Indonesia faces critical questions about self-identity

Warring political factions and extremist movements are dividing society and threatening its core values and social cohesion
Indonesia faces critical questions about self-identity

Indonesian hard-line Muslim activists are restrained by anti-riot police and military personnel as they shout slogans while brandishing wooden sticks during a tribal festival in Pontianak, West Kalimantan province in this May 20, 2017 photo. (Photo by AFP) 
 

 
Social togetherness is a key term used to define the way of life in Indonesia and one that truly reflects the character of this multicultural society.

Implicitly, it requires Indonesian people to build and maintain a space in which they can live together peacefully with those from different cultural or religious backgrounds.

This is also closely connected with Pancasila as Indonesia's state foundation. Pancasila is based on five basic principles that include believing there is only one God, humanity, unity, democracy, and social justice.

The foundation emphasizes the basic value of what is called "unity in diversity, diversity in unity."

Social togetherness can be seen as the basic foundation on which all of these pillars, or values, stand.

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When people say "I am Indonesian" or "we are Indonesians," there is much meaning behind such pronouncements. It generally refers to the profile of Indonesians as a smiling people who live together in a peaceful sphere.

Nevertheless, in recent times new trends at both the social and political level do not bode well for the future of social togetherness in Indonesia.

Based on this frightening phenomena, when celebrating Pancasila Day on June 1 in 2017, President Joko Widodo issued the following slogan: "Saya Jokowi, Saya Pancasila"; or "I am Joko, I am Pancasila."

Through this slogan, Widodo wanted to raise public awareness of the importance of maintaining the foundation as a base for social togetherness.

His announcement is important in the context of the government's gladiatorial approach to chasing peace in the face of social fears triggered by violent radical actions that affect people's daily lives in Indonesia.

Today the situation is getting worse for a number of social and political reasons, with intolerance seemingly growing. Indonesians should reflect on their attitude to other people who are living in different circumstances.

The concept of what it means to be Indonesian is now being shaken at its very foundations, and the image of the country as a peaceful, multicultural society is in serious danger.

Politically, the situation poses a new threat to intergroup dynamics and social relationships in the country. The election for Jakarta's governor last year and the 2014 presidential election are two cases in point where racism and other ugly issues came to the fore.

The country is now facing the impact of these electoral processes, which significantly influences the way Indonesian people both maintain and challenge their identity as a peaceful community and a smiling people.

The tension between different political factions has fanned out through a social constellation and is now starting to negatively determine interpersonal and intergroup dynamics.

Since political factions continue to spar over various claims pertaining to economic-political benefits, the public is also being drawn into their battles.

It is evident that attacks, resistance and movements from the opposition against the ruling government have been followed by clashes breaking out between different groups in society.

This can be seen by the emergence and proliferation of hate speech, especially in the digital space.

With a year to go before the 2019 presidential and national elections, the formation of a political faction supporting potential candidates to replace Widodo has sparked conflict and tension in both social and political spaces.

The battle between these political blocks influences people's inability to arrange public spaces as a common, equal and peaceful stage for all.

The political competition grows dangerous when supporters of the candidates go to war in daily life.

As such, Indonesia keeps struggling to answer the basic question of how people should peacefully coexist under the weight of all these tensions raised by the political competition.

Furthermore, social fears are being heightened by the rapid emergence of radicalism, fundamentalism, religious violence and religious radical movements that threaten to challenge and destroy Pancasila.

If the current trends continue then social togetherness as a concept will continue to be attacked and eroded until it collapses altogether.

Social media also has a role to play in this, as it serves as a playing field for the propaganda being dished out by those agitating for violence and a repository for threats among various communities, groups and political supporters.

Indonesia has now embarked on the practice of so-called "identity politics," which refers to how, in many ways, people's political interests, considerations and affiliations are tied to their ethnicity, religion and cultural backgrounds.

Unfortunately, this trend is reaching a critical point as inter-group clashes, conflict, and violence continue to escalate.

New risks and challenges arise from all this tension, conflict, violence and horrific terrorist attacks that have left many people in Indonesia shocked and reeling.

What it means to be "Indonesian" is now under threat, with the idea of the country as a peaceful society quickly being replaced by a scarier scenario based on hate speech and brutality.

To tackle this, Indonesian people must reconsider their collective identity, and especially how their behavior and character can reflect the values and philosophy espoused by Pancasila.

The public should remain enthusiastic about participating in the elections and making their voices heard, but they should also think about how to build supportive social and political spaces.

In this critical phase, Indonesians should identify and redefine their presence as a smiling people in the shadow of radical movements and dramatic political changes, challenges and contests.

Within this context, the country needs to strengthen its support for the involvement of the "silent majority," with moderate Muslim groups and middle-class groups standing openly against radical and violent movements.

In closing, there is still much hope that despite the challenges facing the nation's fundamental values and principles, sustaining social togetherness should be considered a focal point of all social and political action.

Father Max Regus holds a Ph.D. degree in Social Sciences and Humanities from University of Tilburg, the Netherlands. He is now working on a postdoctoral project entitled 'Religion and Peacebuilding in Asia' supported by the Institute of Missiology Aachen, Germany.

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