Monday 7 July 2014

Indonesia's Muslims between religious pluralism and intolerance

 This article was written for the Middle-East Asia Project (MAP) of the Middle East Instite (MEI) in Washington DC:

Religious pluralism has been under threat and sectarianism on the rise during the ten-year (2004-2014) tenure of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY).  During his two terms in office, Indonesia has seen rising tensions both between and within religious groups, increasing religious intolerance, and more cases of religiously inspired violence. This antagonistic climate has led to the closure and burning of churches, the displacement of Shi‘i communities, physical violence against civil society activists campaigning for religious pluralism, and even the lynching of Ahmadis. Colluding local and regional authorities not only undermine the rule of law by failing to prosecute the perpetrators, but even seek to “resolve” tensions caused by the presence of minority groups by condoning—and sometimes stimulating—intimidation and hate crimes against them.

Outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
These apparently domestic issues have wider significance for three reasons. First, in addition to being the largest Muslim nation-state in the world and a regional heavyweight in Southeast Asia, Indonesia also has the potential to become a global force on par with countries such as Russia and Brazil; second, its strategic location in an area where the United States, Chinese, and Indian interests meet makes it an important factor in the repositioning of a future world order, and finally, fifteen years of experience with a democratization process demonstrates that shaping a democratic political system for a pluralist society is hard work that must involve both institutional reform and the formation of a civil society capable of facilitating peaceful coexistence among diverse members of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population.  As a self-proclaimed “natural bridge” between the Muslim world, Asia, and the West, Indonesia offers a cautionary lesson for other Muslim countries planning alternative political trajectories in the aftermath of regime change.
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