Sunday 6 January 2013

Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals and Democratization: An Insider Perspective

Regular followers of this blog will have noticed the author harping on and on about the importance of paying more attention to developments in Indonesia when it comes to assessing possible future trajectories for the Muslim world at large in terms of democratic change and the role of educated middle classes in this process. Too often only Turkey is held up as the example to follow, but ignoring Indonesia means missing some very important lessons (see earlier posts on 11 December 2011 and 5 February 2011).

I am therefore very pleased to see my friend Luthfi Assyaukanie, a political scientist associated with the Paramadina University and the Freedom Institute in Jakarta, and also a founding member of Indonesia's Liberal Islam Network, addressing exactly these points in an essay on Indonesia as a model of Muslim Democracy, discussing its development, problems and opportunities.
   Prior to 1998, Turkey was often considered a model of Muslim democracy. Not only was it the sole majority Muslim country that rigorously applied secular principles, it also tried to maintain a democratic government. Although there were some criticisms against military dominance in Turkish politics, many people at the time still considered Turkey to be the only democratic Muslim country in the world. In the absence of a democratic government in the Muslim world, the presence of Turkish democracy, however minimal it was, was a relief.
 Since then, many world leaders lauded the rise of democracy in Indonesia. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called Indonesia a role model of democracy for the Muslim world. She believed that "Indonesia's own recent history provides an example for a transition to civilian rule and building strong democratic institutions". Likewise, President Obama pointed out that Indonesia's democracy can be Egypt's model. Indeed, Obama has often praised Indonesian democracy as a good example for the world. In the wake of democratic movements spreading through large parts of the Arab world, it is necessary to explore Muslim models of democracy.
 Luthfi identifies four reasons why it is important to include Indonesia in assessments of prospects for liberty and democratic transformation in the Muslim world:
First, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world that has undergone political transition from authoritarian regime to democracy.
Second, the country has maintained political stability despite the ethnic conflicts and religious riots in the first years of its political transition.
Third, Indonesia has demonstrated stable economic performance. Over the last five years, economic growth in Indonesia has been around 6%. During the global financial crisis in 2009, together with China and India, Indonesia was the only country that could maintain economic growth above 4%.
Fourth, Indonesia is the only Muslim majority country where Islamic political parties have failed to win the general election. In North African and the Middle Eastern countries, democracy always gives Islamic political parties victory.
In particular this last point makes the Indonesian case interesting to consider, because it illustrates that, when it comes to the prospects of democracy in the Muslim world, it is not a dichotomous choice between two evils: some form of secular authoritarianism or an Islamist alternative.
The question we should address here is, why did the majority of Indonesian Muslims not vote for Islamic parties, but rather to secular (or non-religious) parties? Has not there been an Islamization process in the country? Why is the resurgence of Islam in Indonesia not followed by the success in gaining political power?

There are many answers to these questions. But, the most striking one is that there has been a radical change in the political mindset of Indonesian Muslims. Partly due to the external factors that were boosted by secular-militaristic regime under Soeharto and partly due to internal ones which were pushed by liberal Muslims. These two factors played a crucial role in changing Muslims' political mindset and the way Muslims perceived democracy.
Another important aspect of the Indonesian experiences is the role of progressiveintellectuals in mobilizing increasingly better educated middle class urbanites.

The shift, however, is not only due to Soeharto who ruled the country repressively, but also due to the long and passionate role played by Muslim intellectuals. What is happening in Indonesia is not happening in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Indonesian intellectuals have always played an important role in changing Muslims political mindset and attitude.

Through lectures, writings, and actions, they advocated democracy and delegitimized Islamic parties. Unlike in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, the Indonesian reform movement has always been doing their work through organizations. Intellectuals such as Abdurrahman Wahid (1940-2009), Ahmad Syafii Maarif (born 1935) and Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005) are Muslim leaders who chaired big organizations.

To read the whole article click here. For further readings on Indonesia, Islam and democracy, check the suggested readings below:

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