By Sini Haara (2012)
Democracy and Islam in Indonesia
Indonesia is an anomaly in the composition of the world’s democracies. Not only is it a relatively recent newcomer into the group, but also, it is home to the world’s largest Muslim population – of the approximately 248 million Indonesians over 86 percent adhere to Islam –  refuting the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Secularization is generally seen as a byproduct of modernization and a prerequisite for democracy, and as such, Islam, due to its theological absence of state-religion division, is perceived by many scholars to clash with democracy. In practice, this seems to be confirmed by what Esposito and Voll have called “the glaring absence of democratic governments in the Muslim world.” Indonesia – alongside Turkey and Malaysia – is the noticeable exception to this general trend, having held multiple ‘free and fair’ elections since its transition to democracy in 1998.  Against this backdrop, Indonesia, a Muslim democratic nation-state, serves as an interesting case-study for examining the relationship between Islam and democracy, inciting the question of whether the Indonesian ‘model’ is the ‘perfect’ approach to the pairing of democracy and Islam. Thus, this essay sets out to explore the connection between Islam and democracy in Indonesia. Firstly, the background between why Islam and democracy are perceived as ill-matched is explored to set the case-study within the wider context. Following a brief background section on the state of religion and politics in Indonesia prior to democracy, the reasons behind why democracy is seen to function will be explored. Next, the rising conservatism and radicalism will be analyzed in order to scrutinize whether Islam is in fact contesting or threatening democracy. Finally, it will be determined whether Indonesia is in fact the ‘perfect model’ for Islam and democracy.
With modernization theory’s failure to explain the lack of democratization in affluent Gulf States or the vibrant democracies of impoverished states like India, scholars began to look for alternative explanations for democratization. Democracy is a contested concept, but ultimately its central procedure is the selection of leaders via competitive elections by the citizens of the nation-state i.e. “the will of the people.” Culturalist arguments, which assume that culture and/or religion constitute an obstacle to democracy, have contributed to the explanation for the lack of democratization in the Islamic world. Huntington, for example, has noted that democracy tends to go hand in hand with the West, suggesting that democratization has reached its ‘civilizational limits’, because Western concepts including democracy “often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures.” Furthermore, simplified Orientalist depictions of Islam as anti-tolerant, lacking social justice, collectivist and incapable of separating state and religion, paired with the general lack of open electoral politics in Muslim states, has led to the perception of the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. The theological argument is the Islamic phrase din wa dawla (‘religion and state’) – often cited to discern that the relationship between religion and politics – differs drastically from post-Enlightenment Western thinking. It suggests that Islam is both a model for public order and a personal ethical code. However, it is crucial to note that there are various ways of interpreting what it means to be Muslim, and as such, various ways of organizing Muslim politics.  Nevertheless, a strict separation between Islam and politics is generally not perceived as “desirable in principle or possible in practice.” As such, regardless of how Islam is interpreted, some argue that it remains incompatible with democracy, as democracy requires secularism. This, however, is a questionable argument, as the supposedly ‘secular’ Western democracies have hardly fully situated religion in the private sphere of society. Just like Islam, which legislates on what Westerners perceive as largely non-religious affairs like marriage, Christianity plays a part in the public life of Western states influencing regulations such as abortion laws. Hence, the idea of public/political versus private/religious as being distinct, separable domains is oversimplified.  This section has outlined and briefly examined the arguments behind the theory of Islam’s incompatibility with democracy; theory that the case-study of Indonesia helps scrutinize.
Although Islam is the majority religion in Indonesia, the state is not theocratic. The Indonesian state was founded on patriotic, humanitarian, as well as religious values – important to the conservation of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup of the country. Today’s Constitution remains based on the doctrine of Pancasila (five principles) adopted in 1945.  Prior to democracy, Indonesia was under the authoritarian rule of Suharto’s military-backed ‘New Order; a regime under which both politics and religion, and their relationship was limited. Only three political parties were allowed. In regards to religion, there were restrictions on Islamic activity and little influence from Islamic groups on politics, with religion de-politicized and restricted to the private sphere. This ironically promoted both the revival of Islamic parties and the creation of an Islamic civil society.  The financial crisis of 1997-98 provided the spark that against a background of discontent with the political status quo led to protests that brought down 32-years of authoritarian rule. Paradoxically, against the culturalist understanding of Islam’s relationship with democracy, it was “the expansion of Muslim education and reflection on the role of Islam in the modern, secular world system [that] contributed significantly to the growth of the democracy movement that emerged as a major political force” advocating democracy. Since Suharto’s fall, Indonesia has gradually democratized. For example, Indonesia has allowed for the freedom to form political parties, freedom of press and enhancement of minority rights, and, when “free, fair and frequent elections, inclusive suffrage and citizenship, freedom of expression, alternative information and associational autonomy [are] taken as the yardstick, Indonesia today may be described as a democracy[.]”
