New Age Islam
Thu Nov 30 2023, 11:13 PM

Interfaith Dialogue ( 2 Feb 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Religious Conflicts and Civilizing the Civilians

By Khairil Azhar


Shortly after the proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945, a mob of Muslims hurriedly moved to Tugu Church in North Jakarta. They wanted to destroy the church since it was understood to be a symbol of colonialism during the Dutch era.

On the arrival of the enraged horde, a Muslim leader, Haji Usman, stood between them and the church. He sensibly took a risk, even with the possibility that he would lose his life. In the end, he climbed a ladder triumphantly. The mob cancelled its plans and dismissed itself.

Haji Usman simply said that euphoria should not be a reason to make a straightforward decision. The independence of a nation, as far as it is generically defined, must allow freedom to all parts of a society. There should even be understanding and clemency granted for all people who previously were categorized as the oppressors.

This Wednesday, almost 67 years later, along some streets and corners in Greater Jakarta, we could see banners that publicly invite us to attend a seminar entitled “Bahaya Desakralisasi”, the dangers of de-sanctifying certain Islamic understandings.

The existence of these banners is, however provocative in sense of religious diversity, guaranteed by the Constitution. They actually say: “be careful of other religions and their adherents and be more careful of other groups of Muslims with their double-dealing teachings.” It wants to say: “let us tell you the truest Islamic teachings and then join us for your good.”

In the name of democracy, especially in relation to the contests between groups in the public sphere, these banners and the seminar might mean the same thing. Yet, in terms of dissemination of religious hatred, it actually violates the sense of security of the victimized groups. Instead of promoting peace, the seminar is usually another repetition of how the majority materializes their afflicting understanding.

Unfortunately, nobody dares to stand up and question the banners and the content of the seminar.

On another side of a Jakarta street, across from Kalibata Cemetery for Heroes, there are three giant banners. We can see no dissemination of religious hatred. They only tell us that there will be a big Islamic event in a near future at the National Monument (Monas) involving Muslim youths, particularly native Jakartans (Betawi).

Yet these banners again represent the existence and “the dignity” of the majority. They assert that the public sphere is becoming the sole property of those who are, religiously, of mainstream and those who are fortunately legalized by the state. We will never see any banners of the afflicted minorities speaking of their own activities, even though many of their ancestors might also be buried at the Cemetery for Heroes.

The unfair contestation over the public sphere, which can alternate with religious violence, will endure as long as there are no referees fairly managing the game. The state, which we should be leaning on in a democracy, despite its multiple institutions and functionaries, also seems so powerless in the face of the majority because of political issues, vested interests and other reasons.

One of the more pragmatic alternatives is, of course, having a stronger (or braver) civil society. All willing proponents of civil society must keep asserting their voices to shape “official” public policies.

However, in the seminar “Police, Civil Society and Religious Freedom”, held in Jakarta on Wednesday, we could unfortunately see how civil society itself seems to have loosened its grip after the 1998 Reform. The relentless violence in the name of religion reflects the failure to establish “a civilized society” and, therefore, “civilized state functionaries”.

The police, subject of much of the blame, would actually play a more pivotal role in the hands of the state if our society had more power to pressure them to act as they should.

Regardless of their many weaknesses, what can the police do, for example, when 30 religious leaders have united to call for the expulsion of Shiites in Sampang, Madura? What choice do they have when a ruling party conversely wants something different from what the constitution and its derivatives stipulate?

Hundreds of figures like Haji Usman are badly needed. Society needs people who really come to comfort the afflicted in a civilized fashion instead of comforting themselves with the suffering of others. We might, for example, need them to police the police forces.

In the time being, we somehow have to depend on existing religious organizations and their influential figures. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, despite their internal theological disputes related to “blasphemy”, must help to police the frauds in our society. At least then we can see them play important roles in the “religious game of violence”, without any more blood being spilled.

While we are hoping that a critical juncture in our history will happen soon, civilizing ourselves and people around us is another alternative.

Can we, for example, initiate a discussion with our workmates over coffee or with our families at a dinner table about how the future of the children of the Ahmadis in Lombok and the Shiites in Sampang, due to unnecessary religious conflicts, is in jeopardy because they can’t go to school?

The writer is a researcher at the Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.

Source: The Jakarta Post