The Role of Religion in Indonesian Democracy

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Alwi Shihab

Special Envoy to the Middle East and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Indonesia

Azyumardi Azra

Advisor to the Indonesian Vice President; Former Rector of State Islamic University in Jakarta

Amin M. Adbullah

Advisor to the Sultan and Governor of Yogyakarta

Jakob Tobing

President, Leimena Institute; Former Ambassador to South Korea, Republic of Indonesia

Katherine Marshall

Senior Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University

Jakob Tobing, president of the Leimena Institute and former ambassador to South Korea; Alwi Shihab, the Indonesian president's special envoy to the Middle East; Azyumardi Azra, advisor to the Indonesian vice president; and Amin Abdullah, advisor to the Sultan and Governor of Yogyakarta, discuss the role of religion in Indonesian democracy. Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, moderated.

MARSHALL: Well, good afternoon. Let’s get started.

I’m Katherine Marshall from Georgetown University. And we have an extraordinarily talented interreligious delegation that’s been traveling the world to reflect with us on Indonesia, which all of us know is a critical country for the world, and also for some of the specific problems that we’re encountering in addressing the links between religious beliefs, religious institutions, and matters of stability, but also of growth and development.

This meeting is on the record. And I would remind you, as we always do, please turn off your cellphones so they don’t interfere with the sound system.

We’re going to spend about half an hour in a conversation among the panel members reflecting both on their visit on this rather extraordinary day, where we have fresh news from Jakarta, and then also on some of the broader questions that the delegation is addressing.

You have the biographies of all of the members of the team. Ambassador Jakob Tobing is known as one of the founders of Indonesia, with an extraordinary history. Dr. Alwi Shihab has held many different positions over his life, and is a renowned expert on the topics we’re addressing. Dr. Azyumardi Azra is a distinguished scholar and practitioner—which I think is a characteristic of the whole delegation; they are clearly people with long history of involvement in public affairs, but also deeply committed to scholarship. And, last but by no means least, Dr. Amin Abdullah.

Let me start by asking Ambassador Tobing if he could give us some context of the visit that you’ve been undertaking. You’ve been on the road for several months, and you’re not through.

TOBING: Not several months. (Laughs.)

MARSHALL: For a long time. (Laughter.)

TOBING: One month. (Laughs.)

MARSHALL: What is the purpose of the visit? Where have you been? And what are—what are the highlights?

TOBING: Thank you, Katherine.

So thank you for this—arranging this meeting. We appreciate it, and we like to convey our sincere gratitude.

We have been in Europe—in London, Berlin, in (London ?), in Paris, in Lyon—and then we are here. So we’ll be traveling until the second week of next month, I mean around the 10th of May.

This is a joint initiative of the Islams and Christians peoples to introduce to the world the compatibility of our democracy with this inclusive Islam, as well as inclusive nationalism and our national insight. We would like to consolidate the strategic factors that we are having, among others the middle-path Islam and our inclusive nationalism, which is—had proven to be, you know, very important in establishing our democracy, but also is being threatened, being penetrated by the radicalism, the sort of belief of extreme Islamism as, among others, represented by the ISIS, which has not only happened in Indonesia, but actually is a global phenomenon.

Maybe I can start with the last election in Jakarta yesterday, which was won by Anies Baswedan and which sometimes or usually is perceived as representing the Muslim side of the political map and Djarot as representing the more nationalistic side. Yeah. One thing that I would like to say, this is democracy at work, and someone loses and someone wins. And it also showed that there are several factors at play, sociocultural, socioeconomic and socio-religious. But on the other hand, it showed that we are in negligence in consolidating our democracy, especially the side of rule of law.

And here, from sociocultural side, you know, yeah, the—(inaudible)—seems to be figures like Muhammad Ali, the fighter with the big mouth, but had, you know, achievement—very successful fighter, but a big mouth. In Indonesia, culturally it’s not—(approval ?) is not acceptable. And from the socioeconomic, the discrepancy of, you know, the poor and the rich is also at play. But don’t forget there is another factor in play also, which is the hands of these hardliners, yeah, and the Salafist-style people who want to prove that they have some say in this country, as well as those who belong to the old power who want to make revenge. I think that’s also one of the purposes of our trips, how to work together to handle these kind of weaknesses in our democracy, especially in our middle-part Islam.

