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22 décembre 2006 5 22 /12 /décembre /2006 00:00


Recently, Indonesia has made the headlines of international media because of the massive demonstrations, which took place in Jakarta in order to support or denounce the draft of anti-pornography law. To Western viewers, the Indonesian society appeared highly divided on the issue whether Islamic values and moral standards should shape the national policy of civil rights. This anti-pornography bill aims at banning public kissing, ‘erotic dance’ or salacious –for instance sleeveless- dresses and preventing women from walking in the streets without being accompanied by a male relative. We can wonder whether the current debate on the anti-pornography law reveals a deep change in the Indonesian society. Has reached a turning point that will lead it towards an Islamization of society and politics? Has the country shifted (and if yes, when and how) from a traditionally tolerant and syncretic Islam to a new fundamentalism demanding the implementation of shariah and very strict moral rules? In order to answer these questions, this paper will first give a short overview of the historic tradition of tolerant Islam in , trying to overtake this cliché and to understand where the main trends that have shaped Indonesian Islam come from. It will raise the issue whether  Islamic fundamentalism has always come from the Middle East to or if they were local forms of extremism. Secondly, it will focuse on the current radicalisation of a minority of the population, embodied by the anti-pornography project, and show how it bears upon the society and politics. Eventually, it will concentrate on the moderate Islamic stream in , and the reasons why one should not be too pessimistic about the evolution of the Indonesian society in the short term. 


In a comparative worldwide perspective, is often considered the most tolerant of the Muslim countries, which is all the more encouraging since it is the most populated Muslim country in the world as well. Without regards to the fact that an overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, minority religions like Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism found relatively harmoniously a space in the society. According to the 2000 census, there are 88.2 percent of Muslims in (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 6) and 9 percent of Christians. Eliraz underlines that non-Islamic superstitions and mysticism, as well as Hindu, Buddhist or animist rituals, play an important role in popular Islam in Southeast Asia, especially in (2004: 6). The religious folk culture is widely syncretic rather than orthodox. According to Eliraz, the syncretic “abangan” Muslims, grounded in indigenous traditions, represent two-thirds of the Muslims,  whereas the “santri” Muslims are a minority (2005: 74).  In a way, Sukarno himself, whose mother was a Balinese Hindu and father a Javanese Muslim (Dahm, 1969) embodied this Indonesian way of thinking, which incorporates elements of different mythologies and beliefs. Robert W. Hefner calls this phenomenon “clever cultural borrowing” (Eliraz, 2004: 23)  The popularity of Sufism is another distinctive feature of Islam in Indonesia, and shows “the preference of the people for a tolerant spirituality as opposed to the Islamic control of the state” (Ramage, 1999). As a result of this religious diversity, the ways of behaving and dressing vary widely too. An article published on bloomberg.com (2006) underlines the cohabitation of about 400 different ethnic groups across the archipelago, including the bare-breasted West Papuan women, and quotes Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, chairwoman of the university's Human Rights Study Centre, who wonders why Indonesia should have hundreds of customs and a single type of clothing for every citizen. The feminist activist Faiza Mardzoeki also emphasises the fact that the Hindu Balinese’s traditional dress shows women’s bare shoulders and upper torso (2006).  Thus, the implementation of uniform shariah rules for the whole population would seem inadapted to century-old traditions. Yet, the will of a fringe of the population to implement shariah did not appear out of the blue in Indonesia.


Even though Indonesia is inherently a relatively tolerant society, it has been influenced by many religious movements coming from the Middle East, which sometimes brought radical ideas to the archipelago. Symbolically,  the Dutch scholar Snouck Hurgronje wrote in 1880, in Mecca, “here lies the heart of the religious life of the East-Indian archipelago”(Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 47). One of the most crucial of these movements coming from abroad reached in the early 19th century, when haji, returning from the Mecca pilgrimage, brought the Wahhabite concepts to the East Indies (Steinberg, 1987). They demanded a return to Islamic purity, according to the Middle Eastern standards, and the abandonment of gambling, drinking and smoking. A century later, another stream coming from challenged even more dramatically the domestic conceptions of Islam. Indeed, the Reformist movement  wanted to adapt Indonesian Islam to rational concepts and purify it from century-old obscurantist superstitions, and led to a confrontation between the supporters of syncretic Islam and the advocates of orthodox –but modern- Islam (Eliraz, 2004: 19). This movement was extremely influential across the archipelago and, paradoxically enough, was the ground which most current extremist Muslim movements originated from (Eliraz, 2004: 78), as well as the basis of a strong Islamic Modernist stream. Later on, turned out to play a major role in the diffusion of a fundamentalist ideology in , notably through the funding of NGOs, schools and mosques, and appointing of imams (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005). For instance, the Indonesian Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences was established in 1980. Most of the teaching staff is Saudi with a “Wahabist-salafist orientation”, which makes them hostile to the local Indonesian culture (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 57). The emergence of a salafi current in cannot be disjoined from the direct and indirect Saudi influence, which for instance leads a small but growing part of the Indonesian Muslim community to adopt a traditional Middle Eastern dress code (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 6). Thus, for two centuries, most of the extremist and intolerant Islamic streams that developed in were rooted in Middle Eastern influences. Nevertheless, some purely domestic concerns can also contribute to explain the current trends towards radicalisation.


