Wednesday 3 April 2013

A critical Muslim view from Indonesia on democracy, state and religion

Herdi Sahrasad
The Jakarta Post carried an interesting article  on the delicate relation between state and religion in Indonesia. It was co-authored by American political scientist Blake Respini and the Indonesian journalist and academic Herdi Sahrasad, a lecturer at Paramadina University and associate director of the Center for Islam and State Studies.

Blake Respini
It challenges received views on the compatibility between support for a democratic political system and holding on to religiously-inspired -- often conservative -- social values. Many Muslim organizations in Indonesia advocate a combination of the two: 
It is easy to mistake support for a conservative moral law as support for Islamism when it is more simply a reflection of basic conservative values.[..] these civic organizations may be as important to the future of Indonesia’s democracy as is the curtailment of extremists.[...] 
From an outsider (Western) perspective this often leads to confusion, but, as the authors point out, in the Indonesian context: 
a critical component of Indonesia’s democratic future involves recognition of the special role of Islam in the state. [...] most Indonesian Muslims want their government to respect Islamic customs even if they do not support the creation of an Islamic state, the line between support for and opposition to sharia is often blurred.
 The debate over the passage of sharia-based legislation reflects that Indonesia continues to map out the most central questions concerning the basic shape of its democracy.

Consequently, the overeasy binaries projected in most of the media coverage on the Muslim world as well as due to the 'securitization' of the academic study of Islam, create a simplistic and misleading image -- certainly where it comes to Indonesia: 
political debate is often framed by pitting Islamists against non-Islamists, the lines are really much more subtle than this and democratic negotiation will require all parties to recognize this so that they can find common ground
 This reality imposes a delicate balancing act on both states and their citizens:
 All of us have multiple identities. We may define ourselves as students, scholars, husbands, wives, athletes, musicians from an array of images that form our composite selves. However, for a nation state to succeed it is essential that one of the imbedded images that a country’s inhabitants hold of themselves is that of their national identity. 

In the Indonesian case it meant finding a meaningful combination between the Muslim identity of its majority population, connecting it with co-religionists elsewhere, and their belonging to Indonesia, forcing them to forge bonds with non-Muslim fellow countrymen (and women).

To read the article in full, click here. For a slightly different version, highlighting some other aspects, click here.