As you know, almost 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, makes it the largest in the world. However, we are the third-largest democracy in the world, which proves the compatibility of Islam and democracy. But it should be noticed from the beginning that Islam in Indonesia is different from the one usually we can see in the other areas, very, very tolerant, try to maintain a sense of the teachings and practice it in the context of local cultural, for instance, I think, is one. And we would like to build an interfaith cooperation so that Islam would not be generalized as ISIS. There is another and the largest Islam in Indonesia, which few perceive as this is the more beautiful Islam.

And also, how to build capacity to counter the narratives of this all, because with this revolution of digital technologies, the dissemination of these ideas is so deeply penetrating, especially the youth. And in the midst of this decadent life that’s brought forward by this information system, the materialism, hedonism on one side, and the injustice and the discrepancy of poor and the rich, the youth are, like, provoked and they have to answer a call and they are prone for this kind of provocation. You are the one that is expected by the world to overcome this and the radicals offer a kind of black-and-white solution, quick and, to some extent, justifying anything, including the suicides. So we would like to establish cooperation, both in ideas and also in the (hardware ?) side of these things.

I think that’s some of the ideas. Thank you.

MARSHALL: Thank you.

Well, maybe we can turn to Dr. Azra and ask for a reflection on what you think the election yesterday means in a religious narrative, in a religious sense, and how it relates to the issues that Ambassador Tobing is raising about, you could say, struggles within Islamic communities as well as the broader issue of religious tolerance as a facet of democracy.

AZRA: Thanks, Katherine.

And a very good afternoon, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

First, I think, as Jakob just argued, that what happened in Indonesia yesterday was democracy at work, whether you like it or you don’t like it. Of course, I wrote an op-ed in Kompas, the largest newspaper, the day before in which I suggested that this is, the local election, provincial election in Jakarta, I think, is one of the—I think the last, the most, the bitter, you know, among the two camps, Ahok and Djarot on the one hand, and Anies and Sandiaga Uno on the other. So that’s the problem with democracy, I think. Democracy, of course, is not a perfect political system. Democracy has its limits. That’s the problem.

So, on the way to this meeting with Dr. Alwi Shihab, we—(inaudible)—I think we need to rethink about what in Indonesian tradition, in the fourth pillar of Pancasila, musyawarah and mufakat. Musyawarah is deliberation to achieve consensus, probably. And of course, in the last few years, more and more people speak, have been discussing the idea to reintroduce deliberation for consensus. So this is the problem.

But I think, of course, we cannot simplify what happened. We cannot put these two sides between Islam on the one hand and nationalists on the other, because I hope, again, I think something, like 46 percent of total vote. We can be certain that majority of the vote comes from Muslims, including, of course, NU, Nahdlatul Ulama, in Jakarta also supported Ahok and Djarot. Islamic-base political party, we now have two Islamic-base political parties. One is United Development Party, Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, that actually has split into two camps. This cannot be resolved for, I think, already three years, the split, but the defection within United Development Party also supported Ahok and Djarot and, of course, NU in Jakarta and many other NU.

So I think this is, of course, related, as suggested by Jakob Tobing, this is actually a contestation between and among various factions and also related to Jakowi, of course, yeah. Because the main sponsors of Ahok and Djarot candidacy was Prabowo, you know, Prabowo is the chairman of Gerindra Party, a former son-in-law of Suharto, and yesterday people already talk about the possible running again of Prabowo in the next presidential election in 2019, yeah, 2019, yeah.

MARSHALL: Well, Dr. Abdullah, perhaps you could comment on how you see the trends within Indonesian religious circles, and particularly Islam. What does this tell you? Were you surprised by what’s come out? And how do you interpret it in a broader sense of the changes taking place, either with education or with opening to the world with the social media, which was mentioned?

