Politics, Religion and Identities in Indonesia

Wednesday, 16:30-18:30, 502





In search of religious knowledge: Pilgrims of learning from the Malay-Indonesian World in the Middle East

The Middle East has played for very long period a significant role in the narrative of the Islam in the Malay-Indonesian world. It is mainly manifested by generations-old process of transmission of Islamic knowledge and ideas, as well as Islamic oriented political trends and ideologies, from the former region to the latter. Salient in this process are “pilgrims of learning”, or seekers of knowledge who have moved westward from the Malay-Indonesian world to religious centers in the Middle East, the cradle of Islam, mainly in the holy cities of Mecca, Medina. Since late 19th century also Cairo, in particular the prestigious center of Islamic learning, al-Azhar University, also starts to stick out as very significant destination for pilgrims of knowledge from the Malay Indonesian world.

The talk aims mainly, through a broader historical perspective, to the characteristic of this phenomenon, its ramifications and the impacts it has have on the Islam the Malay Indonesian world, in particular on Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim community in the world.


Still Aliens? Changing attitudes towards the Peranakan Chinese of Indonesia

Indonesia prides itself for being one the world`s most diverse countries. Moreover, the "five principles" (Pancasila) of its state philosophy, that were written into its constitution by her founders, were supposed to foster an ethos of tolerance. Yet, in six decades of independence, Indonesians of Chinese decent were largely treated as aliens to Indonesia, and suffered state sponsored discrimination, lethal and non-lethal violence. Massacres of Chinese occurred during the Indonesian national Revolution of 1945-9, as an epiphenomenon of the anti-communist massacres of 1965-6, and most recently in 1996-8, towards the fall of Suharto`s New Order dictatorship. Unlike other conflicts that plagued the nation (Ache, Ambon, East Timor), the so-called "Chinese Problem" was not related to a specific region or to any certain religion. From the early years of the republic, the state`s attitude towards Chinese, including locally-born (Peranakan), was suspicious. Chinese Peranakan, for their part, responded in debating two main options for their collective existence: assimilation and integration. The first option – enforced by the New Order – meant losing virtually all characteristics of Chinese identity. The second one meant retaining essential elements of Chinese culture, while striving to fully participate in Indonesian public life. After 1998, democratization; the emergence of human rights discourse; negotiations over the new role of Islam in Indonesia; and the emergence of China as a regional (in fact, world) leader, led to changes in the way Chinese Indonesian see themselves and in the way the state and the general population treat them. This essay will survey and analyse these vicissitudes with an eye to the near future.


Islam in Indonesian Politics

Islam is the largest single religion adhered to by the bulk majority of Indonesia population, making Indonesia as the largest Muslim nation of the world. According to latest census in 2010, some 88.7 per cent of Indonesia's 236 million people are Muslims. Despite that religious demography, neither is Indonesia an Islamic state, nor is Islam the official religion of the state. In fact there are six religions that are recognized by the state: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

There is little doubt that Islam is a very important factor in Indonesian politics. Since the period of Japanese occupation in 1940s up until today, however, the position and role in Indonesian politics have been continually changing over times. It was marginalized during the late Soekarno and early Soeharto periods; but it regains its strength somewhat in the post-Soeharto era, even though it fails to control the Indonesian political landscape.

This paper is a revisit of Islam in Indonesian politics; struggles of Islam in changing political dynamics of the country. Particular attention is also paid to the relations between Islamic-based civil society and democracy and its role in the consolidation of democracy in the country.