What the Arab world can learn from Indonesia
Currently many Arab states are attempting to cement the links, by force if necessary, between the state, creed and civil society. This has been the top priority for rulers in the region ever since the Arab Spring broke out in the Middle East in 2011. The mass uprisings altered the political landscape in the Arab majority world and sent dictatorial regimes a clear message: if they wanted to remain in power, they would need to discover a middle ground, reaching political decisions that benefit the common good.
Indonesia – an enormous archipelago of a country in Southeast Asia – is the world’s fourth most-populous state and the largest Muslim-majority nation. Yet many are unaware that, regardless of the size of its Muslim population, Indonesiaʹs state religion is not Islam. It may seem unbelievable, but Indonesia officially recognises five official religions: Islam, Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Since it achieved its independence from the Netherlands in 1945, Indonesia has become a democracy characterised by cultural diversity and a sensible interpretation of Islam.
In an attempt to legitimise their authoritarian regimes, rulers of the Arab world generally contend that their tradition of government was bequeathed by the Prophet Muhammad and that this convoluted blend of religion and the state is inseparable and unquestionable.
"Pancasila": for peaceful co-existence
While Islam is the state religion of most countries in the Arab world, with constitutions based on the Koran, Indonesia is based on a nationalist ideology – Pancasila – which advocates secular, democratic and nationalist principles.
Yet, how can Pancasila, a nationalist ideology, help promote social inclusion and integration? The five principles of Indonesian politics are, indeed, poles apart from Arab nationalism. While Arab nationalism is based on a shared ethnicity, language and culture, Indonesian nationalism is precisely the opposite. It is multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual – all indicators of progressive nationalism. Pancasila is based on the following:
belief in the one and only God (Article 29 of Indonesian Constitution mentions there is no specific god of any religion who holds superior status);
a just and civilised humanity (cultural and religious freedom twinned with mutual respect);
a unified Indonesia (multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual);
democracy, led by the wisdom of the peopleʹs representatives (Indonesia is democratic, in contrast to the sparsely populated Gulf states, which are still dominated by religious autocracies);
social justice for all Indonesians (irrespective of ethnicity and religion).