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Islam and Illiberal Democracy

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Theoretical Reflections on Religious Freedom Issue in Indonesia

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Islam and Illiberal Democracy

  1. 1. Islam and Illiberal Democracy: Theoretical Reflections on Religious Freedom Issue in Indonesia Novriantoni Kahar Dosen Universitas Paramadina, Jakarta
  2. 2. Background for Discussion • In 2001, Freedom House included Indonesia as a free country, although the rate of Indonesia’s civil liberties is placed lower than the political rights. The main problem in Indonesia’s civil liberties mostly related to the issues of religious freedom. • Despite the country is often assumed as the model of interfaith tolerance for other Muslim countries, it is not yet immune from radicalism. Terrorist threats, sectarian violence, abuses of religious freedom and human rights, are prevalent. During Indonesia’s democratic transition and consolidation, violence against minorities, forcible closures of worship places, and local religious legislations flourish and restrict civil liberties. • Uncivil groups demand the authority to punish these ‘deviants’ or they would take the law into their own hands otherwise, making these minority groups and individuals as criminals. Indonesian Muslim society seemed to tolerate these discriminations in silence, while the authority itself failed to enforce the law against the perpetrators.
  3. 3. Thesis on Current Situation • Numerous reports on Indonesia’s religious freedom record that in the last decade, maintaining interfaith harmony and religious freedom is much harder in a democratic era than before. Societal abuses and government indecisiveness in regard religious freedom issues becomes a state of normalcy up to now. In Kurzman’s term, the process of Indonesia’s democratic consolidation can be described as a combination of “political liberalism” and “cultural conservatism” (Charles Kurzman, 2011).
  4. 4. Incompatibility Thesis 1 • The relation between Islam and democracy has been a long debate among scholars, and the main thesis on this issue emphasizes the incompatibility between both. Lewis for instance argued that “the idea of the people participating not just in the choice of a ruler but in the conduct of government is not part of traditional Islam” (Bernard Lewis, 1998).
  5. 5. Incompatibility Thesis 2 • Ernest Gellner and Samuel Huntington go further in blaming Islam as the main cause of authoritarian drift in Muslim politics. Islam has been seen as an essentially illiberal political culture due to its dogmatic teachings and its prevention of a fully functional liberal civil society (Frédéric Volpi, 2004).
  6. 6. Hunger for Democracy, but… • Empirically, although Muslim democratic countries are little, many of Muslim societies are aspiring for democracy. Based on the World Values Survey in 80 countries, Inglehart and Norris argued that both Western and Muslim countries believe in the importance of democracy. While criticizing Huntington’s clash of civilization thesis in general, both scholars admitted that Huntington is correct in term of cultural differences between the West and the rest, mainly in regard gender issues, sexual liberalization, and acceptance of religious authority (Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, 2003).
  7. 7. Muslim Relation with Civil Liberties • Based on this cultural perspective, the main debate shifted to another level namely the relation between Islam or Muslim societies with liberal democracy and civil liberties. Some scholars argued that the liberal democracy is marked not only by free and fair elections “…but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property” (Fareed Zakaria, 2007).
  8. 8. Election is Easy, but… • According to Lewis, this kind of democracy is “…in its origins a product of the West....”, as he is doubtful whether such a system can long survive when transplanted and adapted in another culture (Bernard Lewis, 2005). In the recent democratization in the Middle East, Zakaria argued that although it is easy to impose elections on a country, it is more difficult to push constitutional liberalism on a society.
  9. 9. Muslim Classical Liberalism • The incompatibility thesis continues as, Fatima Mernissi (1992), Daniel Pipes (1996), John L. Esposito and John O. Voll (1996) also pointed the cultural difficulties in the socialization of the principles of liberal democracy among Muslim societies. In fact, Rutherford (2006) found that the Islamist intellectuals share many characteristics that classical liberalism and democracy in the West championed. They support the rule of law, constraints on state power, public participation in politics, and the protection of many civil and political rights. However, he described several descriptions in this regard.
  10. 10. Muslim Classical Liberalism1 • First point related to the status of individual rights which is very important principle in the liberal democracy’s conception. In this issue, the Islamists believe that individual's character is basically shaped by community. In order to transform the individual, one initially has to transform every dimension of society—cultural, economic, social, judicial, and political.
  11. 11. Muslim Classical Liberalism2 • Second, the state is assumed as a moral agent to "command good and forbid evil" in the whole society. In order to perform these tasks, the state is required to be more invasive than in classical liberalism conception or in democratic theory.
