Sunday, September 16, 2007


American and Indonesian Cases

Muhamad Ali

The question whether nation and religion are still important for most peoples in this contemporary era of globalization when they have more access to knowledge and get more freedom to choose what they want from the increased quantity of sources, thus undermining the traditional nationalist and religious authorities, can not be answered in an either/or way. It can be argued that nation and religion may coexist, overlap, and even reinforce each other, but may also be conflicting. Be that it may, the complexity of relations between nation and religion today should not hinder peoples in this era of
globalization from living in coexistence and peace. Nationalism is for many a common project for the present and the future, and so is religion. Both are also projects that demand sacrifice, but not the sacrificing of others. Both the American nation and the Indonesian nation should be large-hearted and broad-minded enough to accept the real variety and complexity of the national society in each country, and at the same time to promote shared human values.

Nationalism and Religions
In contemporary era of globalization, nationalism and religious identity are for many still important. They regard both as constructive forces in political, economical, social and cultural interactions. The self-determination, the love for one’s country and the readiness to defend her, the development projects that the state designed and implemented to the welfare of many of the country’s people, and the diplomatic relationship between nation-states for cooperation in many fields of life, have demonstrated how nationalism provides good things to them. On the other hand, religion has played a different, yet crucial role. In America, according to public opinions, religion has become important in public life, in their voting, in American foreign policy, in issues like marriage, abortion, and other socio-political issues. In Indonesia, religion has been even more crucial. In many interfaith meetings, different religions attempt to argue that nationalism and patriotism are sanctioned by their religious beliefs, and their Gods teach them to love their country and to work hard for her prosperity.

Especially after the 9/11 attack, national security became the American government’s first priority, often jeopardizing religious freedom and civil rights of individuals and groups. The American Constitution upholds religious freedom, but some discriminatory cases still exist against African Americans, Arabs, and other minorities. There are American peoples and scholars who still see minorities, including Muslims, as a threat to American nationalism. For them, American nationalism should be defended against external and internal threats, but these threats have been determined by partial and biased parameters. The American war on terror, in the name of national security, has perpretated different kinds of terrors against the accused (See Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies, 2004). Problems of racial prejudices, Islam-phobia, immigrations, health, education, gay marriage and abortion, are debated often within the context of nationalist and religious sentiments.

American nationalism has a variety of meaning among Americans. For some, American nationalism means a project against the Other, including Muslim extremists as they define them (rather than Protestant evangelical extremists, or Jewish extremists inside America or in Israel). For these groups, extremism only applies to others. For them, nationalism demands absolute categories of good and bad (rather than relatively good and relatively bad). Thus Samuel Huntington argues that America is a Protestant country which is under threat from multiculturalism (Huntington, Who Are We?, 2006). But this inherent connection between American nation and religion has been contested. In 1796, for example, President George Washington linked religion to morality and virtue and linked the cultivation of virtue to education. In 1802, however, Thomas Jefferson contended that American legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus binding a wall of separation between Church and State.” Many of the U.S. presidents, including Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, Carter, Bush, Clinton, and Bush junior, made Biblical references in their public speeches, and interpreted them according to the circumstances. In 2005, George W. Bush, for example, quoted Isaiah 40:31:”But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….” Today Americans broaden their discourse of nationalism to include liberal democracy, free-trade capitalism, human rights, and peace, not only in the country but also in the Middle East and other parts of the world. The will to spread democracy is one manifestation of American nationalism.

In Indonesia, the public discourse of nationalism, including the relation between religion and nationalism, has not emerged until the early 20th century. In 1928, the birth of Indonesia was marked by The Oath of the Youth declaring one fatherland, one nation, one language, (but no “one religion”). The Indonesian independence in 1945 was followed by the declaration of Pancasila, the semi-secular state ideology mixing theology, humanism, nationalism, democracy and social justice. The New Order Regime (1966-1998) built some alliances with the military against communism, perceived as the inside threat. The 1945 Constitution guarantees religious freedom, but discriminatory policies and attitudes still occur against indigenous believers, Chinese, and other minorities. In former East Timor, Aceh, and Papua, Indonesian nationalism has been a nightmare because force was used in trying to “civilize” and subjugate the marginalized economically, culturally and politically.

Indonesian self-image centered on the elitist discourse, including the Pancasila state, neither secular nor Islamic, the largest Muslim democratic moderate country (after 2004 general elections), and unity in diversity (Bhineka Tunggal Ika). But the country has suffered from conflicts of ideologies, ethno-religious conflicts, lack of and uneven access to education, poor health services, poor public services (transport, cleanliness), population density, and so on.

Nationalisms and Globalization
In 1996, historian Eric Hobsbawm characterized the twentieth century as “the age of extremes” because different ideologies, especially liberalism and socialism, competed for dominance. But, according to Fukuyama, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberalism was believed to have triumphed (Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History”, 1989). Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, however, saw a clash of civilizations (Bernard Lewis, 1992; Huntington, “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of New World Order”, 1993). For Huntington, writing in 1993, “a central focus for the conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states”. In the middle, however, the United Nations, European Union, and other international organizations have advocated a dialogue of civilizations, building a common space for co-operation.

