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Sectarian Clashes Are Tearing Us Apart
Nicholaus Prasetya | August 09, 2010
The signs for religious harmony in Indonesia have not been comforting of late. On Sunday, there was another attack on a small Christian congregation in Bekasi, part of a pattern of attacks in the area linked to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and designed by the group to prevent supposed “Christianization.” Two weeks ago, the hard-line Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) clashed with local groups in Rempoa, South Jakarta. In Kuningan, West Java, the Ahmadiyah sect has been the target of another wave of attacks by supposed purists enforcing religious correctness.
It seems to be getting harder to settle differences here peacefully.
A multitude of tribes, religions and ethnic groups make up Indonesia.
This is the reality that gave rise to Pancasila as the founding principle of the country and an expression of unity and a hoped-for utopia of religious diversity.
This utopian principle now finds itself under attack by intolerant attitudes and also miscommunication between different tribes, religions and ethnic groups.
Instead of communicating with each other, they seem to want mass organizations and pressure groups to enhance their exclusiveness, in the process fragmenting Indonesia.
There are two questions to discuss. First, is achieving true religious and cultural peace nothing more than a utopian and impossible dream?
Second, is Indonesia now witnessing the death of Pancasila and the finishing off for good of our national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity)?
Communication — or miscommunication — is obviously one of the many aspects of this crisis. In any given situation, it can ease tension, mediate conflicts or just make things worse.
The philosopher Jurgen Habermas said that as long as we freely communicate with each other we will one day agree across religious and secular lines about what true values are and how to deliver them.
This obviously involves allowing the values of one’s religion to be freely expressed while respecting the views of others.
Sadly, as we see from these recent incidents, there is a wide gap between those who are in conflict. Their exclusiveness has become a defining characteristic.
Hard-line groups, which seem to feel that their principles are the “right” ones and the others are “wrong,” should be abolished.
In fact, these conflicts could be eased by better communication and dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect.
Unfortunately, this has been lost and the widening divide between opposing groups cannot easily be bridged.
The reason for the hardened lines are the rejection of dialogue and the inability to keep tempers in check — as long as these attitudes exist, real communication is impossible.
Given the dire risks to a society founded on an ancient principle of tolerance (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika has its roots in ancient Javanese culture) it is imperative that organizations prioritize communication instead of holding to presumed ideals that only lead to more conflict.
Beyond communication, there is the role of Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika in the life of mass organizations.
These should form the basis of unity and organization.
Their purpose is not to restrict or impede the democracy that has been developing in Indonesia, but instead to prevent the country from fragmenting.
Indonesia’s founding fathers built this nation to ensure its firm foundation as a state, not to see it disintegrate into quarreling factions.
With both Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, they tried to engage society as a whole.
The warnings of former President Sukarno that our main struggle might be internal seem to be coming true. This is happening, as the clashes and tensions clearly show.
Since there are no longer any colonizers to blame, Indonesians attack and kill other Indonesians.
“The principle of live and let live and our motto, Unity in Diversity, are the unifying forces that bring us all together,” Sukarno said during a conference in 1955.
The country’s founding president called for “friendly, uninhibited discussion, [and] ways and means by which each of us can live his own life, and let others live their own lives, in their own way, in harmony, and in peace.”
We are forgetting the meaning of such words. The religious conflicts tearing at the fabric of society clearly show that Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is losing its essence and Indonesia risks being torn apart.
It is imperative that mass organizations use Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika as living and guiding principles, not just as state emblems or subjects to be memorized by schoolchildren.
In this conflict, the Indonesian government cannot avoid responsibility.
The government needs to have the courage to act decisively and to disband those mass organizations that make chaos and base their brutal actions on views that contradict Indonesia’s founding basic principles.
Unfortunately, the current reality is that the government lacks the will to take these steps.
Often, destructive organizations are not banned, and indeed have been able to flourish under our democratic framework.
But democracy in Indonesia needs to be guided by good communication and the framework of Pancasila — something currently lacking.
If the government cannot take responsibility for stopping these religious and sectarian clashes, speculation will continue to grow as to whether the government is encouraging organizations like the FPI to sow chaos.
If the government does not want this kind of speculation, it must act to protect minorities who suffer persecution and to punish groups that oppress others.
In addition, being decisive in enforcing the rule of law, the government should also be a mediator and facilitator of dialogue and understanding in order to stop these destructive clashes before they happen.
Nicholaus Prasetya is a student at the Bandung Institute of Technology.