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Celebrating and protecting pluralism in Indonesia

Celebrating and protecting pluralism in Indonesia

Published: November 24, 2010
Young people posing around a table

The Jogja Peace Generation in Kosher Bihalal.  See fullsized image.

Photo: AFSC

“Unity in Diversity” is Indonesia’s national slogan. As a sprawling archipelago with more than 300 ethnic groups and a majority Muslim population with significant religious minorities, pluralism has been characteristic of Indonesia since its inception as a nation.

Yet pluralism in Indonesia has also increasingly been under attack by a rising tide of religious fundamentalism. This extremism draws anger and energy from the perception of international events.  Fundamentalists in Indonesia often cite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the treatment of Palestinians, and most recently threats by American pastor Terry Jones to burn the Koran as rationales for their activities.  

A map of pluralism

In response to recent incidents of anti-Christian demonstrations and violence in Jakarta, AFSC Indonesia initiated discussions with long-term partners – Jogya Peace Generation (JPG) and the Center for Peace and Security Studies at the University of Gajah Mada (PSKP-UGM). These discussions resulted in a celebration of pluralism attended by 70 people, including representatives from 15 Yogyakarta-based organizations.  After the celebration, AFSC Indonesia is working with and supporting JPG and PSKP-UGM to map pluralism in Yogyakarta.

This map will detail which organizations are working on pluralism in the area, what resources have been allocated, and what activities are being implemented.

The results and mapping model will be disseminated at the AFSC supported Peace Generation youth gathering in mid-December which will be attended by youth, who themselves will represent a striking diversity. Youth are planning to attend from:

  • Yogya, which is considered the cultural capital of Indonesia and very pluralistic;
  • Aceh, which is known for its long struggle for independence, the 2004 tsunami and most recently for implementation of sharia law;
  • Ambon, which has a recent history of severe communal and interreligious violence; and
  • West Timor, which is still recovering from the effects of conflict over East Timor’s independence.

The hope is that this mapping model which emphasizes youth involvement, will be adopted by the other AFSC supported youth groups for utilization in their own areas, resulting in multiple local maps of pluralism which can be compiled to provide a diverse and representative perspective of pluralism in Indonesia. The mapping results will also inform discussion of what Peace Generation youth can do to promote and protect pluralism in their different locations as well as what can be done together as a larger youth network.

The Peace Generation youth gathering is also planning to invite youth activists from the forcibly closed Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) of Pondok Timur Indah in Bekasi and GKI Yasmin church in Bogor, West Java, as well as a youth member of the beleaguered Muslim sect Ahmadiyah, to share their experiences.  This will help illustrate the threat to freedom of religion and tolerance in Indonesia.

According to Indonesian Vice President Boediono, responding to this threat is imperative, stating, “We must loudly reject radicalism and return to the original agreement of the founding fathers of the nation.”