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Pluralism in Indonesia

During Ramadan, the holiest time of year for around 90% of Indonesia’s population, we at Mitra Wacana are reflecting on the importance of pluralism in Indonesia. It is a nation of many diverse religions, ethnicities and cultures. We also consider how pluralism deals with fundamentalism, in light of deadly attacks by fundamentalists in Indonesia.

The below opinions are based on an interview with a Mitra Wacana staff member.

What is pluralism?

Pluralism means accepting other views, lifestyles, religions, cultures, ethnicities and so on. Pluralism is about knowledge of differences of religion, ethnicity and identity. It’s about accepting diversity.

Pluralism must accommodate an individual’s aspirations that may be different to other people’s aspirations. It is a normative good, an acknowledgement of different ways of life, affirmative of and responding to diversity. It promotes acceptance of other religions and cultures and promotes equality and coexistence.

What is multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism describes the existence, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultural traditions within a single jurisdiction. So usually it’s considered in terms of the association between cultures.

There are five measures of a multicultural society:
1. Equal treatment.
2. Equal respect.
3. Shared equality – no group is systematically disadvantaged, so all groups are equal.
4. The state has a role in fostering a common sense of belonging.
5. Members of society acquire the requisite psychological and moral resources. Differences should not be regarded as pathological deviation from the normal. Society should so define its identity that it does not exclude or delegitimise any of them.

So for example, we should accept LGBT and other identities. In society, we must have mutual understanding and equal standing and respect for others.

Pluralism is the promotion of multicultural traditions within a single jurisdiction. Pluralism is individual – it’s about how we as individuals view others and accept diversity.

What can we do to create mutual understanding between different religions, ethnicities, cultures and identities?

There are many creative activities to make dialog between different identities, cultures, religions and ethnicities. In Indonesia we can make interfaith dialogs among social organisations, among youth organisations and inter-ethnicities. We can cooperate with other identities, with other religions, to make activities that unite different ideologies. We can promote a just environment. Different religions can be united over an issue. All religions accept a just environment, so we can do some activities and cooperate with others.

Other creative dialogs include promoting tolerant behaviour from a young age, in school. For example, giving kids the knowledge about different places of religious worship, so we can invite kids to go to the mosque, the church, the pura [Hindu temple] and so on. It’s very interesting for the kids and the kids feel happy to see different religions to their own. It’s very important to make dialogue an educational aspect. Educational practices of self-awareness, dialogue and respectful exchange among students are interesting for the youth to create mutual understanding.

Governments must open space for dialogues about human dignity and giving respect, justice and equality in society. It is important for the government to open space. Governments must protect “unity in diversity” (bhinneka tunggal ika).

What is the pluralist perspective of fundamentalism in Indonesia?

We must understand what fundamentalism is. Fundamentalism is an ideology to back the radicals. In Indonesia, it is based on religious ideology. Fundamentalism is a deviation of secularisation and modernity in Indonesia. Many fundamentalists reject secularism, pluralism and modernism.

There are many signs of the fundamentalist movement in Indonesia. Firstly, they use violence to disseminate their ideology. They are anti-democracy, because they don’t want to make dialogue with others. Fundamentalists use anti-democracy to develop exclusivity by fear; they only give solidarity to their group, not to other groups. For example, Muslims would only give solidarity to other Muslims, not other religions.

Fundamentalism in Indonesia is anti-feminist. They do not agree with feminism or recognise women’s rights. They want women to go back to domestication, so women in fundamentalism are subordinate and only objects, not subjects. But women have important roles in the fundamentalist movement in practice, but fundamentalists do not acknowledge their role and women’s rights and freedom of women because they believe women’s place is in domestic life, not public life.

In Indonesia, the fundamentalist movement really likes uniformity. They don’t like diversity, because they want all the world to be the same, to have the same ideology, religion and so on. There are many cases in Yogyakarta like that, when fundamentalists have been violent towards other groups. For example, they disband discussions about LGBT, gender, liberalism and so on because they feel the concept of gender is from the west, it is not from Islamic ideology.

What are the roots of fundamentalism in Indonesia?