It cannot be denied that influences from overseas have widely shaped radical Islamic movements in Indonesia. Notwithstanding, it would be caricatural to underestimate the weight of local historical factors in the evolution of Indonesian Islam. For decades, the status of Islam in the state and the demand of the implementation of Islamic law have lain at the heart of the public debate –when a public debate was allowed. In the early 20th century, the members of the Modernist movement yearned for being governed by Islamic law (Eliraz, 2004), shariah rather than “adat”, or local law. In 1945, a large part of the Muslim organisations considered the removal from the constitution of the sentence obliging the Muslims to abide by the shariah as a setback. Several currents never accepted to abide by the laws of the secular Pancasila system, which implied to treat equally all the recognized religions (Eliraz, 2004: 71). Between 1948 and the early 1960s, the Darul Islam Movement tried to maintain an Islamic state in West Java through extremely violent means. Bubalo and Fealy underline that it had an “absolutist” view of the world and thus considered any Muslim who did not want to live under Islamic law as apostate (2005: 86). This movement inspired the Islamic rebellion of Aceh  and is the main source of  political inspiration for the current fundamentalism, according to Eliraz. Moreover, even the so-called moderate Islamic streams have sometimes stirred up intolerance and violence against the non-Muslims. For instance, in 1965, the youth wing of the conservative Nadhatul Ulama actively took part in the slaughters of communists and people affiliated to them (Brown, 2003: p199). Thus, for decades, a significant  minority of the political Muslim movements have wished to live under the authority of the Islamic law rather than a secular state and have not hesitated to take up arms to achieve this purpose. It has never been durably achieved and Eliraz emphasises that  “even in pre-modern times neither the courts nor the ulama exercised an effective monopoly of power over the moral [...] life of the Muslim community”(2004: 23). However, this fundamentally domestic debate between the supporters and the disparagers of the secular Pancasila philosophy is still burning in the Indonesian society.

 This short historical overview reveals that is traditionally a relatively tolerant society, although it is a society in which the status of the majority religion has never been totally solved. During the 20th century, outbursts of violence and religious intolerance where linked either to the influence of Middle Eastern radical ideologies or to purely domestic factors. Nowadays, a growing fringe of the society turns to Islamist radicalism. More generally, Eliraz evokes a “santrification” of a part of the urban Muslims and the fact that more and more women wear the veil in santri communities (2004: 77). Public displays of devotion to Islam become more common (Steven Drackeley, 2005).The salafi literature, mostly coming from Saudi Arabia and often anti-Semitic or anti-Western, encounters a growing success and a large diffusion (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 62).These books seem to be all the more popular since they provide pieces of advice related to Islamic orthodoxy in daily life. Yemenis, or people of Yemeni descent,  play a prominent role in radical Islamic groups, as religious leaders, for they often present themselves as model of piety and Islamic orthodoxy (Eliraz, 2004: 62).  The Indonesian salafi groups, like Yayasan al-Sofwah and Wahdah Islamiyah, funded by Gulf countries, remain relatively small, because they are  very exacting as far as the quality of their members is concerned, but their social influence goes past their size (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 75). This ideological stream, which opposes any form of religious innovation and demands the implementation of shariah, bears upon the society through vigilante groups such as the Defenders of Islam (Barton, 2001: 85) and its anti-vice raids. Some radical movements, like Laskar Jihad, also stir up religious tensions across the archipelago by training militia men and sending them to areas where clashes with Christians take place (Barton, 2001). According to a survey carried out by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Society in October 2005, among 2 500 Indonesians,  71% of the population thinks that the government must make obligatory the implementation of shariah. All these relatively new trends, which have developed for fifteen years in Indonesia, cause the journalist Sadanand Dhume to be very pessimistic about the future of his country (April 2005). He notices that “the majority [of Muslims] is either acquiescent or besieged”, while the radical fringe is growing rapidly. Indeed, the radicalisation of a number of Muslim worshipers in the world’s most populated Muslim country is alarming.

