Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Friday, May 7, 2010
Symbolism matters. By most measures Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid was a disaster as Indonesia's president. Even Megawati's years of doing nothing appear a significant achievement in comparison with Gus Dur's chaotic 21 months in power as Indonesia's fourth leader.
Yet is it possible to argue that the almost-blind head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, who died last Wednesday, contributed not just more than anyone to Indonesia's nearly peaceful transition from the Suharto era, of which he was a part, to plural democracy. Even more important, he embodied a tradition of tolerance which is as essential as a common language to the survival of Indonesia, a nation which is not merely multi-religious but harbors a wide variety of interpretations of the religion of the majority.
His most obvious contribution as president to inclusiveness and tolerance was his ending of overt discrimination against Chinese people and language. But that was only one aspect of a career built on a profound belief in the importance of common values transcending religious divisions. Despite an unprepossessing physique, he was an effective leader because he combined several elements. He inherited leadership of the NU from his father and grandfather, and hence the quasi-feudal authority that went with the grass roots Muslim organization.
But he added to that true intellectual weight, a profound knowledge not only of Islam but of other religions and philosophies combined with an ability, learned through his years in journalism, to express himself simply and directly. And to those he added an earthiness to which people at large, be they peasants from east Java or politicians in Jakarta could easily relate.
The Gus Dur who loved retailing gossip about the sex lives of the first family was the same Gus Dur who was treated with reverence both by his fellow kiai - the religious leaders of Indonesian Muslims - and by attendees at international gatherings.
His failings were obvious too and rather typical of one born to high office. To those were added physical decline in the wake of his stroke and what amounted to almost an addiction to politicking which left friends and allies exasperated. If he had been directly elected as president, things might have been different. But he proved temperamentally incapable of managing the coalition of entrenched interests necessary when the presidency was the gift of the MPR, the country's fractured House of Representatives. His liberal views on separatist issues such as Aceh and Irian Jaya also contributed to his downfall - though in the case of Aceh they paved the way to a post-tsunami peace agreement.
His failures do not undermine his importance as religious leader and politician in keeping religion and politics separate and ensuring that mainstream Islam in Indonesia remained tolerant and plural, where religion was a matter of private conscience and where the secular state kept out of religious affairs - and vice versa. He also reconciled Islamic teachings with p a ncasila , Indonesia's amorphous, five-sided state philosophy of belief in one god, humanitarianism, national unity, popular sovereignty and social justice.
It was this belief in pluralism which enabled him to be a moderating influence in the latter Suharto years and play a central role in the democratic transition. That a nearly blind cleric who had already suffered strokes was elected president at all was a reflection of his symbolic role in a nation searching for a new basis for harmony.
Many Muslim-majority countries (not least Malaysia) could learn much from the liberal intellectual traditions which Gus Dur embodied. Indeed, the physical infirmity of his later years largely prevented him from playing an international role, providing a coherent and good-humored counter to the exclusivism and extremism displayed by religious and political authorities in countries as diverse as Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan.
The world, not just Indonesia, needs more Gus Durs.
Philip Bowring, a former editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review, is a founder and consulting editor of Asia Sentinel.
Source: thejakartaglobe.com | January 04, 2010Abdurrahman Wahid - http://gusdur.net © 2008
Thursday, January 22, 2009
More than 1,200 casualties, including hundreds of children, show that no one can be sure how long this catastrophe is going to last. It seems that the entire world’s eyes are pinned on what is happening in the Gaza strip day by day.
Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire. But does it mean a real end to the current conflict? Of course not.
No doubt these neighboring countries want to achieve a certain political goal, regardless of killing innocent civilians. Just how much do they want to show their anger and hatred toward each other?
There is not even one shred of justice shown, only animosity. In the Gaza strip right now, people are desperately waiting for the end of the war. In fact, it does not even look like a war.
Israel has blockaded the borders of the Gaza strip and the people of Palestine are subject to endless bombardment. Isn’t this a holocaust? Israel and other Western countries declare Hamas a terrorist group and are willing to attack them in the name of justice. How is there any chance, how is it even possible, to seek justice through waging war?
It isn’t, I guess. This repetitious international conflict means heartbreak and bloodshed for both Israeli and Palestinian. In addition, considering the current economic crisis, these two countries are choosing to be dragged down together.