ABDULLAH: Yeah, thank you, Katherine. Really, we are confronted with the new era in our civilizations because of those media. The social media, as we know, together creates not only the benefit, but also many things that confront us with many complexities, like what happens in Egypt, for example. In that time, in the Arab Spring, all Arab Spring also motivated by social media. So in that case, we, Muslim in general, now very aware that we are confronted with the new challenges of teaching religion in the classical or conservative or whatever way is not enough. It’s not enough.

We have also the middle path of Islam, the moderate one. We have to think and also maybe we have to put in the new way how to respect our moderate positions, our middle-path positions of religions. If not, really, the complex challenge by those youth who are able to us the media, social media, and all we who are in the old generations, who we do not have capacity to use the social media, so this alarming actually, very, very alarming. How can we modify, how can we introduce the new way of introducing this type of middle Islam, if you like, or moderate Islam, in the easiest way via social media? And it seems it’s very, very rare, very seldom found. The war between ideology, so this type of middle path of Islam, it seems left behind, left behind comparing with those new youth who are using social media and connecting all their followers. So it is alarming for me. Thank you.

MARSHALL: Dr. Shihab, as you’ve gone from country to country where so many are confronting these issues around fundamentalism, radicalization, so many different terms, what has been your sense of global Islam and how Indonesia plays a particular role, which I think is part of the ethos, the spirit of this effort?

SHIHAB: Thank you so much. Actually, I was prepared to continue the question of the election in Indonesia also, but let me start with your question.

I think Indonesia has been commended and praised to be a model of compatibility of Islam and democracy, respect of religious communities by Muslims, by the majority, and also commended to be a smiling Islam, friendly Islam in comparison to the angry Islam in the Middle East. However, all these commendations are today being challenged by the penetration of radical ideology based on the sincerity of those who brought that ideology to the world as well as to Indonesia, sincerity in terms of trying to correct the practices of Islam in order to bring back the purity of Islam. But in that effort, through that effort, sometimes it confronts with the decades-long or centuries-long practices of Muslims, let’s say in Indonesia, for example, which brings about tension.

Indonesia, with two large Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama, founded in 1926, and Muhammadiyah, before that, founded in 1912, they have been and continue to be the bastion, the guardian of smiling Islam in Indonesia. Only recently, and this is because of global factors, political, social and also ideological, that Indonesia is being confronted by a certain ideology, Islamic ideology or school of thought which sometimes disturbs the existing practices of Islam in Indonesia. This is our challenge. Indonesia should counter this through a systematic way. I think we have been trying to contemplate and reflect the best way and means to counter this impressive and, in a way, destructive ideology for Indonesian Muslims. I don’t say that this ideology is wrong, I can only say that it is not suitable for Indonesian Muslim.

This is today’s challenge of Indonesia, understanding Islam through a narrow lens and a rigid textual understanding, they are sincere to convince the Muslim that this is the right way to practice Islam. So whenever Muslim in Indonesia is complaining about anything, about political, social, economic factors, then they would say because you are practicing wrong Islam. And therefore, come to us, practice the right way of Islam, and you will prosper.

So this is our challenge in Indonesia. And we are here today, also would like to discuss how we could cooperate, because once this ideology or school of thought permeate Indonesia, it will not only affect Muslims in Indonesia, but also affect other communities of faith, because this school of thought is far-removed from the Indonesian societal values of respecting other communities of faith to the extent of mingling together without any feeling of tension. So this is part of our challenge today.

Now, let me go back to the election. As we know, Islam in Indonesia occupies a significant position in its policies, political discourse, and the clear point in this case is the election of the new governor of Indonesia, Anies. So many people would try to reflect what is the factor or the factors of the factors of the defeat of Ahok, while almost 70 percent of the people of Jakarta, the voters, recognize his achievements. So, you know, automatically, in other words, the achievement of someone—of the incumbent will lead him to be reelected.

But why? The supporter of Anies—Anies is a good friend. And from Arab descent like myself, so I have an affinity to him. The supporter of Anies successfully employed the people’s psychology and the deep-rooted sentiment against Ahok, not as a person but as an ethnic group as well as a non-Muslim. So this kind of employment of this psychological factor lead people to refer Anies than Ahok, even though he was successful in—as a governor.

