Jakarta – In the days leading up to this year’s Christmas and the 2018 New Year, Indonesian media reports about preparations for the two occasions carried nothing unusual. The news are similar to those reported in the past years.
Circulating stories by conventional media and the social media went around with ‘old’ things like the mass exodus of people from cities to their hometowns and city dwellers traveling to tourist places as well as the associated traffic jams; the deployment of security troops in large numbers; the President instructing his ministers to keep prices under control for Christmas and New Year holidays; and Indonesian Christians’ preparations to celebrate Christmas at churches and other places including their unique and even more captivating ornaments and liturgy songs.
Still, for National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian, Christmas is not business as usual. Together with top military officials they had prepared special security measures for this year’s Christmas celebrations and the upcoming New Year’s festivities. And, like in the past years, members of some religious organizations were reportedly readied to join security officials to guard churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
In late last month’s special news conference, Gen. Tito stated possible terrorist threats during Christmas while admitting that no concrete evidence of such dangers had been reported so far. “It must not happen that we underestimate (possible dangers) only because there was no information about them. This is because there are groups carrying out covered activities. In addition, there are lone wolfs who are acting individually,” he said.
Police troops in Jakarta last Friday (22/12) listened to their commander’s directives about security for this year’s Christmas. (Photo source: Detik.com)
The National Police Chief had reasons to make such remarks, which clearly echoed widespread worries caused by the prevailing religiously-charged political tension. Jakarta experienced a bloody Christmas Eve in 2000 when bomb blasts occurred in several churches. Three people were killed and dozens injured.
In the past days, accordingly, Gegana bomb squads carefully searched church halls and their compounds, especially in large cities across Indonesia. In Surabaya, for example, police officials carefully searched almost 350 churches. Meanwhile, not all people lauded such security measures including the active participation of Muslims to guard Christmas festivities.
A Muslim political activist said the deployment of huge numbers of security troops for Christmas in the past years had instigated public worries. “It had flushed prejudices and had cornered Muslims,” said Faisal Assegaf who founded and chaired Progres 98. The group consists of political activists that actively supported Prabowo Subianto in the 2014 presidential election, against Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.
In his article for rmol.co, Faisal pointed to recent reports that more than 100,000 police troops and 80,000 military members would be deployed to guard Christmas festivities in Jakarta and other provinces across the predominantly Muslim country. Faisal took this fact to urge the government to stop claiming that Indonesia a religiously harmonious nation.
“It is not only this year. Before Christmas (in the past years), the public always faced hullabaloos about state apparatuses and certain community elements guarding churches,” Faisal wrote.
MUI Chairman Ma’ruf Amin. (Photo source: Nu.or.id)
Meanwhile, also worth observing on this year’s Christmas is whether more Muslims will extend Christmas greetings. Some Muslim office workers, for example, allegedly still did not wish saying ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting to their Christian colleagues, like in past years. This situation is despite the ‘fatwa’ (verdict) issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) under the leadership of Din Syamsuddin in December 2014, which was stressed again publicly by his successor Ma’ruf Amin last Friday (22/12).
MUI had argued that extending Christmas greetings had nothing to do with faith as claimed by hardline scholars. This is because, in Indonesia, saying such wishes had more to do with socio-cultural interactions, MUI leaders said. But, as reported by Tribunnews.com, the council still prohibits Muslims from wearing Christmas attributes on any occasions.