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Jakarta post

by Jennie S. Bev

Barack Obama has not confirmed when he’ll be visiting Indonesia, thus it is not too late to remind ourselves that Indonesia is interested in promoting liberal democracy alongside the United States.

It is good timing for Indonesia to end its ambiguity in world politics by supporting Obama’s cause. Especially with recent persecutions against minorities – LGBTQ, non-Muslim and Chinese-Indonesian – and the continued condonation of violent acts performed by Islamic-fascists, the Indonesian government needs to express repentance and utmost support toward minorities and its people. By the time Obama arrives in Indonesia, we should be prepared to present that we are ready to change.

Yes, change is the name of the game. To initiate change, we need to be aware of the people’s power in influencing policies assisted by external forces and be aware of the harmful and coercive effects of “quasi secular” or “pseudo theocracy” under the beautiful name of “Pancasila.”

First of all, Indonesia is (or isn’t?) a secular state, though Pancasila (Five Principles), the UUD 1945 Constitution and a myriad of laws and regulations clearly state that Indonesia is a country based on belief in God. One obvious example is the goal of national education according to Article 3 of the National Education Law No. 20/2003, which is “to develop students’ potentials related to creating faithful and pious individuals under God as well as noble, healthy, learned, skillful, creative, independent, responsible and democratic persons.”

It is quite mind-boggling that students in Indonesia are expected to go to school so that they can be “faithful and pious” individuals, not to become “smarter,” “skillful,” or “more intelligent” individuals with strong skills and knowledge to compete in 21st century globalized world. This alone makes us think pretty hard.

Indonesia is a country created on an agreement that God is what the people should strive for. Everything must be directed at God, including our children’s education. What if we don’t want that? Because religion and religiosity are a private matter, thus no one has the right to coerce us into it. Perhaps we simply want to have smart, positive and disciplined children because we can teach the notion of “God” and faithfulness at home.

It is evidently implied in the “introductory” section of most Indonesian laws that there is no place for an atheist – even a child must have a religion. Apparently, in this “undecided” and somewhat blurred notion of democracy, harm and coercion have been the name of the game played solely by the powerful state under the pretext of “being faithful and pious to God.”

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty stated that a state has no right to coerce an individual’s choices unless it is required to eliminate or reduce harm. In Indonesia, it is common knowledge that most laws contain “rubbery clauses”, including the above National Education Law. Such “rubbery clauses” can be easily manipulated to serve specific agendas, including a political party’s agenda, most of which prioritize – what else – faithfulness and piousness under God.

Consequently, extremist groups have been growing exponentially in the last few years. This is an indirect result of such “pseudo theocracy-ness” and “quasi democracy-ness.”

Concerned citizens should be aware of the narrowing “moral sphere,” in which people are free to choose whatever they believe to be moral, regardless of the state’s coercion veiled as “Pancasila-based laws.” Mill argued that such a sphere must protect individuals from harmful and coercive powers of the state and other entities. With “rubbery clauses and laws,” the government possesses a great –if not unlimited– power to trample upon and entrap the people.

What we need for Indonesia is a liberal democracy and all laws must be based on the Rules of Law and lie under the umbrella of compassion, in which nonkilling policies must be placed as the underlying principle. It is simply irrational and unfair for the state to hide behind the notion of “godliness” in everything we do from the cradle to the grave. Morality and choices of religiosity and spirituality should be placed within an individual’s discretion without any coerciveness from any entity, including the state.

Such “pseudo theocracy-ness” will eventually breed more extremism and fascism, as this notion can be easily bent and manipulated for their benefit. When a state hides behind the notion of “God,” anyone –most likely extremists and fascists– with a strong case that would add “value” to such a notion, – the people are the ones who will suffer the most.

Indonesia might have the so-called “pride of being unique” for having Pancasila and being the most populous Muslim country, hence being “secular.” Yet the very first principle of Pancasila, “There is only One God,” itself a fallacy as even the official religions are not limited to monotheism, such as Buddhism. Thus, such an explicit referral to monotheism in Pancasila is an implicit endorsement of political and politicizes monotheism, in which Islamic-fascism is a strong case.

Let’s promote liberal democracy and compassion, just like Obama. And let’s have our voices be heard worldwide.[]

The Jakarta Post, April 28, 2010

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