Jakarta — Jakarta's worst outbreak of violence in 10 years serves as a strong reminder to Indonesia's military-backed government that it rules over the world's largest predominantly Muslim nation.
The violence took place last Wednesday in the Jakarta district of Tanjung Priok. It is one of the most strongly Muslim sections of the capital and also one of the poorest. A demonstration by Muslim groups in the area turned into a riot which left, according to latest estimates, at least 25 dead and scores injured.
The government was shocked. But to many living in the area, it was the inevitable outcome of tension that had been building up for sometime.
It is also being seen by some as a symptom of wider dissatisfaction within the Muslim community in this Southeast Asian nation of 148 million people.
Piecing together government statements and eyewitness accounts, what seems to have happened is this: a crowd of some1,500 and 3,000 gathered at a mosque, then walked to a nearby security headquarters demanding release of four Muslims arrested earlier in the week. The government says the crowd threatened security men with scythes and sticks and the military were called in. Some marchers say they had not reached the security headquarters when the military opened fire. The government says nine people died. Others say at least 20 were killed in the shooting. Some sections of the crowd or people nearby went on a rampage, stoning a Protestant church, setting light to a number of shops and houses, some of them Chinese-owned.
The immediate cause of the violence seems to have been anger at security forces who had ripped down posters advertising a speech by an Islamic leader known for his critical views of President Suharto's government. Soldiers had also entered a mosque. But Islamic groups, many of them strongly political, had been organizing in Tanjung Priok for some time.
Some of the Islamic leaders killed by military gunfire in last week's violence were prominent in the 1960s and instrumental in bringing the present regime to power. But they have become increasingly disenchanted with a government which they see as being too dependent on Western capital and ideas and accuse it of forsaking Islamic values. They have also been frustrated as their political power has been either neutralized or tightly controlled by the government. They feel the Muslim political party, the Development Unity Party (known as PPP), has become a tool of the government.
There was further anger in some Muslim circles by government insistence that all groups, including religious bodies, adopt the state ideology of Pancasila - a five-point doctrine which above all emphasizes religious freedom. Some Muslims say the government is only using Pancasila to force them to renounce their Islamic identity. The government denies this.
Armed forces commander, Gen. L.B. ''Benny'' Murdani, has accused some Muslims of misusing Islam to fuel hatred of the government. He has also warned troublemakers they will be severely dealt with.