Why? The fact that most supporter of Anies are prominent Muslim scholars—I don’t say all, because some of prominent Muslim scholars are also on the side of Ahok. Knowing that Ahok got almost 44 percent, meaning that mostly Muslim who also voted for him. But the majority of Muslim, especially the grassroot Muslim, are influenced by the preaching of those Muslim scholars, Muslim leaders, by saying that the Koran says that you—to be a good Muslim, you have to have the preference of your leader a Muslim. If you are not abiding by this principal, it means that you are disobeying God. You can imagine so many people are trying to be pious, to be in close connection with his and her God. This is one.

Second, non-Muslim and of Chinese origin. I think everybody knows that deep-rooted negative sentiment against Chinese for the grassroot are in place. Why? Because they see that most conglomerates in Indonesia are of Chinese and Christian origin. So the people, the grassroot, feel that Anies is on the side of the poor while Ahok is on the side of the rich. Anies also successfully convinced the grassroot especially that he will try to do justice to close the gap between the rich and the poor. So this is part of—and this is—this has to do with our history—Indonesian history during the colonial era. During the colonial era, the Dutch put three categories of citizen. One is the colonial, what, rulers and elites. Second is ethnic Chinese, ethnic Indian, but not ethnic Arab. Arab ethnic is part of the third group, who is the inlander or the native.

So deep-rooted negative sentiment against the—those of the second level, which was given preference by the Dutch, still alive in the heart and mind of the grassroot. So I think this is part of the answer for that. Thank you.

MARSHALL: Thank you. Lots of questions on the table. I’m going to open it up. But first I wanted to see if Ambassador Tobing could just quickly comment on two sort of obvious questions. The first one is, as you’ve traveled I’m sure people have asked you about the Indonesians relative success, but also continuing challenge, against radical, violent elements. And sort of do you have a simple answer as to how you’ve dealt with that? The second question is Indonesia is very well-known in the world for many of its policies, including on gender equality, on family planning, et cetera. And we hear that there are reactions against that, associated in part with decentralization, but also with the—with the discourse, the tensions you’ve described. And I wondered how you would present that.

TOBING: Yeah, I think as short as possible.

MARSHALL: Yeah, because we want to open it quickly.

TOBING: Yeah. I think for the first question, is it’s the way of life for the Indonesian people. The cultures of the mainstream of Indonesia, whether it is the Japanese, or the Sundanese, and other tribes, except some certain tribes that tends to very emotional and impulsive. But most of us are, you know, very meek and then very tolerant. I think it’s rooted in that. And, yeah, to some extent the new open global information and way of life may have impacts to our lives. And you know, on this issue of, like, gender equality and et cetera, I can say that our civil society’s quite developing so many activists in many area. And they are from the several backgrounds, not only from one religions or one ethnicities. And from the beginning, in the early 20th century, we have already many leaders—woman leaders, for instance like Kartini, Raden Ajeng Kartini, or so many that can be followed by others as the sample of how actually this gender equality will bring development and, you know, progress to the country. I think that’s in short.

MARSHALL: So you don’t see a reaction against it?

TOBING: There is, but not significant.

MARSHALL: Well, we’re going to open it up. In the time-honored tradition, you put up your tents. Remember, this is on the record. And if you have an urgent and very short follow up, two fingers if the tradition. And please introduce yourself. So let’s start.

MARTIN: I’m Paul Martin. I teach human rights at Barnard College.

And the two sort of points I want to underline and ask your thoughts on—it took me—it is—to what degree is the problem more economic than religious, because one of you mentioned youth. And what we’re looking at as a worldwide phenomenon now is massive flows of youth taking great risks to richer countries. And so the question is, is Indonesia sort of not quite there yet? It’s not so bad, so—but there’s huge flows from Philippines, huge flows from Africa, huge flows from the Middle East to richer parts of the country. So the question is, though, how is that addressed in Indonesia? I mean, how are young people going to have the prospect in Indonesia of being able to have a house, have a wife, and sort of live peacefully there, rather than feeling they have to migrate?

