As an archipelago of 17,000 islands, the geographical and cultural bridge between the Far East and southern Asia and from there towards the Middle Eastern world, the link-country between the Asian world and that of the Pacific, in its meeting and amalgamation of culture, trade and ideologies, possesses an essential element.
Indonesia still possesses the vocation, pursued by the Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has appealed to the two largest Islam-inspired organisations in the country – with more than 90 million members, more than a third of the entire population – to continue to be an example of moderation in a climate of increasing intolerance and religious radicalisation. Widodo has also stressed, in two separate messages, the role of the organisations in reducing poverty and increasing secularisation, but also in concretising matters through a form of faith that is moderate and modern.
The two groups, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiya, held their congresses in February at Jombang, Eastern Java, and at Makassar, Sulawesi, respectively. In the message read at the opening of the event of the Muhammadiya congress, the President appealed to them to “make progressive Islam part of the renewal of the country in which the understanding of religion is rational and open to the development of the knowledge of it”, but to do so “in a moderate way, civilly and not driven by anger”. “Islam nusantara”, “Islam of the archipelago”, is the slogan of the work of Nahdlatul Ulama. Characterised by a more evolutionary spirit, the movement has opened up to new technology especially blogs, websites and social media but still maintains at its centre the role of its Koranic schools (Pesantren), a network of almost seven thousand institutions throughout the archipelago with the purpose of sustaining the public system and with a moral character. “We must continue to follow the values handed down to us by the founders. Nahdlatul Ulama and our boarding schools cannot be separated”, declared the president of the organisation, Said Aqil Siradj.
Values – those recorded by Siradj, described in the Pancasila, ‘Five Principles’, a state ideology summarised in the motto ‘Unity in diversity’ and that gives equal legal dignity to Moslems, Catholics, Protestants, Hindu and Buddhists. For many years it has been an unbreakable dam holding back religious fanaticism and has been a stimulus for greater justice and equality. Proposed for the first time in 1945 by Muhammad Sukarno, the hero of independence and founder of the Indonesian state, the Pancasila promotes nationalism, humanitarianism, representative government, social justice and religious tolerance.
It is true that today the reading of the document and, even more, its interpretation, gives rise to perplexity and protests on the part of some Islamic sectors who do not accept that a lay ideology can be superimposed on religious law. Lay detractors, on the other hand, believe the Pancasila has long since lost its unitarian and democratic intent and has become an instrument to sustain political opportunism and social policies, always with the emphasis on loyalty to those in power. In present conditions and especially in a country in transition, it is still, for the average Indonesian, an ideal to be shared and nourished in order to avoid chaos.
If well administered, Indonesia should not be a poor country. It is a country with a variety of soils, mostly suitable for diversified agriculture and is rich in natural resources. It has in the past been plundered and this continues today. Its forests are disappearing at the daily rate of six football pitches, the highest in the world. The country needs drastic measures and is banking on a future that relies upon the best commercial way to administer its oil resources (it is one of the main oil exporting countries) and the use of new technology, including nuclear power. In fact, the country does not directly administer the extraction of its ‘black gold’ but does so through the public company Pertamina, entrusted to foreign companies, though it does carry out some of the refining of the oil. As a result, in recent years the country has been a net importer of oil while becoming more sensitive to the internationals and being forced to seek new markets, new partners and new ways of expanding abroad in various sectors.
Its past is most relevant in understanding Indonesia, a past in which it was in the front line of the Movement of Non-Aligned States which actually began in Indonesia, in the city of Bandung, with the Afro-Asian Conference of 1955. Its potential makes it today a partner of many developing countries while it is consolidating its democracy and the definitive choice of progressive and non-exclusive Islam which will make it indispensable. (S.V.)