The causes of this radicalisation are relatively easy to identify, however complex. They are undoubtedly linked to the concentration of uprooted population in sprawling urban centres and to globalisation.  In fact, urban middle-class Muslims are primarily concerned by this radicalisation. Eliraz (2004: 70) lists the conditions that galvanize the flourishing of fundamentalism in Indonesia, including cultural bewilderment in big anonymous cities, fading away of traditional institutions, anger at the corruption and enrichment of the ruling elites,  and of course economic hardships, such as unemployment, since the 1997 financial crisis. Thus, the santrification and sometimes religious radicalisation provide urban young people with a way to find new benchmarks.  Through the concept of “new jahiliyya”, the fundamentalist movements turn Western modernity into a scapegoat, held responsible for all the problems faced by contemporary Indonesia. According to Eliraz, this concept targets “impious Western societies” that do not respect God’s sovereignty anymore (2004: 32). These movements denounce homosexuality, adultery, gambling and alcoholism as vices of the modern westernized society (Eliraz, 2004), like their Wahhabite predecessors of the early 19th century, who accused gambling at cockfights of being un-Islamic. Paradoxically, salafist and other radical groups are very good at using the new technologies, especially the Internet,  to spread their anti-modernist ideologies. Bubalo and Fealy consider that mass communication has been a deciding factor in the growing influence of radical Middle Eastern Islam in (2005: 48). Thus, educated urban Muslims use the modern media in order to connect to global networks providing information about Islam –and the conflicts in which Islam is involved, from Palestine to but at the same time worry about the influence of globalisation on . Mustofa Bisri, a cleric member of the Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the attempt to push the anti-pornography law was a manifestation of panic from Muslims who are “so worried about globalisation and are unable to deal with it that they are resorting to speedily passing this law” (Mardzoeki, 2006). The draft of anti-pornography law can be considered the outcome of this combination of economic, geopolitical, technologic and demographic factors.

The content of the draft of anti-pornography law is alarming as far as the civil liberties, the freedom of the press and above all the rights of women are concerned. It would notably make public kissing on the mouth punishable by five years in prison and “erotic dancing” by ten years. (BBC, 21 May 2006). In brief, any kind of  depiction of nudity in the media and the arts would be banned (Bloomberg, 10 May 2006). If it is voted and enforced, it will curtail artistic freedom and jeopardize ancient traditions, like erotic poetry, and maybe “lead to a massive puritanical purge of Indonesian cinema, television, and photography”, according to Faiza Mardzoeki and Max Lane (2006). The law would also endanger the tourist industry in Bali , where Western tourists laying on the beach in bikinis revolt Islamic puritanism. The governor of Bali , a mainly Hindu island, has threatened to secede if the anti-pornography law is passed (Bloomberg, May 2006). Thus, the law endangers the fragile unity of as well. For the moment, only the province of Aceh incorporates shariah into federal laws for Muslims and uses shariah courts, in the framework of a 2002 agreement on autonomy (Bloomberg). However, during a demonstration of about 100 000 supporters of the law in May 2006, some demonstrators called for the Islamic law to be imposed in the whole country (Ghani, May 2006). Sadanand Dhume (2005) underlines that some local governments have taken the first steps toward the implementation of the Islamic banning of the sale of alcohol and ordered schoolgirls to wear the headscarf. Some towns also have instituted a curfew for women and some of them were arrested and fined because they were out at night (Mardzoeki and Lane, 2006), which reveals that some aspects of the law forbidding women to go out without their husband or a close relative is already enforced in some areas. Symbolically, the Indonesian Wahhabi-inspired parties opposed Megawati Sukarnoputri’s election, because she was a woman (Eliraz, 2004).  Thus, the women would be the main victims of the generalization of these bans nationwide, even if some of them took part in the demonstration to back the anti-pornography law, shouting that "Pornography can destroy nation's morality" (BBC, May 2006). The freedom of the press would decline too, since the law would seem to approve of the behaviour of the angry mob which attacked Playboy’s office in Jakarta in April 2006 and forced the editor to stop the publication of the relatively prudish Indonesian edition of the magazine (Perlez, 2006).  Almost all  Indonesian newspapers consider the bill as a threat for the country’s secularism (Bloomberg, May 2006).This debate undoubtedly reveals the existence of a growing fringe of the Indonesian population which rejects the concept of a pluralistic and secular state. Nevertheless, the anti-pornography law was first drafted in 1998 and has not been adopted yet. 