MARSHALL: Would someone like to pick that one up? Here, Azyumardi.

AZRA: I think this is a very important question. Indonesia is fortune to—is very fortunate to have steady economic growth in the last 15 years, I think—15 years or so, between 5 to 6 percent a year, annually. You can observe—it is quite observable the rise of particularly Muslim middle class—Muslim middle class. I think due to demography reality, that almost 88 percent of Indonesia’s total population of 255 million is Muslim, you can also assume most of this Indonesian middle class is Muslim. And I think the rise of Muslim middle class has contributed to—I think to improve, or to strengthen, to mend social cohesion—social cohesion.

So if you talk about how youth getting married, for instance, have their house, for instance, now still in Indonesia their parents provide—you know, provide house for newly married couple. So this is what we call in Indonesia, that’s why you don’t see actually mass migration of Indonesians overseas, because I think this is true not only for the Japanese, but also for Indonesian or other ethnic groups. The principal, you know, (eating or not eating ?), the Muslim modern thing is that we get—we always together. So the sociology—family sociology in Indonesia I think is different from U.S. In the U.S., if you completed your—complete your senior secondary, going to university, and then you have to move out from your family. Is it true, still true? It used to be true. (Laughter.) Because life is getting harder, probably. But not in Indonesia, you know. You know, so, like, most family, like, including—(inaudible)—we see, for instance, we still take care of our son or daughter, or granddaughter and son, you know, in one single house, like myself. So I think this is social cohesion.

And I think Indonesia is different. Indonesian Islam is different. This is one distinction of Indonesian Islam. Indonesian Islam, I think if we refer to classic work of Clifford Geertz on “Religion of Java,” he said that Indonesian Muslim love to do—to have selamatan. You know selamatan is religious celebration, religious gathering, you know? While, of course, this religious gathering have been accused by the Wahabis, the Salafis as bidah, unwarranted innovation.

Now we have, you know, many kinds of celebration—religious celebration. I think this is also related to the improved economy. For instance, if somebody goes for pilgrimage to Mecca, or lesser pilgrimage to Mecca, and then we have what we call Walimatus Safar, celebration of traveling. If somebody—if our boy is circumcised, yeah, and then we have what we call Walimatu Khitan, you know, celebration of circumcision. So there is a lot. This, I think, strengthens social cohesion—social cohesion. And in Indonesia—I think if we talk about unemployment in Indonesia—I don’t know how, 11, 12 percent of total population—but it is very difficult to find a person or people who do not have—who don’t work at all. Indonesia, we have people what we call pauga (ph). You know pauga (ph). Pauga (ph) is somebody who try to—try to—

SHIHAB: To help the traffic.

AZRA: To help the traffic, and that get probably small change, like—small change, small change. Something like that. And then we have pongason (ph). What is pongason (ph)? Pongason (ph) is street—

SHIHAB: Musician.

AZRA: Street musician, you know, many of—if you go to Jakarta, you can find it, this ponagangason (ph), and, you know, selling at back of cigarette or something like that. So this is—this mentality of Indonesian cohesion. But still, if we—if the government failed to address the problem of discrepancy, economic gap between the rich and the poor, I think Indonesia has quite a—you know, I set it as a time bomb for social revolution—social revolution. Actually, we are—we are fortunate this year, early this year. President Joko he said we have now two most important challenges, two enemies. The first one is rampant corruption. We have to fight against rampant corruption. The second is the increased gap between the rich and the poor. We have to address this. Otherwise, you know, there could be a social revolution.


DUGAL: Ah, thanks. Thank you, very much. My name is Bani Dugal. I represent the Baha’i International Community to the U.N.

And I originally come from India. And I had a wonderful visit to Indonesia a few years ago. And I could see very much the evidence of the blending of the cultures, and I felt most welcome while I was there. I also had the opportunity to visit the Ministry of Religious Affairs. And while, you know, the beautiful principals of Pancasila welcome all religions, all people, the Ministry has the six distinct departments for the religions. And then everyone else is under the “other” category. The problem with that is the personal and civil rights of some of the minorities are not recognized in the same way. And I was wondering if you could share a little bit of where you think and how you think that this issue might be resolve in the future. Thank you.

