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Can Indonesia Preserve Its Religious Tolerance?

DW Documentary

May 27, 2020

Indonesia is considered a model state for diversity and tolerance, but there are increasing indications that Islamists are gaining more influence in the most populous Muslim country in the world.

Far more Muslims live in Indonesia than in the Middle East. The archipelago is made up of more than 17,000 islands and home to 270 million people.

Following the end of the brutal Suharto dictatorship in 1998, Indonesia became a model for a democratic Muslim majority state. But in recent years, Islamist groups have gained influence. 

The report begins in Aceh. It is only here, in the northernmost province of the island of Sumatra that a rigid interpretation of Islamic Sharia law applies - including public floggings. The reasons for the humiliating punishments are manifold: sex before or outside marriage, alcohol consumption or homosexuality.

A growing tendency towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam is also noticeable in other parts of secular Indonesia. More women are wearing headscarves in public places. The Niqab, the face veil, is becoming increasingly popular. Members of minority groups feel marginalized.

"Unfortunately, Indonesia is not immune to the worldwide increase in intolerance”, says politician Yenny Wahid.

The daughter of the first elected president after the Suharto dictatorship stands for cosmopolitanism and represents a liberal view of Islam. She, too, has observed a slow Islamization of her homeland and the tendency of politicians to make concessions to radical and populist groups.

Student activists blame the corruption of the ruling class for growing radicalism and undermining diversity. 

The documentary "Indonesia - Diversity Under Threat" asks whether the country can preserve its religious tolerance.


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