Rise of Religion in Public Space Not A Problem

The Indonesian team of the Pluralism Knowledge Programme recently discussed its concept of civic pluralism with experts from academia, civil society, government and media. The Jakarta Post published the following article.

The rise of religion in public space not a problem: Experts

The rise of religion in the public space across the country should not be seen as a threat as long as the government manages to prevent friction, experts say.

“All citizens must realize that the rise of religion in public spaces should not be seen as an effort to spread its normative teachings and doctrines,” Zainal Abidin Bagir, Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies director at the Gadjah Mada University, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Speaking at a seminar on pluralism and the politics of diversity in Jakarta, Zainal said the rise of religion was a natural outcome resulting from the great diversity of the nation and may contribute toward the establishment of civic pluralism.

University of Indonesia sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola said the rising religiosity among the people was inevitable in the Reform era after decades of what he said “forced harmony” during Soeharto’s repressive 32-year rule.

“The public was not allowed to debate the issues of ethnicity, religion, race and inter-group relations during the Soeharto years,” Thamrin said.

Apart from its label as one the most corrupt nations in Asia, Indonesia is ranked the most religious country in the world. A recent Reuters poll ranked Indonesia, before Brazil and Turkey, as the country with the highest number of people believing in God.

The country has also seen rising intolerance and even violence committed in the name of religion. This has sparked concern whether a religious revival is hampering the country’s unity and diversity.

Both Zainal and Thamrin said that friction might occur when the diverse identities of different religions meet in public spaces. Zainal cited demand for special treatment for certain groups based on their beliefs and demand for limitations to the so-called “deviant” minority groups as well as rivalries between religious symbols to secure positions in public offices as examples.

“As a democracy, we have to respect those demands. But we must also define clear boundaries in which those demands may still be accommodated so that it does not contradict the equal-opportunity principle,” he added.

Zainal said the public had plenty of room to accommodate religion. “However, we must establish an effective pluralism management to maintain civility.”

Good pluralism management, Zainal said, comprised three elements: Recognition, representation and redistribution.

Recognition deals with the extent the society, the state and the constitution recognize and respect diversity.

Representation deals with the accommodation of differing ideas — in the form of political parties, NGOs, state religious institutions and House of Representatives participation — in both formal and informal debates. “The issue here is how to find the right format of representation,” Zainal said. “Many Indonesian Muslims, for example, are of the opinion that the Indonesia Ulema Council does not accommodate their views and ideas.”

While redistribution deals with the capability of the government to spread the nation’s wealth of resources equally to all citizens regardless of religion and ethnicity, he said.

He called on the government to guarantee the availability of the room for religion in public spaces and recognize the diversity in its citizens.

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