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Ding Gang: Secularism key for Indonesian growth


By Ding Gang    Source: Global Times    Published: 2016-11-9


Tens of thousands took to the streets of Indonesian capital Jakarta in a massive demonstration against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama on Friday last week after accusations of blasphemy. Clashes broke out between police and protesters, leaving one dead and several injured.

Earlier, Purnama criticized his opponents for using references to the Koran to urge the public not to vote for non-Muslims. Muslim hard-liners led by Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) demanded Purnama be prosecuted for insulting Muslims.

As an ethnic Chinese descent and Christian, Purnama`s identity is quite sensitive in Indonesia. In the world`s most populous Muslim nation, Christians are relatively vulnerable to being attacked by extremists.

It seems that the event is closely related to the election and is an attempt by Muslim hard-liners to control the nation`s politics. But in nature, the protests showed conservative Muslims` strong reactions to the course of secularization in Indonesia.

Purnama is in the minority. His being elected as governor shows that ethnic boundaries are blurring in Indonesia`s societal life. This, however, has squeezed the traditional political and economic space for Muslims and their social position.

In many Muslim nations, secularization in political and social fields brought by globalization and modernization is being resisted by hard-liners and extremists. The resistance becomes more intense amid the sluggish world economy, and can easily turn into dissatisfactions and hatred against minorities.

After the Jakarta protests, many Chinese worry that the massacres the country saw in 1965 and 1998 may reoccur.

In late July, riots broke out in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, and at least 14 Buddhist temples were burned down. As a result, many local Chinese fled to Malaysia or Singapore.

The conflicts between Muslims and Christians are also frequently seen in Indonesia. Chinese Indonesians only account for about 3 percent of the total population, but 70 percent of them are Christians.

Southeast Asia is home to a great deal of ethnic variety. In the context of expanding globalization, different ethnic groups have more contact and meanwhile, increasing conflicts due to their differences in culture, customs and adaptability to economic changes.

In a society where Muslims coexist with other ethnic groups, the conflicts will become more acute and sophisticated when Muslims get relatively isolated and economically marginalized.

Policy support toward religious groups that make up the majority population means discrimination against those who are more able to adapt to and promote economic development. This will definitely jeopardize fairness.

But the current system combining a free market economy and democratic elections will benefit minorities who are more adaptable to social changes, and therefore enlarge the gap between the rich and poor. This is a key reason for the plight that Southeast Asian countries are facing in their development.

Above all, if Muslims cannot figure out the reason why they are marginalized by globalization, make reforms through secular measures and eliminate the soil in which extremism grows, the conflicts may exist for a long time.

The Indonesian government is facing tough challenges as well. Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, and has long separated the religion from politics. How the Indonesian government will curb the radical moves of Muslim hard-liners and completely keep religion away from politics will be an inspiring example for other Islamic countries.

The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: Indonesia   Muslim   security  

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