There are various explanations for why democracy functions in Indonesia. Firstly, one of the key arguments is that Indonesians have adopted a moderate form of Islam that is conducive to democracy.  Islam in Indonesia was never enforced, but arrived with foreign traders and was adopted and adapted by locals, existing alongside and often drawing upon local culture, thus breeding many unique forms of Islam. Since its introduction Islam was marked by ‘cultural pluralism’, meaning that in Indonesia it has always been understood that there are multiple ways of being Muslim. Most Indonesians renounce literal interpretations of Islam, and support the secular state, with only a small minority advocating the institution of an Islamic state governed by sharia (Islamic law). Due to the predominant acceptance of religious pluralism, Indonesians have largely come to understand their national identity as multi-ethnic and multi-religious, encouraging nationalism within the population and rallying most of the population behind democracy. Another key reason why democracy thrives in Indonesia is due to this extensive support for democracy, which is visible in high turnouts in elections and backed by widespread support for democracy in social surveys. Thus, “since its inception,” Wahid argues, “Islam in Indonesia has been culturally all-embracing… a prerequisite condition for a functioning democracy to succeed.”
Secondly, the widespread moderate, tolerant and pluralistic quality of Indonesia’s interpretation of Islam has helped develop the foundations for a flourishing civil society. Another key reason attributed to the absence to democracy in Islamic societies is the absence of a civil society within these cultures.  Civil society is “the sphere of autonomous civic groups and activities that protect the private sphere from the state”, and is a prominent feature of Indonesia’s democracy that interestingly emerged as both religious and in response to authoritarian rule, as mentioned above. Of the various Islamic organizations in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), with over 30 million members, and Muhammadiyah are the largest. Both are moderate grass-root organizations that are heavily involved in the provision of social services. The NU is a strong advocate of democracy, with leaders who actively participated in the pro-democracy movement, and although it is a religious organization it promotes secularism. Muhammadiyah on the other hand is more traditionalist in its beliefs, advocating a more unambiguous Islamic social and political system. However, they promote their interests via the democratic system and by no means seek to undermine it.  However, it is not just the moderate form of Islam that Indonesia’s civil society promotes that nurtures democracy in Indonesia, but it is also the fragmentation of Islamic leadership within civil society that promotes democracy. Buehler notes that the lack of one, unified Islamic voice within civil society and in politics that would mobilize a majority behind one Islamic party means that Islam is relatively insignificant in the politics of Indonesia. If multiple associations and parties rest on an Islamic platform then no organization holds monopoly over Islam’s relationship with democracy and hinders the ability to promote one form of Islam in politics – again a reflection of the religious pluralism within Indonesia that consequently promotes democracy. Thus, a driving pro-democracy force during the Suharto era, ‘civil Islam’, continues to support democracy and promotes a relatively moderate form of Islam that is supportive of a democratic Indonesia.
The rise of democracy in Indonesia led to a mushrooming in the number of political parties, including the number of Islamic parties. There are ten ‘formalist’ Islamic parties in Indonesia, i.e. parties whose sole ideological belief is based upon Islam, and a multitude of pluralist parties that have both Pancasila and Islam as their ideological basis.  In the eyes of for example Hungtington, this rise in political Islam constitutes a threat to democracy, as discussed above. Some scholars fear that if an Islamic party were to rise to power an Algerian ‘one man, one vote, one time’ situation could transpire, where democracy is eliminated democratically. However, the rise of Islamic parties has not threatened democracy. Firstly, voters are not as influenced by religion as may first appear. Of the Islamic parties the Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) and Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN) are the most influential in terms of actual power in the government. However, both parties have argued as having gained momentum not on religious platforms, but on campaigns based upon political and economic concerns like corruption, suggesting that religious resurgence in the politics of the population is limited, and that other issues dominate voting patterns.  Thus, the increased piousness that has emerged in the private sphere seems not to have translated into the politics of the population. Secondly, both Aspinall and Buehler have noted that money politics and the prominence of individuals play a larger factor in voting behavior than religion does. As such, voters float between parties, making it increasingly difficult to mobilize voters with a programmatic manifesto and, thus, for Islamic parties to push through ideological doctrines. Thirdly, as there is a multitude of Islamic parties and thus multiple readings of Islam, it is unlikely that one Islamic party will be able to mobilize enough voters in order to gain parliamentary majority in Indonesia’s system of proportional representation to implement solely their policies.  Finally, democracy seems to have a moderating effect on many Islamic groups, as parties downplay religious inclinations to gain votes or moderate policies to build alliances in parliament. Though political Islam has emerged in Indonesia, the role of religion is moderated by the public’s voting patterns and the effect of the democratic process, thus leaning towards post-Enlightenment theory, suggesting that Islam (religion) and democracy function together so long as secular parties dominate politics and religion is moderated within the public sphere.
