KAAD-Kontak-KMKI Seminar Religious Radicalism as a Challenge for Indonesia and Christianity: Measures and Strategies in Ciawi, Bogor /Indonesia

The seminar KAAD-Kontak-KMKI attended by 72 people took place in the small mountain resort The Village on the island of Java, not far from Jakarta, from 22nd to 25th November 2019. Despite the seminar’s topic of religious radicalism which threatens the daily life of Indonesian Christians, the lectures and discussions demonstrated a basic attitude which is based above all on a willingness to engage in dialogue. Many Javanese have perfected their ability to conduct a cultivated conversation over a long time without talking about anything in particular. Unpleasant issues or even threatening ones – as in the case of religious radicalism -are not voiced directly; the conversation is instead carefully directed towards them. If one has the impression that the other person has already understood what was intended to be said, the embarrassing problem may not have to be mentioned at all. This is due to the experience of the divine. The Javanese refuses to absolutize outer forms, as the main speaker of the seminar, the Jesuit Father Franz von Magnis-Suseno outlined in his lecture. In Wedatama, one of the most beautiful Javanese didactic poems of the last century, the outwardly visible prayer is merely the first of the four stages of becoming one with God, the “sacrifice of the body”. True unity will only be achieved in the fourth stage, the “sacrifice of feelings”. The goal is the divine itself.

Against this background, Indonesia is considered to be moderately religious – but is that also true? As the course of the seminar showed, people on Java do not simply overlook the problems which have meanwhile arisen in Indonesia. The Southeast Asian island state is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world: 87 percent of the population (approx. 260 million inhabitants) are of Islamic faith; thus, more Muslims live here than in the entire Middle East. For a long time, the country was regarded as a role model for compatibility of Islam and democracy. Yet, pluralism has for years been under pressure. Liberalism, secularism and also pluralism were already declared “haram”, prohibited, by a fatwa of the country’s highest Islamic council in 2005. In light of these developments, the participants of the seminar became aware that they have to speak up and put an end to the silencing of a critical public – despite their tolerant attitude being very much concerned about balance in religious questions.

The courage and civic competence of the more than 60 participants have been demonstrated by the fact that they summarized the seminar’s contents in a plea for adherence to the five principles of Pancasila and went public with it (“Belief in the one and only God; a just and civilized humanity; a unified Indonesia; democracy guided by the wisdom of joint consulting/representatives; social justice for all Indonesians”). Already the day after the end of the seminar, on 25th November 2019, a report about the seminar KAAD-Kontak-KMKI was broadcasted. In this way, a large public was able to experience with which strategies religious radicalism is to be met. Pancasila means tolerance – and this is precisely what is lacking.

The number of convictions for blasphemy has increased. National human rights organisations reported fewer than 10 cases between 1965 and 2003, from 2004 to 2014, under the presidency of  Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonos, 89 cases were reported – and it has not get any better since Joko Wododis came to power. In contrast to his predecessor, Widodo himself is unsuspicious of Islamist tendencies. After years of watching, he has now taken the initiative. As a first step in the right direction, his measure can be seen to first define what radicalism is. Can it be considered “radical” if Christians are denied higher positions in state service? Can it be considered “radical” when Christians are called “unbelievers” in school textbook and accordingly pupils with the corresponding prejudices look at Christian churches, which then often become the target of burning, vandalism and destruction? Another speaker, Father Simon Petrus, stressed that this radicalism is a Muslim problem in Indonesia.

Despite the general trend towards fundamentalism, however, there are still many moderate Muslims in Indonesia, albeit with limited scope of action. Islamic scholars, such as Ulil Abshar Abdalla and Hamzeh Sahal, who were invited as speakers to the seminar, promote tolerance in social media. Their contributions showed that it was perfectly natural for them when Muslims and Christians engage in dialogue and discuss about the function of religion in society. For a Javanese, religion rather belongs to the category of the way than of the destination. The goal is becoming one with the divine, experiencing his nearness, which manifests itself in inner and outer coherence. The oldest participant of the seminar, the 85 –year-old KAAD alumni and founder of KMKI, Liem Thian Hwie (now Bundiantara), was therefore very convinced that KAAD-Kontak-KAAD seminars live from a great feeling and not from a petty, confrontational spirit. The seminar in Ciawi, Bogor is the best proof of this.