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Jakarta globe

by Jennie S. Bev

Indonesia is a pluralistic country, and it shows how people of different religions and ethnic groups can live side-by-side in harmony. The Indonesian brand of Islam is generally considered to be moderate and liberal. However, a survey conducted by the Center for Islamic and Society Studies, or PPIM, at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University last year revealed some chilling facts. The respondents were Islamic boarding school, or pesantren, leaders from five provinces in Java, and most opposed pluralism and tolerance, and approved of the use of violence in the name of religion.

Of the respondents, 75 percent said they would allow churches built without permits to be destroyed or closed; 86 percent agreed that Muslims should not allow other religions’ worship places in their neighborhoods; 81 percent agreed that Muslims are not allowed to extend greetings for other religions’ holidays; 75 percent agreed that adulterers should be stoned to death; and 77 percent agreed that non-Muslims are not allowed to be heads of state. A whopping 89 percent supported Shariah-inspired bylaws as the standards for Indonesia’s morality. Such findings raise fundamental questions: Is Indonesia’s pluralism sliding downhill at an exponential rate? Shouldn’t we all be aware of and adhere to the so-called “universal” human rights?

Despite the alarming facts, the Indonesian government and some moderate scholars have been denying Indonesia’s slide into intolerance and its dying pluralism. The typical argument given has been, “Those radical extremists are loud while speaking up is not a salient feature of moderates.” This might be true to some extent, as the media is usually quite eager to pick up negative news. Or the cautious nature of human beings could explain why people are interested in alerting themselves by focusing on negative news, thus creating a bigger ripple effect.

Whenever we speak about pluralism, it is about mutual co-existence. It is, above all, about equality, as it is almost impossible to understand, accept and live peacefully with others without acknowledging common values. The most basic of all values? The so-called “basic” human rights.

Now the question is: Does the most accepted interpretation of Islam in Indonesia equally acknowledge all human rights as purportedly listed in international treaties and declarations? Based on the above survey results, it does not. Or, at least, according to those respondents. Is it really so, however?

Khaled Abou el-Fadl, professor of law at the University of California in Los Angeles, wrote in The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, that some argue there are no such things as universal values, hence the so-called “false universals.” But many moderate scholars are not entertained by the idea that universal values are not applicable in certain cultures because each culture is unique and independent. According to their argument, “false universal” antipathy is oftentimes an act of concealing ethnocentrism. Many moderate scholars are known to argue that at least a human being has the right to live with dignity.

Fred R. von der Mehden, a professor of political science at Rice University, in his paper Hindrance of Democracy and Modernization in Indonesia, said that Indonesian religious leaders and organizations in the past century have not consciously fought modernization, which is believed to be a fundamental ingredient in acknowledging universal human rights. He also added there have been misleading facts that are antithetical to a pluralistic democratic society: statements that Islam is not compatible with democracy, violent actions against minorities in the name of Islam and efforts to implement policies that are perceived to limit religious rights. Failed nation-building is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed, and it takes more than a village to socialize the notion of pluralism in a society.

We might want to place the responsibility for making changes in the hands of Muslim clerics and even Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, but we can actually start with ourselves, with these verses from the Koran : “If God had willed, He would have made you one community but things are as they are to test you in what He has given you. So compete with each other in doing good”; and, “Among His signs is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. Surely there are signs for those who reflect.” Do it now; wait no more.[]

The Jakarta Globe, March 4, 2009

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