Religion may be moderated within the public sphere, but nevertheless Indonesia has witnessed a rise in Islamic conservatism and the democratic government of Indonesia does not always promote what the West perceives as ‘democratic values’. For example, sharia, seen by many Westerners as undemocratic and going against liberal values, has been adopted in Aceh. Another example, perceived as largely illiberal on Western standards, is the prosecution of an atheist who posted “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook. Though officially a secular state, with a Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, Indonesia only recognizes six religions, and has a state philosophy maintaining the “belief in the One and Only God”. Thus, the atheist being prosecuted faces up to 11 years in prison for “blasphemy” and “insulting a major religion”. Hodal notes that religious intolerance is increasing in Indonesia, with Islamic conservatism and intolerance funded by Wahhabi clerics from the Middle East.  Similarly, a 2007 survey found that intolerant and hardline views are more commonplace than typically thought. For example, over 57 percent of respondents believed that adulterers should be stoned to death.  Oddly, the same survey showed high levels of support for democracy (86 percent). However, it is essential to note, firstly that a majority of Indonesians live in poverty with sharia offering a tangible and reliable rule of law, where the states control and rule of law is still limited and developing. Secondly, illiberal and conservative values do not undermine the credibility of Indonesia’s democracy. Religious and conservative resurgence are not unique to Islam, but are a worldwide phenomenon; a potential response to the fear of change and modernity, the solution being the return to traditional values.  Respini indicates that “It is easy to mistake support for a conservative moral law as support for Islamism when it is more simply a reflection of basic conservative values.” As such, the demand for sharia in Indonesia is equivalent to the rise of religious conservatism in for example, America. Furthermore, as Islam can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, so can democracy, and, “A democratically elected legislature may, if it chooses, legitimately pass into law the most malignant or repressive statutes and still not alter its democratic credentials.” Nevertheless, though conservatism may be on the rise this has not translated into politics to a great degree, and it is unlikely that hardline conservatives will gain any kind of substantial political power, as voting patterns have shown. The key however is to understand that the Western form and understanding of liberal democracy is not the only ‘correct’ interpretation of what it means to be democratic. There are different forms democratic society can take.
Unlike conservatism, radicalism, regardless of the religion, can pose a threat to democracy. A paradox of democracy in Indonesia is that as democracy developed, radical Islamists were allowed to return from exile, which consequently led to terrorist attacks within the country. Increased freedoms within civil society allowed for the emergence radical, ‘uncivil’ Islam, which threatens the stability of democracy and undermines the image of moderate Indonesian Islam.  The problem of religious fundamentalism paired with “the weak capacity of the state to ensure the rule of law and to implement and deliver policies orientated towards universalistic end,” means that democracy in Indonesia is still fragile. The problem with a weak state and a tolerant attitude has meant that only the terrorists directly involved with bombings are prosecuted, with their religious mentors left ignored, though they are the ones that spread extremism. This has led to the questioning of whether democracy is the “best antidote to terrorism”. However, already the larger problems of separatist movements have been resolved, in for example Aceh, and the government has taken significant steps towards jailing terrorists. All in all, these violent Islamists are a small minority in all Islamic societies, and, in Indonesia, will hopefully disappear as democracy strengthens.
Thus far it has been demonstrated that though many believe the relationship between Islam and democracy is problematic, the two can function in parallel. So does this then suggest that Indonesia’s ‘model’ is the ‘perfect model’ for the coexistence of Islam and democracy? If Indonesia’s approach is taken as a model, a paradoxical prerequisite for democracy emerges because the emergence of democratic, civil Islam evolved as a movement against authoritarianism. Are then undemocratic conditions a prerequisite for the development of Islamic democratic movements? The concept of a ‘model’ implies that Indonesia’s approach to Islam and democracy could be reproduced or exported. However, this simplifies the complexity of the relationship. Krämer notes that “it is not possible to talk about Islam and democracy in general, but only about Muslims living and theorizing under specific historical circumstances.”  Islam, just like any other religion, cannot be treated as monolithic because it has been interpreted in different ways throughout the Islamic community. The way in which Islam has been interpreted in Indonesia is unique to Indonesia and has developed over hundreds of years to produce the form it exists in today. Furthermore, the interpretation of Islam is not the only factor that determines whether democracy can prevail in a Muslim society. Geopolitics, colonial legacy, socio-economic development, amongst other circumstances are all factors that contribute to the lack of democracy in Muslim societies. Therefore, the specific circumstances through which Islam has emerged in Indonesia mean that it cannot be used as a ‘model’ for aspiring Islamic democracies, as it has been a unique combination of historical, socio-economic and cultural factors that have determined the success of democracy.
