Thursday, December 31, 2015

Don’t take identity for granted

Dyah Widiastuti, Jakarta | Opinion | Sun, August 23 2015, 6:21 AM

The recent visit of UK Prime Minister David Cameron to Indonesia highlighted Indonesia’s importance in dealing with extremism and multiculturalism-related issues.

During his short visit, Cameron engaged in exclusive talks with two separate groups — representing different generations — to learn about Indonesia’s experience in responding to religious extremism, at the symbolically selected Sunda Kelapa Mosque in Central Jakarta.

Yet there is still little discussion and coverage on how these talks could be equally beneficial for Indonesia. There are five things that Indonesia can reflect upon and gain from this occasion, as the republic turned 70 last Aug. 17.
For at least the past 10 years, Indonesia, notably its diplomats, has been working hard to promote this relatively new identity worldwide.

First, state visits like that of Cameron can amplify the voice of tolerance throughout Indonesia and the world. Indonesia is a diverse country with a long history of tolerance and multiculturalism, thanks to the founding fathers’ brilliant invention of the state ideology, Pancasila.

However, the Indonesia Democracy Index, for instance, shows that from 2009 to 2013, many threats to freedom of religion and beliefs across the provinces came from society, instead of from the state.

The media often exacerbates this situation by blowing up coverage of certain incidents without sufficiently providing room for different stories.

Thus, an occasion where a world leader seeks insights from the champions of tolerance and moderation is a great opportunity to strengthen the voice of tolerance.

Second, Cameron’s visit exposed how Indonesia’s young generation is working on various paths to promote tolerance and moderation. His five invitees at one of the talks represented different backgrounds and different methods.

On ideology, there was the Ma’arif Institute which promotes ideas regarding Islam in the framework of Indonesia.

The Muslim Students’ Association (HMI) represents a nationwide student organization known for producing members with open-minded Islamic values.

The Peace Generation has published books to educate children to understand and adopt values of peace. reflects Indonesia’s effort to make Islam more friendly and inclusive with up-to-date Muslim fashion.

My group, SabangMerauke, works to produce young “peace ambassadors” across Indonesia by providing opportunities for youth to join exchange programs to experience tolerance and diversity.

The various forms of activism, which reflect only a small chunk of the whole picture, are a source of optimism on Indonesia’s future as a multicultural nation.

Third, the visit provided an opportunity for Indonesia’s young like-minded groups to network and collaborate among themselves and with international actors.

Fourth, this occasion reinforced Indonesia’s unique identity as the world’s largest Muslim population and the world’s third largest democracy.

For at least the past 10 years, Indonesia, notably its diplomats, has been working hard to promote this relatively new identity worldwide.

Cameron’s choice to learn from Indonesia is an important reminder that the world has perceived Indonesia as a nation with rare success in building a mixed identity, Islam and democracy.

Often taken for granted by many Indonesians, this fact should also be a source of gratitude, because the success in building this mixed identity has arguably been one important factor that enables Indonesians to be devoted and tolerant at the same time.

Finally, this occasion revealed Indonesia’s potential to share with the world. Being 70 years old is still young for a country.

Nation-building will still take a long time. However, Indonesia’s current achievements in managing certain issues show that we can share our experiences with the world.

For the past few years, Indonesia has been active in interfaith dialogue, knowledge sharing or exchange programs to expose our experience to improve democracy throughout the Reform Era, from the time when analysts predicted Indonesia would break up as “the next Balkan”, until today.

Sharing our lessons and experience with the world also helps us, reminding us to stay on the right track.

The writer is a cofounder of SabangMerauke, a youth exchange initiative to promote tolerance, and was a participant of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s talk with Indonesian youth representatives in Jakarta.

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