Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Enlightenment progress in Indonesia postponed

Opinion and Editorial, The Jakarta Post, 4/30/2008

Al Makin

Day by day, I observe the Indonesian public realm with the loss of hope. I may exaggerate this mere feeling, since I'm still living abroad where I sometimes suffer from homesickness. However, when it comes to the matters related to religion, i.e., certain radical groups and their interpretation of religion, my anxiety is justified.

All Indonesian Muslims, according to their assumption, have already joined their league to make the mission of returning the current society to the supposed past orthodoxy.

When asked by a non-Indonesian friend here in Germany, I postulated a rather diplomatic answer, saying "these people are only minor in terms of number; I'm not worried at all. We Indonesians have many progressive thinkers. They are all committed to guarding our moderate character of Indonesian Islam".

However, this friend made me speechless, as he showed me news and articles on the government's inability to protect Ahmadiyah and how it is even close to banning the sect.

I used to assume that persecution of those who were branded heretics occurred only in history, such as in the age of antiquity or late antiquity. It is true that during the New Order, the government silenced many who tried to express their disappointment with certain unjust situations.

However, physical attacks of certain religious groups seem to have never occurred. Ironically, when the nation is in the reform era, we become more intolerant of violent against others. The history of Indonesia retreats. The clock turns backward. Indeed, the dream of those who dream to return the present to the past has already come true.

The issue of sharia and fake religious piety has turned to political commodity. Local politicians have used this issue to attract potential voters. This contradicts the results of many polls conducted within last two years where many respondents are described as not being in favor of sharia. Whatever the reality is, we have to remain vigilant.

On the other hand, those who have acted on behalf of and have affiliated with secular political parties have often disappointed common people. These politicians have failed to show morality and integrity, and more and more Indonesians have highlighted their image of being corrupt. People then turn their attention to religion in politics, as secular politicians have not fulfilled what they promised. Let us give better chances to those who claim to be afraid of God, these people then assumed.

Nothing is wrong with being religious or pious. However, when anything -- be it politics, law, policy or intellectual thought -- is measured with certain distorted standards of orthodoxy that certain limited circles have enforced, a phrase belonging to Karl Marx that religion is opium to society seems to be true.

To illustrate this point, numerous people come to the street in trance, yelling, cursing others, blaming them for no reason, inciting people to hate others, burning things and destroying even mosques. Indeed, many religious speeches delivered in Indonesian language during religious sermons, posed in YouTube, confirm this.

A known public preacher cursed so many people, ranging from scholars to intellectuals. This clerk recalled the cowardice of many Indonesian political leaders -- i.e., many Indonesian presidents -- for not imposing the "true sharia" in Indonesia. Typically, hid audience applauded and yelled "God is great". Indeed, those who watched this kind of episode would confirm the above saying of Karl Marx that this kind of opium has made many drunk even without alcohol.

Historically speaking, the reformasi era has paved a new way for democracy in Indonesia which, in turn, brought about freedom of expression. However, many radical groups have hijacked this opportunity to mute that freedom of expression by bullying free intellectual thinking, banning those who embrace different faiths, showing tyranny, burying reasoning and finally removing democracy itself. This all can be seen in the content of personal blogs in the Internet, speeches, mass rallies and perhaps the basis of many local ordinances.

Whereas several politicians have followed the common trend that common people embraced in the hope that their pious appearance in public would increase their popularity, how about the elite Indonesian intellectuals? Do they still stand on the side of their commitment as an independent barometer?

What is clear is that Indonesian history has moved backward.

The writer is lecturer of State Islamic Institute Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta and a PhD candidate at Heidelberg University. He can be reached at


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