It was unexpected when a poor, Islamic country like Indonesia democratized in the late nineties with the predominant view that Islam is incompatible with democracy. However, democracy functions in Indonesia due to a multitude of reasons, and paradoxically Islam played a key role in the revival of Indonesian democracy, with moderate Islam continuing to promote democracy. Though there are potential threats to democracy from radical Islamism, ultimately it looks as though democracy will continue to prevail through the support of the majority of the population. The Indonesian example does seem to suggest that some degree of secularism is required for a functional democracy, though this is speculative and whether democracy reigns probably depends on the Islamic party in charge and their demands. As such, whether Islam hinders democracy appears more dependent on the specific interpretation of Islam rather than on the religion itself. Although democracy is successful in Indonesia, it is by no means the ‘perfect model’ for Islam and democracy, as the circumstances through which this relationship has developed cannot be reproduced being unique to Indonesia. However, this case-study has highlighted important themes in the understanding of the relationship between Islam and democracy. Firstly, Islam nor democracy is not monolithic and can be interpreted and practiced in a multitude of ways, with Islam by no means necessarily being a negative force for democratization. Secondly, conservatism is on the rise within Islam, as it is in other cultures but this rise does not hinder democracy. Thirdly, the success of democracy cannot be attributed to culture or religion alone. Thus, the Indonesian example may not provide a model for enhancing the rise of democracy in the Islamic world, but it challenges stereotypes of Muslim politics and reveals the plural nature of Islam.
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 Central Intelligence Agency, “Indonesia,” CIA – The World Factbook, accessed May 12, 2012, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/id.html.
 Esposito and Voll in; Mitsuo Nakamura, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Observations on the 2004 General and Presidential Elections, Islamic Legal Studies Program Harvard Law School, Occasional Publications 6, December 2005, pg. 3, accessed May 10, 2012, http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/ilsp/publications/nakamura.pdf.
 As according to both foreign and domestic observers.
 Nakamura, pg. 11-12.
 Modernization theory predicts that democracy will naturally emerge once socio-economic development reaches a satisfactory level; Lisa Blaydes and James Lo, “One Man, One Vote, One Time? A Model of Democratization in the Middle East,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 24, no. 1 (January 2012): pg. 111, accessed May 15, 2012, doi:10.1177/0951629811423121.
 Joseph Schumpeter in; Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), EBook, pg. 6.
 Ghassan Salame, “Introduction: Where Are the Democrats?,” in Democracy Without Democrats?: The Renewal of Politics in the Muslim World, ed. Ghassan Salame (London: I.B. Tauris, 1994), pg. 3.
 Samuel P. Huntington, Democracy’s Third Wave, University of Oklahoma Press, Article Based upon the 1989 Julian J. Rothbaum Lectures at the Carl Albert Center of the University of Oklahoma, 1991, pg. 4, accessed May 19, 2012, https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/fesnic/241/Huntington_Third_Wave.pdf.
 John Anderson, “Does God Matter, and If So Whose God? Religion and Democratization,” Democratization 11, no. 4 (2004): pg. 200, accessed April 29, 2012, doi:10.1080/135103404000236817.
 Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (Summer 1993): pg. 40, accessed May 7, 2012, Business Source Complete.
 Sheila Carapico, “Introduction to Part One,” in Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report, ed. Joel Beinin and Joe Stork (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1997), pg. 29-30.; Yahya Sadowski, “The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate,” in Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report, ed. Joel Beinin and Joe Stork (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1997), pg. 35.
 Robert W. Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), EBook, pg. 11-12.
 Abdullahi A. An-Na’im, “Political Islam in National Politics and International Relations,” in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, ed. Peter L. Berger (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1999), pg. 115.
 François Burgat, Face to Face with Political Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2003), pg. 133.
 Andrea Teti and Andrea Mura, “Islam and Islamism,” in Routledge Handbook of Religion and Politics, ed. Jeff Haynes (New York: Routledge, 2010), pg. 105.
