Statue of Chinese god stokes tension in Muslim-majority Indonesia

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TUBAN, Indonesia – Indonesia has urged officials to stand up to mob pressure after Muslim and nationalist protesters called for a 30-metre-tall (100-ft-tall) statue of a Chinese deity erected in a temple complex in an East Java town to be torn down.

The brightly-painted statue of Guan Yu, a former general who is worshipped by some Chinese, was inaugurated in July in a temple complex in the fishing town of Tuban and is claimed to be Southeast Asia’s tallest such representation of the deity.

The statue in Tuban, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the city of Surabaya, has been partially covered up after the protests, provoking both praise and ridicule on social media in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

“If they ask for the statue to be torn down, authorities cannot bow to such pressure,” Teten Masduki, chief of staff to President Joko Widodo, told reporters.

Protesters demonstrated this week outside Surabaya’s parliament against the statue, some wearing paramilitary-style outfits and waving placards that read “Demolish It” and “We are not worshippers of idols”.

Allowing a depiction of a foreign general was “a symbol of treason to this nation,” an unnamed protester said in a video of the rally on news portal Kompas.com.

Officials of the Kwan Sing Bio Temple in Tuban declined to comment, but media have quoted residents as saying the statue was good for tourism.

Indonesia is a secular state whose constitution enshrines religious freedom and diversity, but there are concerns that rising intolerance threatens its reputation for moderate Islam.

Muslims form about 85 per cent of the population, but there are also substantial Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other minorities.

Religious tension has soared this year after Islamist-led rallies saw Jakarta’s incumbent governor, a member of a so-called double minority who is ethnic Chinese and Christian, put on trial during city elections over Quran insult allegations.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was later jailed for two years for blasphemy, a sentence rights groups and international bodies condemned as unfair and politicised.

The protests against the statue were primarily about nationalism, said Suli Da’im, a lawmaker in East Java. “What they were protesting about is that the statue did not represent their general or commander,” he said, adding that a permit for the statue had also not yet been approved.

The fate of the statue, reported to have cost 2.5 billion rupiah (S$255,300) to build, has sparked sparring on social media.

“Praise be to God, the noisy fighting in social media succeeded in ensuring the idolatrous statue has been covered. I hope it will soon be taken down,” Muhammad Syahrir, using the handle @Muhamma37029013, said on social network Twitter.

Another Twitter user ridiculed the protesters. “Like they have nothing else to do but to protest against a statue,” said Paring Waluyo, under the handle @paringwaluyo.

“Instead they should be protesting about Tuban being among the poor regencies of East Java.”

Friday, August 11, 2017 – 17:54

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