The roots of fundamentalism in Indonesia are from interpretation of religion because of how fundamentalists interpret religious texts. They don’t agree with interpreting religion contextually. So fundamentalist ideology is not based on social, economic or cultural context.

In Indonesia, after the Suharto regime fell in 1998, some Islamic organisations emerged in Indonesia and spread widely their ideology, which was not based on Indonesian culture. After the Suharto regime, Indonesia had freedom and democracy so the government gave an opening to many kinds of social organisations in Indonesia. So the fundamentalist movement had space to grow in Indonesia. They always opposed Islamic conservatives and moderates that practiced religion based on Indonesia culture. They promoted Islamic culture like in the Middle East. It made controversy with other religions in Indonesia because in Indonesia previously culture and religion had equal standing and mutual understanding of Javanese culture and Islamic ideology had mutual understanding.

What are the challenges to pluralism in Indonesia?

Pluralism is a big challenge in Indonesia because there are many cultures, ethnicities and religions. Since independence in Indonesia in 1945 there was a big dialogue among Indonesia’s founders about pluralism because some groups wanted Indonesia to be a nation based on sharia law. But other groups disagreed because Indonesia has many religions. So there was a difficult discussion among the founders. It was related with political tension between religious groups in Indonesia. There was a big decision by Indonesia’s founders, the 1945 constitution does not mention any religions particularly but Indonesia believes in one god. The words “belief in one god” are very important to unite different religions in Indonesia.

Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, declared five principles, called the Pancasila. It’s the ideology of the Indonesian nation. It is a compromise to the alternative mention of Islamic sharia law, because other groups wanted to use Islamic sharia ideology in Indonesia. Pancasila is a beautiful alternative for Indonesia.

Is pluralism a way of life in Indonesia or has this changed?

Pluralism is a way of life in Indonesia because there are many languages, many different religions and faiths. In Indonesia, there are religions and faiths, such as indigenous religions. There are many ethnicities and cultures because Indonesia is an archipelago.

Pluralism is an Indonesia way of life because we have so much diversity of ethnicity, cultures, religions and so on. So Indonesia has the ideology of unity in diversity and the five principles of Pancasila. It is so important for Indonesian people to be united.

Indonesia has the slogan, bhinneka tunggal ika, which means unity in diversity. It’s a term from the figure Gajah Mada of the Majapahit kingdom from Java. Bhinneka tunggal ika can be expressed in a condensed form as the ideology to achieve the objectives of development. It can make Indonesian people live with each other peacefully, what we call damai, like a big family.

Now in Indonesia, after the reformation, there is tension between unity and diversity. There have been many conflicts in Indonesia based on religion and ethnicity because there were groups or movements who want to change Indonesian ideology, such as the fundamentalist movement. This is a big problem for Indonesia people because before we lived peacefully but now we must be careful of other ideologies. Indonesian people must promote dialogue between religions, cultures and so on to protect our ideology, the five principles of Pancasila and bhinneka tunggal ika. Dialogue is very important to make peace in Indonesia and protect pluralism as a way of life in Indonesia.

What is the Javanese perspective of pluralism? Such as the mixture of Javanese traditions with Muslim faith?

Javanese life has pluralist ideology because Javanese people are tolerant of other people. In the past when Islam came to Indonesia, Javanese people accepted Islam because they assimilated Javanese culture and Islam. In Indonesia there are many Islamic practices mixed with Javanese practices. So Islam in Indonesia is different to Islam in the Middle East. Islam in Indonesia is very beautiful to practice. For example, worship in Indonesia is very close to Javanese practice. Women in Indonesia use the moekana [what Muslim women traditionally wear in Java when they pray], in Arabic countries they do not. There is a mix between Islamic practice and Javanese practice.

Javanese people are very accommodating to other cultures, ideologies and practices because Javanese people are very accepting of outside ideologies. Javanese people feel happy to meet new people, which makes them very accommodating.

Gajah Mada promoted bhinneak tunggal ika and he was from Java, the Majapahit kingdom in East Java where there are many religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Christianity and so on. Javanese people also have indigenous religions like animism.

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