For Huntington, civilizations become fault lines. But globalization continues to be more powerful. An American journalist Thomas Friedman suggests that globalization is not simply a trend or a fad but is, rather, an international system. It is the system that has now replaced the old Cold War system, and globalization has its own rules and logic that today directly or indirectly influence the politics, environment, geopolitics, and economics of virtually every country in the world. Challenging Fukuyama and Huntington, Friedman depicts this new era of globalization: “under the globalization system you will find both clashes of civilization and the homogenization of civilizations, both environmental disasters and amazing environmental rescues, both the triumph of liberal, free-market capitalism and a backlash against it.”(The Lexus and the Olive Three, 2000). Friedman however concludes that American national pride, globalization, and sense of community (including religion) are not contradictory and even should coexist.

In Indonesia, there are some debates of whether Islamic solidarity (umma) or the Indonesian nation-state comes first, especially when they see Palestine-Israel conflict, Iraqi conflicts, American war against terrorism, and other global events. For many Indonesians, globalization has been perceived as modernization and modernization as Westernization and more recently Westernization as Americanization (McDonalds, Microsoft, American companies). At the same time, many Muslim liberals have seen global Islamism and Arab or Middle Eastern kind of Islam as not compatible with the Indonesian situation. There is an Indonesian sort of Islam, more accommodative and tolerant toward diverse local cultures. For others, globalization is a blessing and could reinforce sense of nationalist pride, by improving the image of Indonesia not as a terrorist haven, Indonesia as moderate and tolerant as well as a beautiful and culturally-rich country. Nationalism for Indonesians at home and abroad remains strong and even stronger amidst the widespread use of internet and travel (the two icons of globalization).

Prevailing Extremisms
But we are facing excesses of nationalism and excesses of religion. We find aggressive nationalism which tries to impose one’s nationalism onto other nations near and afar. Absolute boundaries based on nationalities and religion can create conflicts and even wars. Absolutism comes from extreme ideologies and attitudes. We know different kinds of extremisms: within the nation-state (between the state and marginalized groups, between civil societies), between the nation-state, between non-state groups and the state, and between one state and the state and the people in other states. The reasons, dynamics, and implications of each kind of extremism vary, but the main features are social disorder and human and natural destruction.

In Indonesia, the regime at times killed the true and the alleged communists in 1965-1966. Indonesian nationalism, either religiously or secularly based, can have excesses and extreme sides. The extreme nationalism, for example, forces minorities to adopt the overarching political agenda that they reject because the agenda do not suit their needs and interests. An extreme nationalism wants to civilize the margins (indigenous believers, religious sects, new religious movements, mountain and jungle tribes, and so forth) by ways of imposition without respect to their particular conditions and needs. Within a nation, there needs to be a balance between nationalism and multiculturalism.

In the U.S., racism still exists, not simply by the white majority against the black or the color, but also by the black against the white. The media, which are supposed to be neutral, are not always neutral; the media could be misinformed about particular groups and events. The association of Islam with Arabs, violence, and terrorism is not yet over in some of American media, although there is some improvement for a more balances accounts.

The nation, according to Benedict Anderson, is an imagined community. It is a fraternity that makes it possible for so many millions of people to die for such limited imaginings. But this willing to die can be noble or can be foolish and destructive of others’ existence and peace. Wars between nationalisms have occurred. As Enrique Dussel put it, “evils accompany war: the clamor of arms, sudden, impetuous, and furious attacks and invasion; ferocity and grave perturbations; scandals, deaths, and carnage; havoc, rape, and dispossessions; the lost of parents and children; captivities and the dethronement of lords; the devastation and desolation of cities, innumerable villages and other sites.”(The Invention of the Americas, 1995).

Nationalist leaders may speak in the name of “democracy”, “civilization”, “peace”, but at the same time could act in a non-democratic and uncivilized manner, in the name of nationalist security or interest. In addition, while they can claim to seek international peace, they are actually harboring hegemonic or imperialist designs. Here nationalism becomes aggressive. Thus, as history shows us, forced nationalism extends abroad: Pan-Americanism, Pan-Britannica, Pan-Romana, Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism, etc. In fact, imperialism in the name of nationalism has become a mix of love and hatred, peace and war, blessings and sufferings.

The will for wealth and domination has not ended yet. Jacques Derrida, in his The Other Heading: Reflections of Today’s Europe, wrote: “Europe takes itself to be a promontory, an advance – the avant-garde of geography and history. It advances and promotes itself as an advance, and it will never have ceased to make advances on the other: to induce, seduce, produce, and conduce, to spread out, to cultivate, to love or to violate, to love to violate, to colonize, and colonize itself.” These can occur not only in Europe, but also in the U.S., Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere.

