The Thinker: Ode to Secularism
few days ago, my cousin and I were having a chat about the April 9 legislative elections. My cousin, whom I now perceive as a hard-line Muslim, was outraged by the fact that I had no intent of casting my vote for any Islamic parties, as he did. He then preached to me about my obligations as a Muslim to support Islamic parties whose mission it is to integrate Islamic Shariah law into the Constitution.
Being a secularist, my response was: “But what about my obligations as an Indonesian?” A casual family chat soon transformed into a flurry of religious debates and clashing viewpoints.
Indonesia has never been, and hopefully never will be, an Islamic country with Shariah law governing its greatly diverse society. The fact that Islam is the dominant religion here does not necessarily mean that political Islam is suitable for Indonesia, nor should it grant its followers with any special rights unavailable to the rest of the non-Muslim population.
Integrating faith with state will not work well in a country where a society is composed of different religions and beliefs, not to mention secular-minded and nonreligious people. It would instead result in accusations of discrimination and eventually cause national instability.
It is a relief knowing that many Indonesians have realized this, proved by the decline of Islamic parties in the last elections.
The leading parties in the April elections were secular parties, proof that a majority of Indonesians now care more about good governance and morality than minor religious issues used by Islamic parties as political leverage to gain support.
Even the largest Islamic party in Indonesia, the Prosperous Justice Party, lost a significant portion of its vote compared to the previous election, despite the fact that the party now uses a more secular approach in campaigning. This strategy turned out to be suicidal, however, with the party losing votes from both its radical followers, who accused the party of abandoning Islam, and from secular or moderate-minded voters who still think of the party as a radical Islamic movement.
To put it simply, with Indonesians getting smarter and more critical, religious parties that still put religious issues front and center rather than more topical and rational problems are simply not relevant anymore, especially with many Indonesians now finding it difficult to cope with their fundamentalist and, sometimes, overly radical ideologies.
Some might argue that with corruption and immorality plaguing Indonesia, a more spiritualistic political system is needed, or, as some people have bizarrely called it, an “afterlife-oriented system.” If this odd term refers to a certain religion’s values, such as in the implementation of Shariah law, then it will be very difficult, or at least prove enormously challenging, to be implemented correctly because of the fact that Indonesia is a secular country with no single official state religion, unlike in Saudi Arabia for example.
How can the government implement such a spiritualistic political system in such a culturally and spiritually diverse society? Using one religion’s values as a standard for social and political structures will only promote disintegration and discrimination. Using mixed religious values from different religions will be impossible as it sounds like more of an absurdity than a wise political decision.
High-level humanist morality and social decency is what we need the most to further advance our civilization and politics. In terms of politics, we probably don’t even need religion when we have both of these qualities because even with a system free of any religious or cultural values, as we have now, national integration is already a fragile thing. Separatism rears its head here and there. And discrimination is virtually everywhere.
The integration of religious values and faith-based perspectives into Indonesia’s social and political structures will only cause more harm than good. Indonesia is a multidimensional society, and right now we are seeing relatively peaceful relations among these dimensions. Under no circumstances should we obliterate this harmony by implementing a certain religion’s values and ideals into social and political life or, much worse, transforming our beloved Indonesia into a theocratic state.
Islamic Republic of Indonesia? Sounds like a really bad joke to me.
Muhammad Wafa Taftazani is a student of international relations at Parahyangan Catholic University.