I am very concerned about how much the trauma of war is going to affect people’s lives. I guess that physical scars can be healed and do eventually fade with time but the survivors of the war must feel shell-shocked for the rest of their lives. Above all, how can we make the children of Palestine put all the pain and memories from this meaningless war behind them?
Most people around the world may be busy celebrating New Year’s Day and wishing for a prosperous life. However this year, there is one more thing that we should put on our to-do list.
In addition to issues of nationality, religion and gender, we must think and decide how to educate our young children and protect them from this evil. I cannot even imagine what kind of future lies ahead if children are full of devastating images of this war.
The Jakarta Post | Wed, 01/21/2009 10:09 AM | Reader's Forum
Many ulemas may feel uneasy in facing appeals, including from the National Commission for Child Protection and from Minister of Health Siti Fadilah Supari, who have asked the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) to issue a fatwa (edict) declaring cigarette smoking haram. It is not an easy request as many ulemas are heavy smokers and the cigarette industry, directly or indirectly, provides great job opportunities.
What is the relation between cigarettes and a fatwa? Perhaps some people think there is none, but Indonesian discourse eventually shows the connection.
Let us move away from the controversial edict request and focus on the ethical role of religion in Indonesian society. It is true that smoking is very dangerous for human health, but is asking the MUI for a decree the right way to maintain human health?
In fact the MUI's fatwa-issuing history has had different degrees of impact. In some situations they were effective -- for other's, not.
The MUI's 1983 edict that birth control is permissible was perhaps the most successful fatwa in Indonesia Muslim society. This edict endorsed the government's promotion of birth control, against the opinion of some ulemas who prohibited the use of contraceptions and preferred instead that Muslims had more children.
Another powerful fatwa was the 2000 halal food labeling edict, including MUI's issuance of unlawful Ajinomoto (a brand of instant ingredient) with bacto soytone production processing.
There were also toothless religious edicts. Among others were its 2000 edict which prohibits female migrant workers from going overseas and another one in 2006 prohibiting short message service (SMS) quizzes. Although MUI has prohibited women migrant workers from going overseas without mahram (family man) or niswah tsiqah (trusted woman), the prohibition is largely ignored.
As seen by the recent increase in television programs using SMS quizzes (some Islamic television shows are also doing the same) as well as individuals, it appears this edict is also being ignored.
Will the cigarette edict -- if it is truly issued -- have a significant impact in the reduction of cigarette smoking in Indonesia? It is not easy to answer, but it is important to notice that not all of MUI's religious decrees are in fact an effective means for the public engineering of Indonesian Muslim society.
It's also important to note that the Indonesian cigarette industry provides many jobs. For example, Gudang Garam, a tobacco company in Kediri East Java, employs around 40,000 workers. A religious decree on prohibiting cigarette smoking will face a dilemma, i.e., support a health principle on one hand but work against social economical order on the other.
That is why, when MUI announced two weeks ago it would issue the fatwa, there were protests from tobacco farmers and cigarette companies. Tobacco farmers in Jember protested it due to loss of employment for farmers and workers in the cigarette industry.
On the same day, Garda Bangsa in Sumenep Madura, a youth wing of a traditional Muslim association, representing tobacco farmers in Madura, protested the proposed edict.
Issuing a fatwa prohibiting cigarette smoking without looking for ways to solve a possible unemployment problem exchanges one social problem for another one -- namely no jobs for many members of the working class.
The fatwa will provoke controversy within Muslim society itself. It is no secret that many kyais (traditional ulema) and santris (traditional pious Muslims) smoke a lot of cigarettes. If MUI issues the said edict, then the greatest challenge will be to change the smoking culture among the ulema themselves.
To an extent some local kyais and santris have economical connections with the cigarette industries as company owners or tobacco suppliers. In addition, the smoking tradition has been deeply rooted in Indonesian Islamic society for more than a century.
One last important point: It is a matter of fact that issuing a fatwa prohibiting cigarette smoking has become a popular trend in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other Middle Eastern Islamic countries. Therefore, perhaps we need to look at the relationship between this idea of issuing a fatwa and the current development of Middle Eastern "right wing" Islamic thinking in contemporary Indonesian society.
Perhaps what Indonesia needs is stricter law enforcement such as what is practiced in Singapore, rather than an edict declaring cigarette smoking haram.
The writer is a lecturer at the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies, Gadjah Mada University and a Ph.D. Student at Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Jakarta Post Friday, 09/12/2008