Pluralism: practice what we preach

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We have just celebrated the 65th year of independence of our country, Indonesia. A country with robust economic growth through the 1980-1990s and a proven resilience during the recent global crisis; a country often praised for its stable democracy; and certainly, a country that gains global acknowledgment for its moderate-Muslim status and modernity.

Above all, Indonesia is also popularly cited as a country that is able to maintain its plurality and promote it abroad. Having read recent articles in newspapers regarding religious-based violence in Bekasi and Depok, as well as in many other provinces in Indonesia, it came to my mind: Are we really practicing what we preach?

Looking at the historical path of our nation, pluralism has always been in the corridors of our journey. We might recall the debate over the infamous seven words of the Jakarta Charter in 1945 which later ousted from the Constitution 1945. The spirit was, of course, that Indonesia is not based on a single religion and the message was though Islam is the majority, it should not dominate the society. Here the spirit of pluralism is already endorsed by our founding fathers. In the discussion of Pancasila that year, there was not a single principle could be used to justify the intolerance toward pluralism in Indonesia. On the other hand, Pancasila the need to respect others.

“Indonesia should be able to show the world that our democracy is indeed different.”
As a country upholding a constitutional democracy, claiming that state practice is based on the Constitution, Indonesia should remain conscious that article 29 (2) loudly stipulates that it is the obligation of the state to ensure the freedom of its citizens to pray and exercise their faith based on their individual religious belief.

“To ensure the freedom” is the key element here and as a democracy where pluralism is argued as an underpinning component, Indonesia should be able to show the world that our democracy is indeed different. Our democracy respects differences in society and is able to promote all pacific means to resolve tension emerging from these differences.

As a foreign policy student, I would consider this matter in the light of our diplomacy. As a member of the UN, Indonesia adheres to the spirit stipulated in the UN Charter that determines the faith in fundamental human rights, which according to our 1999 Human Rights Law article 22 states “everyone has the right to freedom of religion”.

This means that Indonesia recognizes that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. Our diplomacy has been marked for its consistency. As a member of the G-20 forum, we are consistent in bridging the voice of the developing countries and furthermore, in reforming the global economic institution in favor of the interest of developing countries.

Concerning the issue of the Middle East, we are consistent in supporting Palestine in its effort to gain independence. In ASEAN, we are consistent in promoting democracy and human rights. That said, we should also be consistent in promoting pluralism and reflect it in the conduct of our daily life. Foreign policy starts from home and if home can not be the house of pluralism, how can we best gain confidence in promoting pluralism abroad?

Obama said in his defense over the plan to build a mosque and Islamic Center at Ground Zero “…as a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.”

This statement, which came from a president of a country whose majority are Christians, seems to provide some light for minorities there. Though the US often praised us for our moderateness and modernity, it seems that from this angle, Indonesia should be more open to learning the meaning of pluralism from the US.

If the issue clearly gained the attention of President Obama, it remains a puzzle as to why the Indonesian president has not shown bold attention to the discrimination that has been occurring lately in many parts of this country. The question as to whether pluralism is nobly practiced in the society we live in also begs to be answered.

The writer is Hadianto Wirajuda, a PhD student at the International Relations Department, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London. The opinion expressed is his own

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