Friday, June 20, 2008

The death of reason, the destruction of nation

Al Makin, Editorial and Opinion, The Jakarta Post, 6/7/2008

The condemnation coming from across Indonesia, and the world, for the bamboo-stick ambush by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) on a peaceful rally by the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion at the National Monument (Monas) is not enough.

The following real steps must be taken immediately: ban the FPI officially; arrest all of those involved in the attack, including those who were responsible for planning the action and those who executed it; and more importantly clean Indonesia from any mode of radical thinking.

As long as the government of Indonesia has the good will to do so, these two steps are easy, as anyone who loves reasoning would be happy to see it happen. However, the last task needs commitment and patience, and is a long-term task consisting of educating Indonesian society.

The actions of radical perpetrators can be seen clearly, whereas radical thinking often remains ignored by Indonesian society. Yet the actions result from thinking. Thus, banning the FPI is only cutting off one of numerous branches, while the tree still stands firmly in its roots and grows.

Radical thinking is like a deadly virus. Once it spreads in a body, what a doctor needs is to amputate any parts in which the virus resides. Indeed, it is too late to treat these parts leniently. We are at the curative stage now, not preventive. Yet prevention is still necessary to guard the rest of the body from the spreading virus.

The mode of radical thinking is contagious. It is like a plague. Indonesian society must be well prepared to strengthen its immune system.

The symptoms of radical thinking can be seen clearly in many of those who have demanded the prohibition of people with different faiths and beliefs, such as Ahmadiyah, to have their basic right as human beings, namely to live peacefully in Indonesia.

Ironically, many of those who hold important positions in the government also suffer from this kind of disease. Another common symptom can be detected in those who reject any kind of reasoning.

A clear message can be drawn from the ambush in Monas, that only these radical groups have the right to speak, whereas others must be silent. To the radicals, truth and religion run in their blood and breathe, so much so that they feel innocent whenever they use violent means. Moreover, they regard others who use reason to protect themselves as wrongdoers.

It is not a good solution, nonetheless, to blame either Indonesian Muslim communities or Islam for providing these seeds of radicalism. It is true, however, that religious jargon often serves as a media to express their radical thinking: in the name of God, scripture and prophets.

Radicalism has to do with society as a whole and its leadership. Whenever the leadership in society is weak, radical groups try to steal it. Particularly, in the aftermath of the increase of fuel prices, the hope to live decently is also sinking. The current government is often seen to have failed with the economy. If the stomach is empty due to the soaring price of basic needs, people are easy to get mad. Against this backdrop, the seeds of radical thinking and action find fertile soil to grow.

Moreover, radicalism in Indonesia has grown rapidly due to the remaining failure of Indonesian society and the government to build a true democratic and prosperous society. In turn, all Indonesians, regardless of their faith, ethnicity or cultural background, should shoulder the burden of this mistake for allowing radicalism to grow.

It should also be borne in mind that the victims whom radical groups have attacked are people with various religious backgrounds -- be they Muslim or non-Muslim. Radicalism, thus, should become a concern for all of us. It is therefore difficult to accept the statement made by the minister of religious affairs, Maftuh Basyuni, whose idea is to prevent non-Muslims from intervening in the case of Ahmadiyah.

It is clear that the idea of banning Ahmadiyah has little to do with theological discussion. Instead, it has more to do with the basic rights of being Indonesian: the right to live, to believe and to practice whatever faith they believe.

Moreover, this has become a concern of all people around the world, a concern to which the United Nations has already paid attention. Given this fact, the government has no choice between banning Ahmadiyah or the FPI and the likes. Who the government should ban is clear: the FPI, which has often violated basic human rights and has put Indonesia in danger.

Indonesia was founded by intellectual leaders who demonstrated fine reasoning in many debates against the Dutch colonial rulers, not by those who used mythical bamboo sticks in battle. Many victims of the Monas ambush are young intellectuals, the nation's best resources, who sought to inherit that reasoning in guarding this nation by commemorating the birth of state ideology Pancasila (the Five Principles), a ceremony that was designed to be full of reasoning and love in guarding the diversity of Indonesia. The FPI, on the other hand, who answered this with the bamboo stick, would bring this nation to nowhere but destruction.

The writer is a lecturer at the State Islamic University of Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta. He can be reached at