Indonesia's tiny Chinese Christian community leads a strangely privileged but also precarious existence. Their wealth means they generally have a standard of living far above those of the 90% native Muslim majority with whom they share the country.
That can be dangerous too with accusations that they're unduly dominating the economy with some estimates putting some 70% of economic activity in ethnic Chinese hands - an extraordinary figure for a community that comprises 1-4$ of the Indonesian population. Memories are still raw of the 1998 pogroms when - following the downfall of the dictator Suharto - mobs attacked Chinese districts of Jakarta, looting shops and businesses, beating and raping, and killing over 1,000 people.
Still when a Christian Chinese politician, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as "Ahok") was elected as mayor of Jakarta in 2014, there was reason to hope that the days of bitterness were left behind. With a can do attitude, he set about cleaning up the corruption and inefficiency of Jakarta and even his detractors would admit that things improved hugely under his reign.
However, a certain section of conservative Islamic society looked on his ethnicity and especially his religion and viewed him as a problem.
Roll forward to last October and in comments widely misquoted (not to mentioned video being doctored), Ahok is alleged to have insulted the Quran. He cited one verse from the Qur’an (which urges Muslims not to regard Jews and Christians as allies) and said the verse had been used to deceive voters and justify the assertion that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims. However, a manipulated version of those comments was subsequently circulated online, changed in a way to make the mayor’s comments appear far more offensive than they were.
Cue nationwide outrage and rallies of over half a million people in Jakarta demanding he be jailed. He is now facing blasphemy charges, been banned from travelling abroad and could face five years in prison. The first of two rounds of mayoral elections were held this week. Ahok is a candidate and should make the second round but this episode has hugely damaged his support base.
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