Such will for domination has been made possible because many leaders still view the world in terms of core and periphery, their own nation being at the core, and other nations at the periphery. Self-glorification often corresponds with diminishing others.

I would argue that nationalism, religion, and globalization should have limits to themselves. First, nationalism is socially constructed. Religion, although believed as divine and sacral, is historically constructed. Globalization, although it is regarded as a pervasive force and a system in itself with the communication technology, in fact carries different meanings for different people. Generally, in the secular paradigm, globalization is perceived as more neutral than religion, whereas nationalism is more neutral than religion. Neutrality is however no less constructed according to different perspectives.

Given its negative excesses, nationalism should not be an absolute ideology. There are always reason and unreason in nationalist ideology. As history shows, nationalism can be excessive and aggressive. Religion can also be moderate and extreme. Even religion can be made to justify aggressive nationalism. Religious fundamentalism can be secular or religious, but it has the potential for absolutism.

Tolerant Nationalism and Tolerant Religiosity
It is a time to promote more substantive and tolerant nationalism: strong, solid, but respecting other concepts of nationalism and nationalities within and without the country. Tolerant nationalism is a love of one’s country manifested in various aspects of life, but not at the expense of the destruction of other peoples within and beyond the constructed boundaries. Indonesian nationalism should be tolerant in the sense that, whether religious or secular or mixed according to different communities, it should respect the minorities and the marginalized, and at the same time should respect other nationalisms outside it. One of the outcomes of such tolerant nationalism is continued participation within the nation and peaceful coexistence and fruitful cooperation outside it.

Tolerant nationalism recognizes multiculturalism. Multiculturalism should not be merely a descriptive category, by simply saying that the world is diverse and multicultural. It needs to be normative as well, that requires certain attitudes and practical foreign policies. As Fred Halliday (2001) put it, ”multiculturalism becomes a deliberate approach to diversity, a type of normative discourse.”

Tolerant nationalism also promotes humanism which encourages common human values. As Vaclav Havel eloquently put it, “Different cultures or spheres of civilization can share only what they perceive as genuine common ground, not something that few merely offer to or even force upon others. The tenets of human coexistence on this earth can hold up only if they grow out of the deepest experience of everyone, not just some of us.”

Nationalism, multiculturalism, religion, and humanism can coexist in international relations as global conversation or global dialogue becomes priority before anything else. Thus, voices of dialogue, such as Hans Kung’s Global Ethics, Muhammad Khatami’s Dialogue of Civilizations, Anwar Ibrahim’s Global Convivencia, need to be provided a greater space in public discourse and world politics. There are also World Peace through World Law and World Order Models Projects (WOMP). In these theses, there is a positive escape from self-absolutism which negates the others, which drives a healthy skeptical epistemology. There is also a will to be self-critical that avoids cultural imposition and military aggression, that paves the way to pluralism, which in turn leads to global coexistence and peace.

Humanity has been created to form tribes, races, nations, religions, and other identities, whose differences in physical characteristics, languages, and modes of thought are but the means for the purpose of lita’arafu, to borrow an Islamic term, meaning “getting to know one another”. Exchange and dialogue become an imperative at a time when the world has shrunk into a global village. For it is a pre-condition for the establishment of a global coexistence and peace, a harmonious and enriching experience of living together among people of diverse identities. Clash of identities can be diminished by a conscious attitude in order that they could coexist and cooperate in resolving common world problems such as terrorism, poverty, and environmental disaster.

Strengthening Communities of Noble Purpose
Nation and religion are part of communities. Despite the multiplicity of meanings of “community”, it is a sense of membership to a group either based on place or based on purpose. Community of space is a collectivity based on place (village or city, island, country, region, continent, and so forth), but community of purpose is more based on a common purpose with a shared vision, mission, interest, or hobby. Internet has shaped the creation and development of such communities of purpose, through mailing list, website, blog, and so forth. Travel has also conditioned the greater access to knowledge and experience among individuals.

From 1960s to date, the East-West Center has recognized national identities (food, dress, life style, language), but has promoted interchanges, dialogues, and cooperation among them. For many international participants in the East-West Center, nationalism has become even stronger abroad than they are in their home countries. Exchange of ideas and experiences, exchange of food and dress; national boundaries remain recognized, but this recognition does not preclude the respect of other boundaries. Of course they are still those students who fail to respect other cultures, languages, religions, and nationalities, but the vision of the building of Asia-Pacific Community has continued at least to broaden ethnicities and nationalities to a wider region, which is Asia, the Pacific, and America. The extent to which such mission is successful will depend on how the EWC management, teachers, and the participants are able to connect their particular identities and moralities not only to their nationalities and ethnicities, but to the Asia-Pacific region and more broadly to a global citizenship based on shared humanity norms and values as well. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and for the Asia-Pacific region, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum, among others, are regional forums that should serve as communities of space but more importantly communities of noble purpose, in improving the welfare of the people in these regions, thus helping to improve the wellbeing of the people in other parts of the world.

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