ABDULLAH: OK, thank you very much. Constitutionally speaking, Pancasila, as you mentioned, puts Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholics—Catholication, and also Protestantisms on equal level. There is no such term like vimi (ph), protected minority, by the government in Indonesia. So this is actually—we treat all the, what do you say, minority—we treat the minority in equal level. There is no such kinds of discriminations. So that’s the results of the constitutions that we have. And in that time, the founders of the constitutions—there are nine or 10—yeah, nine persons. Seven of them honestly—seven of them are Muslim. Two or three of them are Christians. But they are agree—they are fully agree that there will be no discriminations in Indonesia, whatever its means. So I illustrate that this is constituently speaking, we are on the safe ground on that issue.

Nevertheless, of course, in the—in the ground—on the grounds, the interpretations of these constitutions, also very, very diverse, OK? It depends on the intellectuals and the spiritual leverage of those people on the ground. So combination—the combinations and the dialogue between those, between the state and the people on the grounds, is very, very—very, very important to say. So, yeah, hopefully we will have these short explanations, especially you come from Baha’i, for example. We have a forum in Indonesia of Baha’i, Christians, and Muslims, dialogue each other. Even with those people like Ahmadiyya, like Shia. But again, there is a problem because of this transnationalism movement coming from outside. But culturally, Indonesia is very, very—they accept—they accept all those minority people. It is sorry to say that it is very, very pity because of this transnationalism, so getting worse. Thank you.

FRADO: Thank you. Dennis Frado, Lutheran Church representative at the United Nations.

My question, I think, has somewhat been touched on, both by Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Shihab, but I wanted to pursue it.

Our experience as Lutheran churches—that Lutheran churches in Indonesia in recent years has been, of course, that there have been occasional attacks on the churches and even on some of the congregational members. And being aware of Pancasila principles and being aware of the situation of economic disparity, it would appear that some of the people who are the perpetrators of this may be doing it for reasons that related to economy, sociology, and so forth. But when it happens, it’s sometimes given the label of radicals of, unfortunately, Islamic origin.

And so I was curious to know, first of all, why are the local government officials not trying to curb this, inasmuch as it exacerbates tensions between Christians and Muslims, I would say unfairly, but why don’t they go after some of these—those involved in sort of gang activities, I guess you could say? Is it because of some of those things you mentioned about the tensions and the gaps and that the local officials are really not willing to engage, but rather see this as a way of letting off tension?

I’d like to hear your comments on the situation. Thank you.

ABDULLAH: I just want to give you an example of what was happening in one of the municipality, in Bogor. The mayor of Bogor is a Muslim intellectual from one of Islamic party; you know, national one?

TOBING: National Mandate.

ABDULLAH: National Mandate Party. He was criticized because he sometimes condoned something which is not in line with the constitution, they’d say what you are complaining. The problem is he and many others are acting for political expediency. He needs their votes for the election, the upcoming election. So most of them—not all, of course—most of them—and this is the case in point in Bogor, because I know his friend from the party criticized him strongly that you are from this party; you’re supposed to protect the minorities, the church, and everything. But this phenomenon is quite usual now in Jakarta—in Indonesia.

TOBING: Yeah, maybe I will make some comment, but more in a broader respect. What we have achieved in Indonesia is all this constitutionalism has been in the constitution, like human rights, the basic rights, freedom of religion—freedom of belief, including freedom to—you know, even Baha’i, is one of the basic rights that’s non-alienable. This is—(inaudible)—and many other things.

Our challenge is to implement it. That’s the problems. While in many of these places, the challenge is how to have it as constitutional law so that we are in a different level. And there is a case; maybe reflects other story about what the reverend has just raised. In Bakassi, in West Java, a Catholic church has given this license to build the church, and they built the church. And then the mobs comes, try to (destroy ?) it and to stop it, to halt it.

And the reverend, the head of the district, appeals Muslims, said better you shot my head; I will not stop this. That’s another story, on the other hands, like the one that happened.

