Letter to the Ambassador of Indonesia

Some days ago a good friend and a Mezrab regular posted a note on our Facebook about an Indonesian man arrested for writing online that god does not exist. First he was beaten up and now he faces a potential jail sentence of 5 years. Since at the Mezrab we don’t stand for such nonsense we decided not to just sign an online petition, but to rather mail the ambassador of Indonesia in the Netherlands. Here’s a copy of what we wrote. And of course, we urge you to take action as well. Have a read, and if you like it, pass it on.

To: Her Excellency Ambassador of Indonesia Retno L.M. Marsudi
Embassy of Indonesia
Tobias Asserlaan 8
2517 KC Den Haag

Your Excellency,

I would like to visit your beautiful country soon, but I am troubled by a recent development that has given me second thoughts and made me postpone my visit.

I refer to my concerns for one of the citizens of Indonesia. Alexander Aan. I’m sure your excellency is familiar with his case: for declaring online his non-belief in a deity he was beaten up and arrested and will potentially receive a harsh prison sentence. It seems that renouncing (his personal) faith was an insult to religion.

These events and the handling of it by local government has confused me. If mr. Aan is without faith, and the Indonesian law requires of people to have a faith, isn’t it more prudent to allow him to speak of his non-belief? If not, how will you know if the religion that’s stated in one’s identity card is the religion of one’s heart or simply what one pretends to be out of fear of retribition and prosecution?

I am also confused by Mr. Aan’s accusation of insulting religion by stating god does not exist. If he said that to a God he believed existed it would be a foolish and paradoxical act. Unless he was a devout Jew who lived through the Holocaust and witnessed the destruction of friends and family members and tried to insult exactly the almighty he believed in but held responsible for the senseless inhumanity in his life. Luckily Judaism is not one of the six accepted religions in Indonesia so we can avoid that theological conundrum. Another foolish act would be to state god exists by one who doesn’t believe, and luckily that is, as far as I know, not something that’s required by Indonesian law, as mr. Aan’s troubles started when he started to voice his unbelief.

But how is it an insult to state God does not exist if that is what one feels? If a blind person goes to the eye-doctor in Indonesia and the doctor holds out his fingers. Is the blind person required to guess the amount of fingers out of fear of being beaten up and locked up for stating he does not see the fingers? Or is he rather encouraged to say to the doctor what he does or doesn’t see so he can be helped with his condition (either by curing it through operation or helping him live with his condition)?

If unbelief lives in the brain, in synapses not having formed the constructions that allow belief in a deity, isn’t it the humane, or dare I say moderate Indonesian way to examine the unbeliever to see whether his brain is incapable of belief, in which case you shouldn’t punish him but rather declare him an invalid in religious matters and pay him some kind of monthly relief, or whether he is capable but presently doesn’t do so, in which case you could treat and educate him.

In reading about Indonesia to prepare for my upcoming trip I found out that Indonesia is a modern and moderate country that allows its citizens one of six religions. This is great news for mr. Aan. If your country decides to treat him rather than punish him, priests of various sects and religions could educate him, and surely realizing how rich the world of religion is he would come to his senses and follow one of the beliefs.

Mr. Aan could then start to believe that while Jesus was a great prophet it is blasphemy to think he is the son of god (as Muslims are allowed to believe in Indonesia), or that while Jesus was the son of god the Catholic church is a false church that leads true believers astray (as many protestants believe in Indonesia), or that the first principle of faith is the belief in one god and believing in more such as the Hindus do is sinful (such as Muslims and Christians alike profess in Indonesia) or that while you can have a favorite god it is foolish to deny the millions others (as many Hindus think in Indonesia). All of these convictions and many more are protected by Indonesian law.

I hope your excellency can clarify these matters to me, as I hope to visit your beautiful country soon and would not like to cause trouble with its laws simply by discussing my own personal thoughts on religion. Which as Ambassador to the Netherlands your excellency knows is not stated on our identity cards allowing for all kinds of confusion.

Warm Regards,

Sahand Sahebdivani
director of Mezrab Center for Philosophical Experimentation
Domselaerstraat 120
1093 MB Amsterdam

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