has proposed creating a militia called the Christian Defenders Front, to oppose the Islamic Defenders Front . The initiative was quickly discouraged and stopped by Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders. In a statement, the Christian leaders declared, "In this way, you give in to the spiral of violence and it degenerates into religious conflict, with serious consequences." Manado is the city where Antonius Bawengan was born, the Protestant pastor sentenced to five years for blasphemy in Temanggung, an episode that triggered the recent anti-Christian violence.
"We believe that a very large percentage of Muslims in Indonesia are moderate and that there are only small radical groups, which are unfortunately, very aggressive,said Fr Adrianus Sunarko, a Franciscan priest in Indonesia. "We continue to cultivate ties with moderate Muslims, to build dialogue and good relationships, to practice and speak about religious freedom, because this is the only way to weaken the extremists," he concluded.