So we are in this process of—but we have had this in formal way, at least. That’s my—some of my comment. Thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you all very much. It’s been wonderful to hear your thoughts, especially on the election.

My question has to do with what many of you brought up is the guardians of the middle Islam, the guardians of moderate Islam, are the two big institutions, organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. I want to ask you what you think is going to be the—what happens in NU in particular now that this election is over, given that the head of—the spiritual head of NU, the Rosam Ma’ruf Amin, actually said again and again and again that Muslims cannot, should not, vote for non-Muslims, and was very involved in the mobilization of the Islamists and anti-Ahok movement.

So my question is, as you guys are thinking about how to go forward and you talk about the transnational penetration of intolerant ideas, what are your thoughts about what to do about NU? It seems like it could fall apart, actually. This is quite a big rift. And what do you think are the prospects for healing it? And then how does it go forward?

Thank you very much.

MARSHALL: Who’d like—

TOBING: Actually, you—(inaudible).

AZRA: I will start, and then you also elaborate.

Yeah, it is unfortunate that NU, Nahdlatul Ulama, has been in turmoil, internal turmoil, since the last congress two years ago in Jombang between two factions, actually, two sides. The current general chairman, Aqil Siradj, on the one hand, and Salahuddin Wahid and the late Ahmad Muzadi, Hasyim Muzadi on the other.

Of course, the case of Ahok created—create, you know, more turmoil within NU. But I don’t think that NU will—as you said, will fall apart, will broke into pieces—break into pieces. I don’t think so, because NU put a lot of—has a very long tradition of respecting clerics. So there will be special cleric—special cleric call—(inaudible)—yeah?—(inaudible)—that will keep NU alive.

I think last Monday had a meeting also in Surabaya. But I think, of course, NU should have some kind of internal consolidation even though the NU will still exist, we believe, because this is not new. This kind of internal turmoil is not new. During Abdurrahman Wahid, the late Abdurrahman Wahid, particularly during Suharto period, in early, I think, 1984, yeah, when Gus Dur brought—actually brought—returned the NU into the so-called “khittah 26,” the—what is it?

TOBING: Spirit.

AZRA: The spirit of 26, the founding spirit of NU. And Muhammadiyah is in a better position, the second-largest, I think, because the vice—Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also NU, said that NU is like holding companies that have some kind of—many franchises. Anybody can speak his or her mind, while Muhammadiyah has quite strong central management, central leadership.

SHIHAB: Yes. I think it is wrong to say that if Ma’ruf Amin say something, it is on behalf of Nahdlatul Ulama. There is a very prominent NU scholar and considered to be one of the patriarchs of NU today alive, Mustofa Bisri. He was supposed to be the head of—yeah, but he was not very much enthusiastic to get the job or to get the trust from NU because of the strong and heated argument between the two factions.

So Ma’ruf Amin was taken from the side to be the head of Nahdlatul Ulama. Now, when he talk about that, he was as—not as the head of NU, but was the head of MUI or the Ulema Council. And you know, Mustofa Bisri and many others requested to dissolve Majelis Ulema because their latest stance was not reflecting most Ulamas of Indonesia. And everybody knows that the infiltration of the so-called hardline ideas within Majelis Ulema is known by everybody. So NU is in good shape. And because of NU, the church being protected.

MARSHALL: Let’s take the remaining questions, because we’re coming towards the end. You—and did you—did you put yours down? No, that’s what I’m saying. The two—the left and the right, and then you. We could take the three questions at once.

CARROLL: Yeah. Adem Carroll. And one of the programs I work with is Burma Task Force. But I’m not going to ask about the Rohingya or forced migrants and refugees in Indonesia so much. I wanted to go in a different direction since a lot of the discussion today has been about maintaining pluralism, managing and fully implementing pluralism.

I was wondering, because my reference point is the U.S. system, I guess, so is there a separation of faith and state in Indonesia? And, if so, how is it implemented? Is there tax laws? Are there certain restrictions on preachers because the guardians were talked about? And I was curious if there were any restrictions on that. And then, just to add on to that, do the main parties—do the main parties differ in the way they address that? I don’t know the difference in their economic programs or their social programs, but I’m curious how they deal with pluralism.