Parallely to these alarming trends, which draw the attention of most scholars and observers of the Indonesian society, the positive trends should not be underestimated. Radicalism is always more visible and more covered by the media than the moderate currents, however powerful and deeply rooted they might be. Paradoxically enough, the flourishing of radical Islamic parties since 1998 can also be considered as an element of the democratic revival that followed the collapse of Suharto’s regime. Indeed, during Suharto’s New Order, the space of civil society and for instance campus activity was harshly restricted by the state (Eliraz, 2004). In the beginning of the 1980s, the Muslim political parties were obliged by the government to adopt the secular Pancasila ideology as their primary basis (Barton, 2001: 13), which of course implied the renouncement to an Islamic state. Coherently, the Indonesian civil society has been looking for new benchmarks and means of expression, often through Islam and sometimes through radical forms of Islam, since the end of Suharto’s rule. Steven Drackeley notes that the growth in conspicuous displays of devotion does not only involve Islam but Christianity as well (2005: 170). He considers that this phenomenon is  “as much about identity politics as it is about spirituality”. During the New Order period, Suharto tried to depoliticize the civil society as much as possible and the current trend toward politicization of Islam may be part of the transitional period that follows 32 years of quasi-dictatorship. Finding a sound positioning for Islam in the society and vis-à-vis the political realm will not happen overnight, since the past hardly provides any pattern of balanced relation between politics and Islam in Indonesia. Barton underlines the positive role that Islam can play in the building of  a modern civil society in post-1998 Indonesia, through welfare institutions, NGOs, and above all a moral leadership for a bewildered population, in order to encourage democracy (2001). In a  rather optimistic way, he thinks that Islam can play this crucial role if radical conservative Muslims are kept “on board”, having contacts with the government, instead of being marginalized.  Thus, the notion of religious radicalisation should be handle with care in a country where religious freedom has been granted by the constitution more than fifty years ago but the state has tried to dominate and keep a strict control over Islam for nearly as long.


Furthermore, moderate Muslim parties have traditionally been very influential in and still are major actors nowadays. Eliraz emphasises the fact that is the only place in all of Southeast Asia where Islamic modernism remains a major, organized force” (2004: 20). Muhammadiyah has about 30 million members (Barton, 2001). Nahdlatul Ulama, the main moderate traditionalist movement in Indonesia, formed in 1926, has between 30 and 40 million members, which makes it the largest modernist Muslim organization in the world (Brown, 2003: 235). These figures reveal how massive the statures of these organisations are, in a country that counts about 190 million Muslims. These two movements have a major stabilizing effect on Indonesian Islam.  The much more recent radical or salafist currents cannot compete with extremely well-established mainstream organisations (Ramage, 1999). Muhammadiyah has been actively involved in the funding of educational and relief institutions for decades and has taken an active part in the promotion of women’s opportunity in the education system and employment (Eliraz, 2004: 22). In 2002, both NU and Muhammadiyah voted against the implementation of the Islamic law for the Muslims and the People’s Consultative Assembly rejected the proposal. Thus, these parties showed their attachment to secularism. Both of them are committed to human rights and religious tolerance. As a chairman of NU, Abdurrahman Wahid proved to be a very liberal and democratic leader, and even went to several times, advocating the recognition of the state by (Barton, 2001: 57). Moreover, Bubalo and Fealy underline that among the 30 000 Indonesian peasentran, or Islamic boarding schools, the proportion of jihadist peasantren is very low, less than one per cent (2005: 104). Thus, the influence of the liberal stream on the educational system is much higher. Under Suharto’s regime, the way Islamic studies were taught  experienced a relatively important change, through the formation of the State Institutes of Islamic religion. These institutes exposed religious leaders and intellectuals to other religions, secular concepts and various schools of law, instilling them with the notion of tolerance (Ramage, 1999). Nowadays, many pious intellectuals are still deeply influenced by progressive ideas. According to Eliraz (2004: 83),  Indonesia is the only Muslim country where fundamentalists are theologically challenged by such a deeply-rooted Islamic mainstream.