 Abdurrahman Wahid, “Indonesia’s Mild Secularism,” SAIS Review 21, no. 2 (2001): pg. 26, accessed May 3, 2012, doi:10.1353/sais.2001.0051;
 Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pg. 503.
 “The principles, as stated in the Preamble, include: a belief in the One and Only God; the unity of Indonesia; deliberation among representatives; just humanity; and social justice for all Indonesians.”; “Religion in the Indonesian Constitution,” Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, accessed May 11, 2012, http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/religion-in-the-indonesian-constitution.
 Amy L. Freedman, “Political Viability, Contestation and Power: Islam and Politics in Indonesia and Malaysia,” Politics and Religion 2, no. 1 (2009): pg. 112, accessed May 9, 2012, doi:10.1017/S1755048309000054.
 Ibid., pg. 113.
 Mark R. Woodward, “Indonesia, Islam, and the Prospect for Democracy,” SAIS Review 21, no. 2 (2001): pg. 29, accessed May 3, 2012, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/sais/summary/v021/21.2woodward.htm.
 Freedman, pg. 113.
 Douglas Webber, “A Consolidated Patrimonial Democracy? Democratization in Post-Suharto Indonesia,” Democratization 13, no. 3 (July 17, 2006): pg. 406, accessed May 3, 2012, doi:10.1080/13510340600579284.
 Wooward, pg. 29.
 Nakamura, pg. 6.
 Webber, pg. 397-398.
 Michael Buehler, “Islam and Democracy in Indonesia,” Insight Turkey 11, no. 4 (2009): pg. 53, accessed May 7, 2012, http://files.setav.org/uploads/Pdf/insight_turkey_2009_4_michael_buehler.pdf.
 Calvin Sims, “Indonesia: Gambling That Tolerance Will Trump Fear,” The New York Times, April 15, 2007, accessed May 11, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/weekinreview/15sims.html?_r=1.
 Hefner, pg. 14.
 Zachary Abuza, Political Islam and Violence in Indonesia (New York: Routledge, 2007), EBook, pg. 1.
 Hefner, pg. 14.
 Greg Barton, “Indonesia’s Year of Living Normally: Taking the Long View on Indonesia’s Progress,” Southeast Asian Affairs 2008:pg. 133, accessed May 7, 2012, doi:10.1353/saa.0.0009.
 Wahid, pg. 26-27.
 Abuza, pg. 1.
 Carapico, pg. 30.
 Freedman, pg. 117.
 Webber, pg. 403.
 Woodward, pg. 34.
 Buehler, pg. 51.
 Azyumardi Azra, Indonesia, Islam, and Democracy: Dynamics in a Global Context (Jakarta: Solstice Publishing, 2006), EBook, pg. 15-16.
 Blaydes and Lo, pg. 116.
 Nakamura, pg. 25.
 Azra, pg. 18.
 Edward Aspinall, “Indonesia in 2009: Democratic Triumphs and Trials,” Southeast Asian Affairs 2010:pg. 107, accessed May 7, 2012, doi:10.1353/saa.2010.0009; Buehler, pg. 56.
 Buehler, pg. 56.
 Ibid., pg. 60.
 Freedman, pg. 123.
 Azra, pg. 22.
 Kate Hodal, “Indonesia’s Atheists Face Battle for Religious Freedom,” The Guardian, May 03, 2012, accessed May 14, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/03/indonesia-atheists-religious-freedom-aan.
 The constitution only recognizes Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Confucianism; “Indonesia,” Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs | Georgetown University, accessed May 11, 2012, http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/resources/countries/indonesia.
 Barton, pg. 135.
 Ibid., pg. 137.
 Ibid., pg. 142.
 Peter L. Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview,” in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, ed. Peter L. Berger (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1999), pg. 6.
 Scott M. Thomas, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pg. 42.
 Blake Respini and Herdi Sahrasad, “Indonesia, Islam and Democracy: A Perspective,” The Jakarta Post, May 2, 2010, accessed May 11, 2012, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/02/05/indonesia-islam-and-democracy-a-perspective.html.
 Damien Kingsbury, “Islam and Democracy Can Happily Co-exist,” National Times, January 4, 2010, accessed May 11, 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/islam-and-democracy-can-happily-coexist-20100104-lpob.html.
 From the Bali bombings in 2002 to subsequent bombings in 2003, 2004, and 2005; Sims; Freedman, pg. 118.
 Abuza, pg. 1.
 Azra, pg. 60.
 Webber, pg. 408.
 Lee Kuan Yew, “Islam and Democracy in Southeast Asia,” Forbes 174, no. 2 (July 26, 2004): pg. 39, accessed May 10, 2012, Business Source Complete.
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