A seemingly small incident in Indonesia is the first shot in the use of religion, specifically accusations of blasphemy, as a political weapon against President Jokowi in the ongoing presidential race.
Last month Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If—” was scrubbed from a mural at Manchester University because students believed that Kipling stood “for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights.” But his “The Ballad of East and West” can hardly be racism.
Last weekend’s seven bombings in Surabaya reveal a marked escalation of ISIS capabilities in Indonesia and also show changes in tactics. This is probably only the first wave of awaited attacks by ISIS returnees from the Middle East. Nevertheless, the terrorism threat in the country remains small.
While the work of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom is vital, the ambassador is most effective when he or she influences the department and US policy as a whole. The combination of ambassador-at-large and religion is thus a difficult one at State, so having someone as politically experienced as Brownback in the role is vital.
Indonesian President Jokowi should make clearer that while the Indonesian Ulama Council’s (MUI) has every right to issue its opinions, it does not speak for the government nor make laws for this diverse and multi-religious country.