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Rising radicalism, intolerance threaten Indonesia's diversity JAKARTA - Fifty years ago, Clifford Geertz wrote: " ... archipelagic in geography, eclectic in civilization, and heterogeneous in culture, Indonesia flourishes when it accepts and capitalizes on its diversity and disintegrates when it denies and suppresses it". The comment, part of Geertz's assessment of the political situation in Indonesia in the late fifties, also anticipates the future of Indonesia.

Armed rebellions were common between 1956 and 1958, under the banners of Islam and regional discontent against Sukarno's national government. Conflict broke out between Islamic rebels Darul Islam-Tentara Islam Indonesia, Permesta, who were fighting for independence in West Sumatra and the eastern part of the country and the Indonesian military in West Java, West Sumatra and Aceh and in South and North Sulawesi. Now known as the "regional rebellion", this was a litmus test of the newly independent state's ability to survive political and spatial disintegration.

Looking at the events from our current perspective, there are lessons to be learned here by Indonesia's new generation. The latest political developments in Aceh show the central government's ability to find a peaceful solution to a protracted conflict, which should be recognized as an achievement. The current preparations for a local government election will hopefully progress smoothly into another peaceful political settlement.

In Papua, the likely cooling down of the political situation there, after the violent demonstrations against Freeport and the central government in March and the aftermath of local government head elections in April, is seen as a sign of a reconciliatory climate. Judging from political developments in these two regional hot spots, Indonesia seems to have a chance to prove its ability to save its spatial integrity from disintegration.

Protecting the external border of Indonesia is not a problem. The internal border, however, is under serious threat. The country's inner borders, separating different cultural groups defined either by their location, ethnicity or religious beliefs, are increasingly unstable and the previous sense of Indonesian nationhood seems to be fading away.

The flourishing expression of freedoms following the demise Soeharto's government eight years ago is welcome as an important part of the transition to democracy. Recently, however, it has been seen as triggering intolerant attitudes between different cultural groups. In the last five years a strong desire to create new provinces and districts has appeared, often motivated by narrow ethnic or territorial sentiments.

Most alarming, however, is the increasing radicalism and intolerance to be found in Muslim communities demanding the stricter implementation of sharia law. Some Muslim groups have begun taking aggressive action toward people and groups belonging to different religions or belief systems that they perceive as not upholding the pure teachings of Islam.

The brutal attacks by radical Islamic groups on the people and property of Ahmadiyah are clear examples of such intolerant behavior -- in this case happening within the Muslim community itself. A claim of "religious purity" -- not practiced in public, however -- constitutes the driving force behind the attitudes of the radical minority groups. Bars, brothels and Western hotels -- particularly American ones -- have been attacked by the members of these groups.

In some regencies, the enactment of sharia laws and the support the pornography bill has received, reflect the extent to which Islamic beliefs have penetrated the state's legal institutions. The fact that the majority of Indonesian citizens are Muslim has been manipulated by a handful of Muslim leaders to claim that it is thus only natural that sharia laws be implemented in Indonesia.

Imposing an Islamic ideology will only aid in the disintegration of Indonesia, as several provinces are predominantly non-Muslim, and will fight against accepting Islam as the state ideology. The imposition of Islam in this way will undoubtedly threaten the country's diversity and help in its collapse.

Today, more than sixty years after the country's independence, Indonesia's inner borders -- the imagined social boundaries that reflect the cultural diversity of Indonesian society -- are increasingly under threat. The threat comes not from the outside, but from within Indonesian society itself. The threat from within is very different from the threat from without, as it directly challenges the social fabric of the country.

Since its independence, Indonesia has continuously struggled to strike a balance between the different political ideologies that constitute a challenge to its inner borders and between the center and the regions that challenge the spatial integration of the country. At present, the challenge is more from within than without.

Riwanto Tirtosudarmo, The writer is a researcher at the Research Center for Society and Culture at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Posted in PT Freeport @ 08 June 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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