Culture / Religion

Indonesia – between religion and democracy

Indonesia is the largest Muslim democracy in the world. Approximately 88% of the population in Indonesia declares Islamic religion, but in spite of this significant dominance, Indonesia is not a religious state.

Instytut Boyma 05.07.2019

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There is no unambiguous agreement as to whether Indonesia is a secular state, however, it also does not mean that it is a theocratic state (Salim 2008). Some countries and their systems are located between these two categories – that is Indonesia. According to some researchers in the Indonesian issue, Indonesia can be classified as a  state favorable to religion, but which is regulated and managed in accordance with the Pancasil national ideology [I]. It is pointed out that Indonesian Islam is more moderate than in other Muslim countries.

The start of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the withdrawal from Suharto in 1998, and the start of a political transition towards democracy have affected both the internal and external identity of the Indonesian society. Before adopting internal political and social stability and economic strength, Indonesia adopted an attitude of a more active policy. Governments after reformasi (after reforms initiated in 1998) were to rebuild the image of Indonesia as a predictable and stable state. This has become one of the national priorities.

Seeking a way to rebuild the international image of Indonesia, new dimensions of national identity were emphasized resulting from social and political changes – above all democratization and the rise of the political significance of Islam.

Islam in Indonesia’s foreign policy

The significance and influence of the Islamic factor in Indonesia’s foreign policy is being discussed, but most researchers recognize that it is not a question of whether an Islamic factor appears, but rather to what extent it affects the policy of Indonesia. Indonesian researcher Rizal Sukma defines the identity of Indonesia as a dual, resulting from the unfinished debate between the nationalist movement and the Islamic movement, which began during the recovery of independence by Indonesia [II]. The nationalist movement claimed that Indonesia can only be a secular state and there is no place for religion in state affairs, and on the other hand, the Islamic movement. The Muslim community wanted a formal relationship of Islam with the state of III]. These forces compete from 1945 to today, and as a result Indonesia acts in between, trying to reconcile both options. Taking this into account – assuming that internal factors shape the external activity of the state – in the international sphere this duality also appears.

Inclusion of democratic values ​​into foreign policy also serves an important internal goal. Undertaking the problems of democratization in foreign policy serves to strengthen democratic values ​​in the country. The society and the international community are starting to see the state as fulfilling the requirements of democracy. The promotion of democratic values ​​on the outside, reminds in an internal dimension, that these values ​​should be strengthened [IV]. Rizal Sukma argues that the consolidation of democracy in Indonesia has given Indonesia the opportunity to play a greater role in the region, but also that Indonesia could start playing significant international roles – as a functioning democracy and as a moderate Muslim state – issues that depend on internal conditions [V ].

Indonesia plays at least a few roles, most often the promoter of democracy, the leader of the region, as well as the bridge connecting various sides: developed and developing countries, democracies with undemocations, Muslim countries with Western countries [VI].

Another role played by Indonesia is the role of the promoter of Muslim democracy. Indonesia initiates bilateral and multilateral meetings, both on the regional and global level. These dialogues aim to improve the image of Islam in the eyes of the West, but also to bring Western culture closer to Muslim societies. These activities concern many initiatives: civilizational and interreligious dialogues, activities on the forum of the Organization of Islamic Conference (including groups D-8), as well as the creation of the Democracy Forum in Bali (BDF).

The article uses excerpts from the publication: Grzywacz, Anna (2019), Indonesia’s (inter) national role as and Muslim model: and model effectiveness model effectiveness rol The rol, The Pacific Review.

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Anna Grzywacz

Analyst on South-East Asia, Singapore and Indonesia. She holds a PhD in Political Science (International Relations). She graduated from International Relations at the Institute of International Relations (East Asian specialty), University of Warsaw. Research interests: international relations in Southeast Asia, foreign policy of Indonesia and Singapore, culture in foreign policy of ASEAN countries, postcolonialism. Recent publications: Polityka zagraniczna Singapuru w regionie Azji i Pacyfiku, Warsaw 2019; Indonesia’s (Inter)national Role as a Muslim Democracy Model: Effectiveness and Conflict Between the Conception and Prescription Roles

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