Besides, other political parties fill the gap between salafi extremists and modernist parties like Muhammadiyah. One of the most interesting parties, since it can dramatically influence the balance of Indonesian politics either  on the moderate side or on the radical side, is the PKS, the Justice and Welfare Party. This party, which was established in 1998 by students and scholars under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood (Fuller Collins and Fauzi, 2005), gathers moderate elements and more alarming components. Since the 2004 elections, when it got 7.3% of the vote (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 69), it is a political force to be taken into account.  According to Fuller Collins and Fauzi, the founders of PKS advocated the use of democratic means in order to establish an Islamic government and the movement is now deeply  divided between “those who seek power in order to achieve Islamic goals and younger idealists committed to Islam and democracy”. Paradoxically, the PKS is at the same time the party that put the highest number of women as parliamentarian candidates (Eliraz, 2004) and 30 non-Muslim candidates (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005) during the 2004 elections, and the main driving force behind the anti-pornography law. In brief, the PKS seems to hesitate between cultural and political Islam. It aims at forming an Islamic government but tries to attract a wide electorate, for which the motto “Islam is the solution” is no longer sufficient, according to Fealy and Bubalo (2005: 108). As a result, it lays the stress on social justice and uncorrupted governance. Bubalo and Fealy notice that the electoral share of the ‘hard’, anti-Pancasila, Islamic parties is growing, since they got 16% of the vote in 1999 and 23% in 2004, but that the parties which accept the rules of the parliamentary politics avoid to evoke publicly the implementation of shariah or polygamy. Moreover, in 2000, the PKS voted against the adoption of the Jakarta charter, which would impose the Islamic law on Muslim citizens  (Fuller Collins and Fauzi, 2005). Thus, it remains to be seen whether the intolerant anti-Western and anti-Christian trends of the PKS will become more and more influential or whether the party can move towards the middle ground (Bubalo and Fealy, 2005: 95). Even if the fact that it supports the anti-pornography law is alarming, the PKS’s involvement in parliamentary politics can lead the party to moderate its ideology. The law is unlikely to be adopted under its current form since the mainstream political parties are opposed to it, like the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and National Awakening Party (PKB) of former President Abdurrahman Wahid (Mardzoeki and Lane, 2006). However violent and worrying the current debate on pornography may be, it must not lead to underestimate the stabilizing power of the mainstream parties.


Thus, the Indonesian society as well as the Indonesian politics are at the heart of a transitional phase, in which citizens and political leaders are looking for new benchmarks. In this unstable context, the tradition of tolerant, syncretic and rather liberal Indonesian understanding of Islam is challenged by the flourishing of radical ideologies. The national debate which currently tears apart the Indonesian society reveals that radical anti-liberal ideas are more and more widely accepted. The demand of the implementation of shariah is not the privilege of an extremist fringe of the society any longer. A short overview of the history of during the 20th century shows that the issue of the status of Islam in the political realm has never been solved in a satisfactory way since the independence. A relative stability was only reached through the strict domination of the secular and quasi-dictatorial state over the religious parties. Since the collapse of Suharto’s regime, these parties have been flourishing and looking for an efficient positioning in politics. Among them, a growing proportion of parties is influenced by radical ideas, mainly coming from the Middle East . Nevertheless, their political appeal might be related to a desire of change and a rejection of the corrupted politicians rather than a radicalisation of the Indonesian population. The ambiguous positioning of the more and more influential PKS is emblematic of the destabilized situation of , hesitating between secularism and Islamic law. The adoption of the anti-pornography law, which the PKS supports, would surely lead to the deterioration of civil liberties in and stir up the tensions between communities. Yet, this national debate is also an opportunity for the moderate parties to exercise their moral leadership and prove that Islamic parties can be committed to democracy and human rights, especially the rights of women. The main challenge that now faces consists in managing to have a sound, democratic, parliamentary debate, which does not degenerates into violence or ethnic riots, and takes into account the interests of all the components of her blended population.

Photo : DR


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Pierre 02/11/2006 22:12

Tu ne trouves pas ça un peu aride quand même?