June 16th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reflections on the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx

EDITORIAL Significance of report into shooting down of MH17

CANBERRA OBSERVED Lee Rhiannon: too Bolshie or not Bolshie enough?

POLITICS Wading further through the Greens party bilge

ECONOMICS Vatican document nails some of the causes of the GFC

POLITICS Greens promise to keep Australia legally stoned and welfare dependent

ENVIRONMENT Scientist sacked for challenging claims of demise of Great Barrier Reef

REDEFINITION OF MARRIAGE Humpty Dumpty has his way with words

CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIETY Tradition, Christianity and the law in contemporary Australia

EDUCATION Ladybird, ladybird: adventures in literacy

OFFICE LAUNCH NCC Sydney: a new chapter in a continuing story

ASIAN AFFAIRS Indonesia takes religious syncretism to the nth degree

WA RALLY FOR LIFE 3300 crosses in Perth poignant reminders of abortions

HUMOUR News snippets

PHILOSOPHY Bendigo initiative

MUSIC Gain is loss: Where is there left to discover?

CINEMA 2001: A Space Odyssey: Unsurpassed 50 years on

BOOK REVIEW The house that could not stand

BOOK REVIEW Australia's first official war historian

LETTERS

EDITORIAL China's pivotal role in Trump-Kim summit

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ASIAN AFFAIRS
Indonesia takes religious syncretism to the nth degree


by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, June 16, 2018

Indonesia is one of the few nations in the world where it is compulsory to have a religion. Your religion is printed on your identity card, which is essential to do anything from getting a driver’s licence to getting married.

Six religions are recognised: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

What about other religions? Judaism has been established in Indonesia for many centuries. The fourth Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), Jan Pieterszoon Coen, was Jewish, as were many merchants associated with the VOC.

Estimates of Indonesia’s Jewish population today vary, but there are six Jewish communities with several hundred adherents, supported by visiting Rabbis from the United States and Australia. Two Jewish congregations in North America that have gone extinct due to demographic changes have donated their Torah scrolls to Indonesian congregations.

Many Indonesian Jews are in a situation analogous to that of Spanish Jews after the Reconquest of Spain, where the practice of Judaism was repressed, but many remained loyal to their faith in private and practised it covertly. As Judaism is not one of the six legal religions in Indonesia, it is illegal to be a Jew. Many Jews nominate Christianity as a “default” choice, without any intention of practising this religion. Judaism is illegal, but it is growing.

It is often said that Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but the more exact definition is that Indonesia is “the most populous Muslim-majority nation”. Of Indonesia’s 254 million people, 220 million are Muslim, at least nominally.

Anyone who has ever studied the Malay people seriously will tell you that the most important concept in Indonesian society and religion is syncretism, which is the amalgamation of different cultures, religions and schools of thought.

The mixing of traditional belief systems and Islam have produced a unique blend of animism and a religion that is, at least in theory, monotheistic and exclusivist.

The current President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – when suspected of insufficient  enthusiasm for Islam, went on the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. All observant Muslims are required to undertake the Hajj at least once in their lifetime, if they can afford it.

Jokowi will be opposed in the 2019 presidential election by Prabowo Subi­anto, a former Army officer who has been accused of human rights violations in East Timor during the Suharto regime. The election of Prabowo Subianto would return the Indonesian leadership to the hands of the military.

Jokowi, the seventh President of Indonesia, is the only  president who did not come from an elite social or political background.

The two main Islamic organisations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, carry a lot of clout. They both seek to adapt Islam to the conditions of modern life in Indonesia.

It is true that many Indonesian Muslims are becoming more devout and that extremism has crept into the fringes of Islamic organisations, but it is also true that the religious parties have never polled more than around 30 per cent in national elections in the modern era.

Islam in Indonesia remains more tolerant and moderate than in many other countries. It is in the vanguard of contemporary Islam. Saudi Arabia, for example, is seeking to moderate the austere Wahhabi variety of Islam for a more tolerant and adaptable variety of Islam. Women will soon be able to drive in Saudi Arabia. Islam in Indonesia has, for over 100 years, accommodated its beliefs to modernity.

It would be disingenuous to overlook instances where religious tolerance in Indonesia reaches its limits. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname of Ahok, was Governor of Jakarta from 2014 to 2017. Ahok is of Hakka Chinese descent; he is also a Christian, making him a “double minority”.

During the recent election, Ahok told voters not to adhere to a verse in the Koran, the Muslim Holy Book, which enjoins Muslims not to vote for unbelievers, but to vote with their consciences. Even Ahok’s supporters concede he said it in a foolish and insensitive manner. Following a trial for blasphemy, Ahok was jailed for two years. His action spurred protests throughout Indonesia and the global Indonesian diaspora.

Many are dismayed that Ahok has pledged to resume his political career on release. The truth is that Ahok is not popular with Jakarta’s decision makers, namely wealthy Chinese businessmen. Religion matters in Indonesia, so does ethnicity. A “double minority” like Ahok dredges up old feuds that many people would prefer forgotten.

Jeffry Babb studied Indonesian language, religions and culture at Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana (Salatiga, Central Java) and at Curtin University of Technology (Perth, WA).




























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