It’s easy to get downhearted by the rise of religious intolerance in Indonesia lately, brought about by the increasing influence of hardline groups in the public sphere while many of the country’s leaders and politicians stand by and let it all happen.
But Bekasi Mayor Rahmat Effendi is among the exception to the rule. Yesterday, he, Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil and Manado Mayor G.S. Vicky Lumentut, each received an award from the Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) for ensuring religious freedom in their respective cities.
Komnas HAM awarded Effendi for his role in stopping Islamic hardliners from protesting against and preventing the construction of four churches – all of which had the proper construction permits – in the city.
“I assertively rejected [their demands] at the time. I said in front of them, I’d rather be shot in the head than withdraw the church’s IMB (building permit). The IMB was legally binding,” Effendi said upon receiving his award yesterday, as quoted by Kompas.
“The city of Bekasi must be tolerant and peaceful – a city without [the idea of] majorities and minorities.”
Bekasi city’s population is greatly dominated by Muslims, with only 324 thousand of the city’s 2.6 million not of the Islamic faith.
Over the past year, there have been several protests by the city’s hardline Muslims against the construction of four churches: Santa Clara, Galilea, Kalamiring, and Manseng, which hardliners believe to be a form of “Christianization” in the city. All four churches had obtained the proper building permits.
Effendi, a Muslim, became acting mayor of Bekasi in 2012 when his predecessor, Mochtar Mohammad, was convicted of corruption. Effendi subsequently won the city’s mayoral election in 2013. During his time in office, Effendi has been seen as a defender of pluralism.