Meaningless award for Indonesia
Controversy surrounding the Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s plan to confer the World Statesman Award to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his efforts to promote religious freedom and prevent sectarian conflict has been rife ahead of the presentation in New York scheduled for May 30.
Some prominent civil society figures in Indonesia have protested the award presentation. Catholic priest Frans Magnis-Suseno sent an open letter to the media, saying the President did not deserve the award because he had not protected minority groups in Indonesia.
The Civil Society for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Sobat KBB and Change.org held a press conference on May 23 in Jakarta; religious leaders and activists concluded that the award was a slap in the face for victims of discrimination because it contradicted the facts here in Indonesia.
On the other hand, a number of Islamic organization leaders gathered at the office of the Religious Affairs Minister to show their support for the award, which they said was testament to the President’s continuous efforts to build harmony and religious tolerance in Indonesia.
However, it is very telling that none of these organizations represented minority groups.
In the early years of his presidency, Yudhoyodo introduced the concept of Indonesia’s international identity; Islam, democracy and modernity should work together simultaneously. Amid religious extremism and terrorism across the globe, Indonesia is often seen by the international community as the face of an ideal model of Islam.
This is particularly true after the Arab Spring ignited a political crisis that hit much of the Organization of Islamic Conference member states. The Muslim world is in urgent need of a role model in the transition toward democracy.
At least Indonesia has relatively succeeded in formatting international perception.
Nevertheless, there is a grey area between foreign and domestic policy. Ideally, foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, which act together to — supposedly — support each other.
Such an achievement at the international level is once again an extension of the domestic policy.
Many foreign researchers predict Indonesia could be a beacon of democracy for the larger Muslim world. However, it is unfortunate that since 2004 the number of violations of freedom of religion or belief has constantly increased due to numerous discriminatory regulations that justify intolerance.
The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), from January to April 2013, assessed the province of West Java and found it to be the most intolerant province in Indonesia.
The rights watch found acts of violence toward the Ahmadiyah Indonesian Congregation (JAT), the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) and other minority people in the province.
Intolerance, according to ELSAM, stems from Joint Decree No. 3/2008/Kep-033/A/JA/6/2008 issued by the Religious Affairs Minister, the Attorney General’s Office and the Home Minister. This decree is often used as the basis of violence and violations of the rights of religious minorities in Indonesia.
In addition, the Constitutional Court upheld the obsolete 1965 Blasphemy Law and this has become a tool of legitimacy used by intolerant groups.
In West Java, the governor issued a bylaw in 2011 that prohibited Ahmadiyah activities, which led to persecution of the Ahmadiyah.
So, what is the meaning of this award for Indonesia? As long as this gray area between foreign policy and domestic policy continues to widen, such an award will not be accepted with pride by the people this archipelagic nation.
The will daunting task for policymakers will be to redefine our domestic policy to support the “soft power” at the international level, so that the concept of our international identity — once introduced by President Yudhoyono — where Islam, democracy and modernity cling together, is not merely rhetoric.
The concept should be embodied in the form of equality for all, including minorities.
The writer obtained her post graduate degree from the department of politics and international relations at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, lectures at the Mathali’ul Falah Islamic Institute in Pati, Central Java.