Religious intolerance in Indonesia (Endy Bayuni)

The Jakarta Post’s chief editor Endy Bayuni speaks to Jim Middleton about religious intolerance in Indonesia.

For several years Indonesia suffered terribly from Islamist terrorism with a series of serious bombings killing hundreds.

Now that problem appears to be under control, but it’s not being matched by a decline of religious intolerance in Indonesia.

Religious minorities have been subject to violent attack from Muslim hardliners.

Endy Bayuni is chief editor of the Jakarta Post.

JIM MIDDLETON: Endy Bayuni welcome to the program.


JIM MIDDLETON: A simple question first. Just how serious is the problem of religious intolerance in Indonesia? Is it getting worse?

ENDY BAYUNI: Yes, it is on the rise. I think it is one of the biggest problems that Indonesia is facing. We’re a democracy, we have a lot of freedom of expression, freedom of the media, freedom of association; but I think when it comes to freedom of religion, Indonesia is failing in living up to the expectation or even to the letters of the constitution.

JIM MIDDLETON: Why is religious intolerance increasing in Indonesia which has become so much wealthier since the end of the Suharto era? Intolerance is not normally a feature of increasing prosperity.

ENDY BAYUNI: Yes. I wouldn’t say this is the dominant view, but it just seems that the intolerant groups in Indonesia seem to be – they’re more prominent, they’re more aggressive, and they’re getting into the news. And unfortunately, they also seem to be getting away with some of the violent acts that they have conducted against the religious minorities.

JIM MIDDLETON: You see this as less a question of religious conflict, more a contest between conservative and liberalism. If that is the case, why is religion the actual battlefield?

ENDY BAYUNI: I would separate between the two. And it’s the confrontation between Islamists. One is the political battle, right? And here we include the political parties and the radical Islamic groups; I would also include the terrorist groups. They’re trying to impose their political views on society.

But there’s also a battle going on between people with conservative views and people with liberal views and this has nothing to do with politics. This is the kind of cultural war that’s going on, I guess, in Australia, in the United States, in Europe, in most modern societies. People have conservative views and religion is very much part of that view, but it is not necessarily confined to Islam. I would put within the conservative camp even my Christian friends, who can be even more conservative than many Muslims.

JIM MIDDLETON: Does part of the problem go back to the initial election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president in 2004 when he had to rely on the support of religious parties to win office? Is that part of the problem?

ENDY BAYUNI: Well, that’s the reality that in Indonesia I think between 15 to 20 per cent of voters would give the ballot papers to the Islamist parties. And so they are a minority, but these Islamist parties manage to be part of the coalition governments under president Yudhoyono in the first term and again in the second term since 2009.

So it is a reality and although they’re a minority, but they are using their power, the clout that they have, quite effectively to push some of their Islamist agenda. And this is reflected in the policies of president Yudhoyono.

JIM MIDDLETON: Fifteen to 20 per cent you say, but to what extent do the views of Islamic conservative reflect those of mainstream Indonesians?

ENDY BAYUNI: Like I said, we have to distinguish between the political views and the cultural views. The cultural views are the views about Islam as being the religion of the majority and, therefore, some of the values should be reflected in policies. Some of those actually are shared by the mainstream Muslims who do not necessarily vote for Islamist parties in the elections.

When it comes to politics, the Islamist parties, for example, they want the imposition of the Sharia or Islamic law across the board, nationwide. Some of the Islamist parties also, you know, have the agenda of turning Indonesia into an Islamic state some day. Those views are not necessarily shared by the majority of the Muslims in Indonesia who would give their votes during election time to the more nationalist secular parties.

JIM MIDDLETON: You’ve said it’s up to the forces of liberalism to fight back. To what extent are you seeing that happening in Indonesia at the moment?

ENDY BAYUNI: Well, the liberal camp in Indonesia, they’re scattered. They’re not as well organised as the conservatives. Sometimes when they need to fight back, they would actually join forces and then fight for their interests. And we saw this happen during the big debate over the pornography law back in 2008, there was a big debate, and the original version of the law was very, very influenced by the conservatives. Even to the point that the law would regulate the way we dress and would also – could effectively ban many of the artistic expressions. So the women’s organisations and the artists’ organisations and some of the religious minorities organisations, they joined forces in fighting against the passing of this law and they managed to actually water down some of the contentious articles. And eventually the law was passed, but not in the same version that was originally proposed by the conservatives.

JIM MIDDLETON: Endy Bayuni, thank you very much for your time.

ENDY BAYUNI: Thank you, Jim, my pleasure.

Source: Australian Network


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