Winning over Indonesia's pluralism skeptics Friday, August 24, 2007
Muhamad Ali, Jakarta
Many people say that Indonesia is a plural nation with a Muslim majority. Hardly anyone would deny the current plurality of ethnicity, languages, and religions in Indonesia. A recent interfaith group said they viewed pluralism as the nation's social capital, which should be revitalized and developed, thereby helping the Republic of Indonesia grow strong and prosper.
The problem is there are still many Indonesians who do not see such diversity as being positive and constructive in the struggle to improve the well-being of the nation. In other words, pluralism remains alien to them. Although plurality is argued to have historical roots in Indonesia, pluralism has been condemned as a foreign, Western concept.
There are some reasons why pluralism needs to be recultivated in Indonesia. Many publications continue to sow anger and hatred against others perceived to be enemies, threats and foreign forces, often without strong evidence. Such publications are filled with prejudices, stereotyping and rumors. Meanwhile, very rare public speeches and religious sermons highlight the good value of empathy, mutual understanding, respect, tolerance and pluralism. When pluralism is talked about, it is viewed merely as a passive understanding of the fact that "yes, we are different", without further active and proactive attitude and commitment.
Indeed, pluralism is a concept which has various and changing meanings.
Plurality is simply a fact, a condition or a reality of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, while pluralism is an ideal or an impulse to accept and encourage diversity.
Pluralism suggests the absence of persecution and the right to be different or defiant. It also tends to recognize outsiders and underscores the participation and responsibility of individuals and groups to form and implement society's agenda. In the political context, pluralism requires the state to give room to a variety of social customs, religious and moral beliefs, as well as groupings.
Many leaders, however, tend to emphasize consensus, unity, solidarity but ignore the value of difference and disagreement in society. They attempt to make use of the public as a sphere for mainstream ideologies and ideas, while eliminating others. Individual and group interests are pursued under the guise of public interests. They warn that pluralism is a threat to consensus and social cohesion
In Indonesia today, political cohesion and unity often win over differences and thus over the willingness to accept and encourage diversity. Many fear that to accept diversity means giving away their own convictions.
Instead, pluralism perceives that all religions are limited, partial, incomplete and that "other religions are equally valid ways to the same truth", or that "other religions speak of different but equally valid truths".
What seems potentially attractive to many Indonesians is the nation's pluralism, which is not confined to theological or religious aspects. The idea of Bhineka Tunggal Ika, or unity in diversity, is historically revolutionary. Pancasila as a creative and fascinating state ideology that goes beyond religious, ethnic, linguistic and political boundaries can be seen as a philosophy of tolerance and pluralism.
The first principle, belief in one God, has been and will be interpreted differently by different religious groups in Indonesia because naturally humans have different and changing conceptions of God. The state and religious groups cannot be tempted to force one particular conception of God on others by any sort of compulsion such as a physical threat, social pressure or rewards in the form of wealth or position.
The second pillar, justice and civilized humanism, signifies humane and just treatment for all, regardless of differences in age, gender, civilization and sociopolitical status. As the golden rule says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The third principle, Indonesian unity, comes from the positive recognition of Indonesia's diversity in ethnicity, religion, island, political affiliation and other identity categories. Indonesian unity means Indonesians are to work for social cohesion as a community sharing common history and future. As a political community, Indonesians need to unite to improve their well-being, solve their problems, face their challenges and manage their differences. However, this sense of unity should not mean uniformity, which may lead to indoctrination or the politicization of sectarian beliefs.
The forth pillar, democracy based on wisdom and consultation, carries fundamental principles such as the absence of authoritarianism and absolutism, the presence of empathy, being considerate of others, being wise when making decisions concerning others, mutual listening, understanding and respect.
Democracy also means social equity. This is connected to the last pillar, social justice for all Indonesians, which means individuals in Indonesia should be treated as equal citizens who deserve equal access to resources, education, health and other public opportunities. Indonesian pluralism is the basis for equal citizenship and equal treatment before the law. There is no place for the majority simply because of their major quantity that a group claims to represent that majority while in reality in that majority there is so much difference.
Pluralism is an advanced philosophy and attitude to be shown by the state or civil society. It requires sincerity, empathy, mutual understanding and commitment to dialogues and cooperation. Indonesia's plurality can be a great and invaluable asset for the just and prosperous nation. The challenge is for all Indonesians to master the ways of making differences and disagreements work for them, rather than against them.