ALI: Thank you so much. This is not a question rather than it is—(inaudible)—a very brief comment.

I thank you when you opened the discussion saying that Indonesia is a very critical country. Yes, it is. I think, in many ways, Indonesia is not well-known in America. I’m an Indonesian. I’ve been here for more than two decades. I’m an interfaith activist.

And just to give you an illustration, that sometime when I go to universities and I say I’m an Indonesian, people just keep quiet for a moment. When I say I do represent the largest Muslim country in the world, they say are you from Saudi Arabia? So thank you so much for acknowledging Indonesia is a very crucial country.

The interfaith that we are engaging at the moment in Indonesia is not new. On practical level, they have done that for many, many centuries. Christians and Muslims live together without knowing either they are Muslims or Christians. They are helping one another building houses of worship—until recently, because of that penetration from outsiders.

So I am still remaining—I’m—I keep hopeful that Indonesia will remain Indonesia that I knew before.

I think the last point, because of the time, is—you know, oftentime when you talk about Indonesia, we are very much willing to connect between what is happening and the religion. When we talk about America, sometimes we don’t care about religion. And let me just tell you this. Indonesia and America are very much similar. Indonesia is not a religious state, even though religion is very, very important. It is rooted in our heart; similar in America. America is a secular country, but it’s very religious country. So I can see that similarity between the two countries.

But when you talk about what has happened in the election in the United States, nobody talk about religion. We don’t talk about what Donald Trump are doing. Is it Christians or not? But why, when you talk about election in Indonesia, we are very much connecting it into religious life of the people?

I see here this kind of unfairness sometimes, that when you talk about the Muslim country, we are blaming the religion because of the mispractice of the political people, of the politicians. But when you come to some other countries, including United States, we don’t connect that to the religion. And you see what Donald Trump is doing to the Muslims, for example.

So this is just my concern as an Indonesian living in the United States. Thank you.

MARSHALL: Last, but not least.

EVERETT: Maybe least; I don’t know. (Laughs.) It’s just an expression of concern as an American. Always, in discussions with the allegations we’re against Islam—they want Sharia law; they want a caliphate; you know, all of these kinds of allegations—and we who didn’t go along with that would say, listen, it works in Indonesia. Indonesia was the shining light. I’m concerned now that this will become grist for the mill of those anti-Islamists.

MARSHALL: So we have this question, which I’m—are you the constitutional—

ABDULLAH: Yeah. (Laughter.) Yeah. First of all, I’d like to say a little bit of our type of democracy. Sometimes it’s categorized as liberal democracy. But I would like to emphasize that we are not a majoritarian democracy. We are a basic-rights democracy, or we say—we sometimes mention it as constitutional democracy. There is supremacy of the constitution. So it’s not the majority will be the final say in everything, but the principles in the constitution.

For the (propose ?), we also have this kind of constitutional court that have the authority to test the constitutionality of every law. But as I mentioned before, we are still struggling how to put it into practice. That’s our challenges. And, as Mr. Shamsi Ali mentioned, we are not a confessional state, neither a pure secular state, because religion (has ?) and respected. It’s fairly high and honored positions as the sources—not the source, but the sources of our values, of moral ethics and spiritual.

The problem is how to translate it into instrumental policy. The state is not in a position to say this is religious, this is not, but to facilitate some kind of dialogue so that, through this dialogue, we can exert the values—the sense of these religious teachings into, like, justice, economic development, those kind of things. And it’s quite challenges, but also promising, I think. And, of course, we need an atmosphere of—you know, that can support this kind of dialogue. It cannot be done in an oppressive way, even like benevolent authoritarian and those kind of thing. It cannot work with that. We need the very free, but we need a deliberation.

I think that’s my comment on these issues.

MARSHALL: Well, thank you very much. We’ve sadly come to the end of the allotted time. And we’ve had, I think, a rich discussion about a very critical set of issues for an important country at a very special moment.

So we wish you well on your complex tour. (Applause.)


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