October 19: Religion and Politics in Indonesia

October 19, 2011: Endy Bayuni

(Click to enlarge) From left to right: Mr. Endy Bayuni, former senior editor of The Jakarta Post, discusses role of religion in Indonesia's political landscape with Dr. Satu Limaye at the East-West Center in Washington.

Religion and Politics in Indonesia

WASHINGTON, DC (October 19, 2011) As Indonesia evolves into a modern, open and democratic society, the Muslim-majority nation is struggling in trying to define the role that religion plays in state affairs. However, as Mr. Endy Bayuni explained in his presentation at the East-West Center in Washington, the real political fault line in Indonesia and other Muslim-majority states is not between Islamists and secularists, but rather is along the classic liberal-conservative divide. While conservative Islamist groups have been flexing their muscles by increasingly pushing their agenda into the public domain, with goals ranging from the use of sharia as the national law to the creation of an Islamic state, Mr. Bayuni described the limits on how far they can push their Islamist agenda in such a diverse nation. As Islamist groups enter the democratic political space, such proposals of limited popularity are quickly tempered in order to gain boarder popular support.

For this reason, Mr. Bayuni suggested that the best way to deal with the Islamists, is not to ban the movement, but to bring it into the political democratic process. In Indonesia, “political Islam is a reality, but not the dominant one.” Many groups are seeing that if they want to gain power going forward, they need to drop the purely Islamist agenda while working to represent Islamic values, much like the Christian political parties in Europe. From there the issues focus on areas such as the definition of morality, the role of religion in politics, and gender equality; debates that bring in people beyond the “Islamist” or “secularist” groupings. In this way, he noted that the “battle for the soul of Indonesia” is far from over, and this struggle between the conservative and the progressive/liberal groups will continue to define and shape the democratic society in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.

Endy Bayuni was a visiting fellow at the East West Center in Washington and senior editor of The Jakarta Post. His 28-year career in journalism includes serving as editor-in-chief of the English language newspaper between 2004 and 2010. He has written extensively on Indonesian politics, foreign affairs, interfaith relations, and the changing media landscape for The Jakarta Post, and contributed articles to international media including the New York Times, the Huffington Post and the (now defunct) Washington Post/Newsweek PostGlobal blog. He is currently working on a book on the culture clash in Muslim-majority society in Indonesia. Bayuni was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003/2004 and Jefferson Fellow at the East West Center in Honolulu in the Fall of 1999.