Editorial: A (Islamic) state of ambivalence
The Jakarta Post | Wed, 05/19/2010 9:23 AM | Editorial 

The creation of an Islamic state in Indonesia is not only being pursued by 
radical groups who will resort to anything, including terrorism, to achieve 
their goals. Several political parties and organizations, whether outwardly or 
clandestinely, are vying for the same goal, though most go about it in a 
democratic way, like contesting the general elections, or preaching at mosques 
and in other open forums.

Those groups resorting to violence and terrorism should clearly be banned, but 
the others have legitimate claims in a country that takes pride in its 
democracy and guarantees of freedom of speech. 

As long as they do not break any law, these groups with Islamic agendas have 
equal rights like other individuals and organizations in fighting for their 
beliefs, even if we don't share them or even feel threatened by them.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono however could have gone further in making 
his position on the issue clearer, instead of only condemning the radical 
groups. On Monday, he said a terrorist group recently busted by the police was 
preparing an attack on Independence Day celebrations in August, targeting 
Indonesian and foreign dignitaries. 

While he firmly condemned the violent means the group uses (it has set up a 
military training camp in Aceh), he was not as forthcoming when it comes to 
rejecting their stated goal, which is an Islamic state. 

It is this kind of ambivalence on the part of our national leaders that 
encouraged the perpetual debate on an issue that was actually  settled by our 
founding fathers at the inception of this republic 65 years ago.

Then, the framers of the 1945 Constitution clearly rejected the idea of an 
Islamic state or the use of the sharia law for Muslims and a secular legal 
system for non-Muslims. They knew that they would never have gotten support 
from areas where non-Muslims are the majority like in Bali, East Nusa Tenggara 
and Maluku if Indonesia had declared itself an Islamic state. Though Muslims 
make up nearly 90 percent of the population, they agreed that Indonesia 
belonged to all religions, hence the Constitution guarantees freedom of 
religion and everyone's right to practice their faith.

As a nation, we have since gone through more fierce debates on the subject, at 
one time erupting into an armed rebellion and lately falling victim of 
terrorist attacks. The issue resurfaced during the debate on the constitutional 
amendment in 2002, and again, the proponents of the Islamic state and sharia 
were soundly defeated by democratic process. As further evidence of the lack of 
grassroots support for their cause, the Islamic political parties together 
never polled more than 20 percent of the votes in the democratic elections 
Indonesia held in 1999, 2004 and 2009.

We are all for a healthy and democratic debate, but shouldn't we draw the line 
before we say enough is enough, and that the nation should move on to address 
more important issues like poverty, job creation, education, health and the 
economy? Are we going to be held hostage by this issue forever, even when the 
opinion of the majority of the population, including most Muslims, are as clear 
cut as the election results show? 

We certainly could do with a little more statesmanship from Islamic politicians 
by refraining from exploiting religion for short term gains and start 
channeling their energy and resources more productively toward nation building.

More importantly, we could do with a more assertive President to take the 
initiative in ending this tiring debate once and for all. Show some leadership 
for once, and end this ambivalence. Indonesia needs to move on.

Related News >> 
  a.. Comments: `Making RI Islamic state' 
  b.. Issues: `The Illusion of an Islamic State' 
  c.. Wahid book on Islamic state under threat 
  d.. 17 arrested in crackdown on secessionist movement

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