Despite the apparent rise of religious intolerance in Indonesia over the last year, we have to keep reminding ourselves that those acts of hatred are generally limited to a small extremist minority and that the vast majority of Indonesians still believe in helping their neighbors no matter their faith.
One perfect example of that is a holiday tradition performed each year by members of Banser, the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest independent Islamic organization in the world. Every year, Banser members are deployed to churches across Indonesia to help safeguard them from any possible attacks on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
This year, thousands of members of Banser stand ready to protect churches during the holiday. The East Java chapter of NU said that 4,100 members of its Banser members were ready to be deployed to help police in securing churches.
“Of our 41 branches in 38 cities in East Java, each has prepared 100 Bansers to protect their area of the country. So there’s a total of 4,100 personnel ready to help the police and church security. This is purely voluntary, they are not paid,” said Rudi Tri Wahid, chairman of the regional board of GP Ansor East Java, as quoted by BeritaSatu.
Similar pledges have been made by Banser chapters throughout Indonesia. NU’s East Kalimantan chapter says it has 5,000 members ready to be deployed to protect their Christian brothers over Christmas.
“This is a form of tolerance, to provide a sense of security and comfort to our brothers while they worship. Securing the churches is something we do every year,” said East Kalimantan GP Ansor Secretary Herman A Hasan as quoted by Koran Kaltim.
While it may be a strong symbolic show of tolerance, these volunteers are also performing a duty that comes with very real risks.
One member of Banser, a 25-year-old man named Riyanto, gave his own life to save a church filled with worshippers from a bomb on Christmas Eve, 2000. His heroic sacrifice stands as a lasting symbol of what Indonesia’s creed of Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) truly means.
Indonesian police are also planning to beef up security around churches and other potential targets around Christmas and New Years Eve.