Indonesian tolerance rattled after 200,000 join 'blasphemy' protest against Christian governor

(Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)Women members of the hardline Islamic group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), shout slogans as they reject Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok as their governor in Jakarta, December 1, 2014. Ahok, Jakarta's first Christian governor in nearly 50 years was sworn in two weeks ago, despite protests from religious hardliners opposing a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia's most powerful political jobs.

As the nation with the most Muslims worldwide Indonesia faces pressing demands from fundamentalist and sometimes extremist Islamic believers.

This came to the fore when more than 200,000 Indonesian Muslims staged a protest Dec. 2 against the ethnic Chinese, Christian governor of Jakarta, demanding his arrest for alleged blasphemy.

The protest was was organized by the FPI, a vigilante group that called for the arrest of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, the ethnic Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta. He is accused of disrespecting the Quaran, the Muslim holy book that contains the central religous text of Islam.

A Sunday counter-rally, much smaller than the protests against the governor, was pitched Dec. 4 as a "parade of Indonesian culture" and it featured traditional dances from across the country and a giant flag proclaiming "We Are Indonesia."

Police said 30,000 people attended the rally, the BBC reported.

The Jakarta Post said the rally was organized by two parties that are part of President Joko Widodo's coalition.

Speaking from the stage on Sunday, Surya Paloh, the chairman of the National Democratic Party, said Indonesians could not work together if they are "scattered, blaspheming, humiliating each other and no longer trust each other."

Back on Nov. 4 tens of thousands of Indonesians rallied in Jakarta's center, calling for tolerance and unity after the massive protests by conservative Muslims against the city's Christian governor, Voice of America reports.

They accuse Ahok of disrespecting the Quran while he was election campaigning as he had noted in a speech that his opponents were using a Quranic verse argue why he should not hold office.

If convicted the charge could land the governor with a five year jail sentence.

"I've been called to defend Islam," Lisnawati Djohar of West Sumatra told AFP. "As a Muslim, I feel guilty if I refuse a demand to defend my religion. I believe Ahok insulted the holy Quran and it's hurt us."

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, a political ally of the Jakarta governor had angered hard-liners by being out of the city during the first protest early in November.

On Dec. 2, however, he went to the national monument to join Friday prayers with the crowd, although he called for demonstrators to disperse peacefully, The Associated Press reported.

The demonstration during the Friday call to prayer was even bigger than the last one held Nov. 4, which attracted around 100,000 Muslims.

Many wearing traditional white robes and skullcaps, the crowd chanted and prayed in unison at the National Monument.

Purnama has apologized for the remarks, arguing he was criticizing his political rivals who were using the verse rather than the Quran itself, but after the attacks he has slipped into second place in the polls.

He had been the favorite to win the February election, due to his no-nonsense style and determination to clean up Jakarta, a crowded, polluted metropolis of more than 10 million, AFP reported.

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