Christians should not be expected to live according to Islamic law

Supporters of Ahok deliver a flower decoration as they gather outside the Jakarta Cipinang prison (Getty)

Christians, beware of Indonesia! The governor of Jakarta, a Christian, has just been sentenced to two years in jail for the crime of blasphemy.

It seems that Ahok, as the governor is known, quoted a verse from the Koran in a speech. This somehow or another gave offence, and led to his indictment for blasphemy. In other words, Ahok, who presumably does not hold the Koran to be a holy book any more than I do, has been sentenced for failing to reverence something that he does not hold in reverence. But that is the way blasphemy laws work in some Muslim counties: they apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Given that Ahok at no point in his life has ever undertaken to live as a Muslim, it is not crime for him to live as a non-Muslim. The Muslims have no right to expect any non-Muslim to live by Islamic laws. For we non-Muslims have not consented to Islamic law and thus cannot be bound by it.

That is the first and greatest absurdity of this conviction and sentencing for blasphemy. It is deeply worrying that vast swathes of Indonesian public opinion don’t seem to have a problem with the idea that Muslims should dictate religious laws to non-Muslims.

The second great absurdity at work here is the not too hard to detect supposition that Ahok’s conviction for blasphemy is politically motivated. The blasphemy laws have been used to drive him from office (he has just lost an election) and to remove an ally of the President. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in this part of the world. Attentive readers may remember the former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim who was sent to jail for sodomy. He is still in jail.

What this means is that the very delicate religious sensitivities of the population are being used to manipulate public opinion. That means, of course, that even if a country like Indonesia has elections, it is hardly a democracy, as a democratic polity relies on a voting public that makes its mind up in a non-hysterical way.

Finally, the Ahok judgement is sign that Islam has been instrumentalised by politicians. If I were a Muslim that would profoundly depress me. In fact I would go so far, perhaps, to accuse the instrumentalisers of blasphemy.