Religious pluralism in Indonesia: Harmonious traditions face challenges

19-05-2016

A mosaic of cultures, languages and religions, Indonesia shares not only the EU's motto (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity), but also many of its values, such as tolerance, pluralism and, since the 1998 downfall of former dictator Suharto, also democracy. With many other Muslim-majority states torn by conflicts and persecution of religious minorities, Indonesia stands out as an example of a country where different faiths are able to co-exist harmoniously. Despite this globally positive picture, there are some concerns about religious freedoms in the country. It is true that the rights of the largest minorities, such as the Christians and Hindus, are enshrined in primary and secondary legislation. On the other hand, blasphemy laws have been used to repress smaller minorities, and some recently adopted legislation reflects Islamic values. The wave of intercommunal violence which broke out after Suharto's downfall has since subsided, but occasional attacks continue against certain minorities such as Shia and Ahmadi Muslims. While the number of such incidents is very low for a country of Indonesia's size, they point to wider underlying intolerance. Over the years, the Indonesian authorities have not done enough to promote religious pluralism, sometimes showing bias against minorities. New president Joko Widodo made tolerance one of his priorities, and since he took office in 2014 his government has made some encouraging gestures. However, there are as yet no signs of real change on the ground.

A mosaic of cultures, languages and religions, Indonesia shares not only the EU's motto (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity), but also many of its values, such as tolerance, pluralism and, since the 1998 downfall of former dictator Suharto, also democracy. With many other Muslim-majority states torn by conflicts and persecution of religious minorities, Indonesia stands out as an example of a country where different faiths are able to co-exist harmoniously. Despite this globally positive picture, there are some concerns about religious freedoms in the country. It is true that the rights of the largest minorities, such as the Christians and Hindus, are enshrined in primary and secondary legislation. On the other hand, blasphemy laws have been used to repress smaller minorities, and some recently adopted legislation reflects Islamic values. The wave of intercommunal violence which broke out after Suharto's downfall has since subsided, but occasional attacks continue against certain minorities such as Shia and Ahmadi Muslims. While the number of such incidents is very low for a country of Indonesia's size, they point to wider underlying intolerance. Over the years, the Indonesian authorities have not done enough to promote religious pluralism, sometimes showing bias against minorities. New president Joko Widodo made tolerance one of his priorities, and since he took office in 2014 his government has made some encouraging gestures. However, there are as yet no signs of real change on the ground.