After Muslims threatened to tear down a 100-ft statue of a Chinese god, authorities in Indonesia’s East Java Province moved swiftly to cover it up.
According to this report, the Chinese deity was covered with an enormous sheet last weekend amid mounting ethnic and religious tensions across the country.
On social media, Muslims assailed the statue as an “uncivilized” affront to Islam and the island’s “home people”, and a mob gathered this week outside the East Java legislature in the city of Surabaya to demand its destruction.
Statues deemed un-Islamic have been destroyed or vandalised around Indonesia in recent years, and several Chinese temples have been set on fire. Covering the statue with a large white tarp was a stopgap measure proposed by the temple’s officials after a governmental religious body pushed them to find a solution.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and ethnic Chinese — largely Christian, Buddhist or Confucian — make up less than 5 percent of the overall population. The recent anti-Chinese animus is driven in part by an increased influence of extremist Muslim ideology in the country’s politics, experts said.
Said Aan Anshori, a coordinator at the East Java Muslim Anti-Discrimination Network, which opposed covering the statue:
Anti-Chinese sentiment has become quite strong. It’s quite worrying to think that these sentiments could be used by politicians in the future.
Colossal statues of Guan Yu have been erected around the world. The Tuban statue, which took more than a year to build at a cost of about $188,000 (£144,000), is the largest of its type in Southeast Asia, according to Indonesia’s Museum of World Records.
Adding to tensions between Chinese and Muslim Indonesians is a sense that as Beijing becomes more dominant in the region – exerting financial and military influence – ethnic Chinese will profit at the expense of Muslims.
Said Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia director for Human Rights Watch:
It is growing religious intolerance, making their own interpretation of the Quran and using that hostile interpretation against the Chinese temple. They say that it is showing that China is dominating Indonesia.
Didik Muadi, a Muslim who organised the protests against the statue, said Muslims would destroy the figure themselves if the government did not intervene. But ee sounded a conciliatory note:
Actually, we can allow them to build the statue, just not as high as it was and it should be in the temple, not outside. We are tolerant.
He is quoted here as saying:
The figure …. has no historical relation to the Indonesian people. There are many Indonesian heroes or local independence fighters who better deserve to be memorialised as a statue in Tuban.