Conference and Workshop on Civic Pluralism

Civic pluralism is defined as the recognition and valuation of diversity, in the name of continuing peaceful relations between diverse members of a community. If the Forum for Religious Harmony (Forum Kerukunan Beragama, FKUB), operates at the level of the central government, by what mechanism does pluralism operate in people’s everyday lives? This was one important point that was introduced during the conference on “New Directions of the Politics of Pluralism in Indonesia: Challenges and Strategies” presented by the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies in Jakarta on April 27th, 2011. CRCS Director Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir responded to this question by explaining that the implementation of the pluralism doesn’t imply that people have to change their perspectives, but seeks to improve their ability to negotiate, participate and channel their aspirations as national citizens. The goal is to demonstrate that any issues involving diversity can be handled through engaging in dialogue, instead of by violence.

The conference served as a forum to disseminate the results of the Pluralism Knowledge Program (PKP), a joint effort between academic organizations – in Indonesia headed by the CRCS program – and civil society groups. The day before the conference, CRCS launched a monograph containing the results of a research project assessing “the Problematics of the Erection of Churches in Jakarta”. Kapal Perempuan, a non-profit organization, organized the event in cooperation with CRCS.

The conference was attended by the members of a number of civil society organizations, academia, the media, and the general public. Guest speakers included Dr. Thamrin Tamagola from Universitas Indonesia, Yanti Mochtar from Kapal Perempuan, Ram Kakarala from India, Ihsan Ali Fauzi from Yayasan Paramadina and Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir from CRCS UGM.

Addressing the resistance of some Muslim groups to the idea of pluralism, Tamagola proposed that Muslims everywhere suffer from a ‘minority syndrome’, even in Indonesia where they constitute the majority. This stems from factors related to economic and living conditions, as well as the influence of history, according to Tamagola. Dr. Bagir noted that global issues have effected Muslim attitudes, as there is a sense of defeat amongst the Muslims on a global scale. This can be traced historically, where in the past Islam was practiced in advanced civilizations that were defeated by the European civilizations during the colonial area. In addition, right-wing politics in European countries have exacerbated issues surrounding immigrants and fundamentalism, leading to a crisis of identity amongst Muslims around the world.

In the second session, Ram Kakarala discussed the state of pluralism in India. If in Indonesia religious diversity is central to the problems of pluralism, in India conflicts arise regarding linguistic diversity. Indonesia’s linguistic diversity is neutralized by the use of the national language, Bahasa Indonesia. Currently India does not have a national language, but instead nineteen languages that are officially recognized by the government. This has created a situation where language difference often becomes the background for conflict.

Ihsan Ali Fauzi charted and evaluated the current situation with pluralism advocates in Indonesia. He explained that the three major actors in religious pluralism advocacy were the typical types of organizations, the Wahid Institute, Setara and CRCS. The basic characteristics of these organizations is that they represented a response the anti-pluralism discourse that grew during the Reformation era. As the Annual Report on Religious Life in Indonesia has demonstrated, there has been a rapid advancement of this phenomena, which according to Fauzi requires perseverance and militancy to integrate empirical studies with the discourse on pluralism.

In accordance with their theme, conference presenters didn’t seek a new solution to issues of diversity in Indonesia, but instead offered new directions for considering the problems of difference through the paradigm of pluralism. (njm)

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