Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Indonesia - Most Disturbing Trend of 2010 Isn’t Going Anywhere in 2011

As the euphoria of New Year celebrations draw near and we begin to reflect on the events of the past year, one trend in particular should add a sobering touch to our perception of the year that was.

The Moderate Muslim Society says Indonesia saw at least 81 cases of inter-religious conflict in 2010 — an increase of more than 30 percent from 2009.

The Wahid Institute on Tuesday said it had recorded 196 cases of violence based on intolerance and religious discrimination in Indonesia during 2010, an increase of almost 50 percent from a year earlier.

And looking even further back, reports show that these incidents have, surprisingly, risen significantly since the fall of the New Order.

2010 was rife with examples of hard-line Islamic groups repressing minority groups by denying permission to build houses of worship, sometimes with the backing of government officials.

The year has indeed given rise to the question of whether these kind of incidents are part and parcel of the democratic era.

Democracy is widely interpreted as a condition in which people can freely express whatever they like in order to create a government that can accommodate the needs of all. The end goal for democracy is the common good of a people, which is often signified by a society’s increasing prosperity.

Prosperity, however, is not always the result of something so quantifiable as increasing incomes. Other factors are involved, such as the ability to live a life without threat of religious violence.

This condition is imperative for Indonesia in particular, since diversity — especially in religion — is at the very core of our national identity. Without religious tolerance, a key component of our societal prosperity is lost.

The crucial questions as we go forward are thus: How can Indonesians live peacefully in the next year in the face of rising intolerance? And can democracy, as it exists here, guarantee the prosperity of all?

In German philosopher Jurgen Habermas’s model of deliberative democracy, discourse is considered an integral part of a well-functioning society. It is only when all people are allowed to communicate freely, without dominance or subservience, he said, that consensus will be reached that can bind all people without coercion.

A deliberative democracy is ideal for Indonesia, as conflicts can never be solved with more conflict. It is only with the presence of mind to build communication that intolerance will wane.

It is regretful that our government itself has played a role in some acts of intolerance. In one stark example, our religious affairs minister said that disbanding the Islamic sect Ahmadiyah was necessary in order to make society more peaceful.

Other examples can be seen in the administrative difficulty Christians have faced in trying to build houses of worship in regions like Bekasi, and in the incident in Tanjung Balai in which a Buddha statue was torn down with the backing of the religious affairs minister.

And the Wahid Institute found that 72 percent of actors in cases of religious violence in 2010 were from local governments, legislative councils, the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) and the police.

From these cases, it can be concluded that government — both local and central — has helped fan the flames of intolerance, either explicitly or implicitly.

Thus, in 2011, what is of the utmost importance is the inclusiveness of the government. Requests to build houses of worship have to be fully accommodated by local government since it is indeed their duty. Furthermore, protection or marginalized groups has to be guaranteed in order to prevent assaults from other mass organizations.

This duty is a must since local government is charged with guaranteeing inter-religious harmony, as was noted in a 2006 joint regulation between the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry.

But how can a local government guarantee harmony if it cannot issue building permits — and then lets others tear down houses of worship? Clearly law and reality are in conflict here.

Indonesia still has its work cut out for it in 2011. Hope that the year of intolerance can be used as a source of learning to make the new year something new entirely.

By Nicholaus Prasetya student at the Bandung Institute of Technology (Jakarta Globe)

1 comment:

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