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Kudos to tolerant Bekasi

Jakarta Post Editorial - February 17, 2024

Jakarta – The bravery of then-Bekasi mayor Rahmat Effendi in 2019 to defend the Catholic community's freedom to worship at Santa Clara Church in North Bekasi, in the face of intolerant groups, was a historic milestone for the city's bid to promote religious harmony and tolerance. Unsurprisingly, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace has named Bekasi Indonesia's second most tolerant city for the second year running.

Topping the list is Singkawang in West Kalimantan, but rankings are just a matter of technicality. Bekasi has now become a role model, if not a golden standard, of religious tolerance in this diverse country. The world's largest predominantly Muslim country has won international acclaims as a fertile ground for democracy and freedom, but many regions are still struggling to fight intolerance.

According to Setara, a respected human rights group, the other most tolerant cities are Salatiga in Central Java, Manado in North Sulawesi, Semarang, the capital of Central Java, Magelang in Central Java, Kediri in East Java, Sukabumi in Central Java, Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara and Surakarta in Central Java.

The 10 least tolerant cities are Sabang in Aceh, Bandar Lampung in Lampung, Palembang in South Sumatra, Pekanbaru in Riau, Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara, Lhokseumawe in Aceh, Padang in West Sumatra, Banda Aceh in Aceh, Cilegon in Banten and Depok in West Java.

Both Bekasi and Depok are Jakarta satellite cities, where many of people who work in the capital city reside.

According to Setara, Bekasi has made impressive progress in creating a more conducive atmosphere for tolerance. In 2015 it ranked 93rd out of 94 cities surveyed, but within seven years it catapulted to the top two.

Official statistics in 2022 showed Bekasi was home to 2.2 million Muslims, 106,000 Protestants, 28,800 Catholics and thousands of people of other beliefs.

Bekasi won the award because of its bylaws that promote religious harmony and its sufficient budget allocation to organize programs aimed at strengthening religious tolerance among residents. The city also emphasizes the value of religious tolerance in formal education.

For populist leaders in the national and regional levels, what the Bekasi government has done is difficult to follow, but Indonesia needs to emulate the city if it wants to move beyond procedural democracy.

The award for Bekasi is therefore encouraging because of the city's proximity to Jakarta, the seat of power, and the growing trend of intolerance and even persecution against minority groups in the country.

We recalled Rahmat, who told hundreds of angry protestors several years ago that he would not annul the permit to build the church he signed in 2015, saying the church construction had strong legal basis. The protests lasted for years because of suspicion that the church was part of a movement to "Christianize" local people.

"I would rather be shot in the head than to revoke the permit," said Rahmat at that time. He inaugurated the church in August 2019 and for the first time in two decades Catholics there were able to celebrate Christmas in their church that year.

With Rahmat no longer in charge of the city, the local government and people are responsible for keeping the tolerant atmosphere intact. The government officials need to promote the achievement among the public to raise their awareness of tolerance.

Setara has also recommended actions the central government should do to create equality and harmony among followers of different faiths in cities and regencies across the country. First, the Home Ministry and Law and Human Rights Ministry should review discriminative local bylaws because the ordinances are the sources of intolerant practices both by state and non-state actors.

Second, the central government needs to implement a regulation to ensure strong framework in the making of regional bylaws, including inclusive governance.

Congratulations to Bekasi for its incredible progress on tolerance and inclusiveness. Other cities, including Depok, can learn from Bekasi on how to promote equality for all.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/02/17/kudos-to-tolerant-bekasi.htm