  12. 12. Muslim Classical Liberalism3 • Third, while the metaphor of Western liberal constitutionalism usually described as a wall built around the state in order to protect individual rights, the Islamists demand the state to transform individual Muslim to be a more pious community. In conclusion, Rutherford states that in the conception of what he called “Islamic constitutionalism”, there would be less protection of civil and political rights in some areas. Freedom of speech with regard to religious and moral matters for instance, would be constrained” (Bruce K. Rutherford, 2006).
  13. 13. Republican or Islamic Democracy • In this situation, democracy in Muslim society will not be liberal because either the nationalist or Islamist will come up to be more influential in shaping the form of democratic transition. They possibly build a different kind of democracy, either republican or Islamic. In regard the relatively successful Muslim country in its democratization such as Indonesia and Turkey, Volpi even noted that the both countries remain attracted to non-liberal democratic discourses and practices. In an alarming statement, he insisted that the failure of liberal democracy in Muslim societies is consequently a product of the successive non-liberal forms of social mobilisation and political learning (Frédéric Volpi, 2004).
  14. 14. Freedom That’s Clearly Deficient • Hypothetically, religious freedom related positively to democracy. Democratic countries normally have more religious freedom than non-democratic countries. Regrettably, some studies also proved that there’s one freedom that is clearly deficient in Muslim-majority countries. This seems likely to be causally related to the Islam variable deficiency, namely religious freedom. Rowley and Smith named this deficiency as double paradoxes. From numerous surveys, it’s confirmed that (1) the democracy is highly popular in these countries, yet it’s rare. This is a first paradox. The other is (2), although Muslim-majority countries public opinion confidently more pro-democratic than elsewhere, still it may be less favourable to freedom, especially to religious freedom (Charles Rowley and Nathanael Smith, 2009).
  15. 15. Indonesia’ Case • In case of Indonesia, Schuhmarcher’s inquiry on liberal democracy in Indonesia concluded that liberal democracy appears neither as assured nor inevitable because of its ideological tension between liberal democracy and Islamic fundamentalism (Gerhard Schuhmacher, 2002). In this regard, the prospects for building a liberal democratic order in Muslim countries are basically very much dependent on the internal dialectic within Islamic cultures itself (Mustapha Kamal Pasha, 2002).
  16. 16. Class of Cultures is Determinant • However, it is not the clash between the West and the rest that will decide the fate of liberal democracy in majority Muslim countries. As Hefner argues, the determinant factor in this case is the “class of cultures” among Muslim society. Based on Indonesia’s context, Hefner concluded that the rivalry between a civil and uncivil (regimist) Islam in Muslim society, is also extensively contested in Muslim world. Putting this picture in the frame of religious freedom and liberal democracy, this contestation will not be determined by the unchanging theological principles, but as Hefner believes, more likely by broader developments in state and civil society. That was shown in the history of democratization in the West (Robert Hefner, 2001).
  17. 17. We Need More Times • (1) Claiming illiberal democracy as an essentially nature of Muslim democratic countries looks like putting the wagon in front of the car (Charles A. Kupchan, 1998). However, a new democratic country needs opportunity and time—as well as enough learning process—to be considered as a democratic, yet a liberal democratic country. • (2) Accusing newly Muslim democratic country as incompatible with liberal democracy’s principles—mainly because its religious freedom records—seems to be simplistic and lack of criterion. Religious freedom is not a taken for granted issue. It is related to more complex issues such as political situation, government policies and regulations, and socio-economic aspects. • (3) Indonesia’s transition toward democracy—by overthrowing more than the decades of its authoritarian regime, more or less also determined by an internal dynamic and contestation within Muslim society itself (Robert Hefner, 2001). These groups are still exist now and playing crucial role in shaping Indonesia’s democratic era.
  18. 18. Conclution • Inspired by this debate, I believe that the relation between Islam and liberal democracy would not be exclusively incompatible. Therefore, the following questions should be addressed: (1) to what extent does Indonesia’s democracy—on constitutional, governmental and societal levels—consider religious freedom as an important criterion of democracy as compared to other Muslim democratic countries? (2) What factors— doctrinal, political, socio-cultural aspects—determine Indonesia’s government policies and social attitudes in advancing or preventing religious freedom? (3) What pre-requirement conditions are needed by Indonesia, to show not only the compatibility of Islam and democracy, but also the respect on religious freedom?

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