Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Democracy the right choice over theocracy

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Thang D. Nguyen, Jakarta

As Indonesia turns 62 this month, Indonesians should be proud of their nation's democratic transformation.

Since 1998 when strongman Soeharto was toppled, Indonesia has become a rising democracy. With free elections and a democratically selected government, Indonesia is, in fact, the world's third-largest democracy, after the U.S. and India.

But what makes Indonesia's democratic transition outstanding is that it has taken place in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Amid global debates on whether Islam and democracy can coexist, this transition has, indeed, been an inspiring success story.

Although most Indonesian Muslims are considered moderate, radical, hard-line Islamic groups do exist in Indonesia, and they are not happy with the country's democratic change.

What these groups want, instead, is a theocratic state, an Indonesia that is ruled by sharia, or Islamic law. And to that end they have made numerous attempts.

In 2002, for instance, a motion to institute sharia in Indonesia was put before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), but it was rejected.

This Aug. 12, 90,000 Muslims gathered at Jakarta's Bung Karno Stadium for the International Caliphate Conference. This was the second conference by Hizbut Tahrir, a global Islamic organization whose mission is to build an Islamic state throughout the world.

During the event, the group blamed democracy as the main reason why Indonesia is lagging behind other nations.

"What has democracy brought us?" asked Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, spokesperson of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a chapter of two million members. "Democracy only brings us secular policies, like what's happening nowadays (sic)."

But, seriously, what can theocracy, or sharia, bring to Indonesia, where 39 million people live in poverty and 22 million others are still unemployed?

And if sharia is the key to Indonesia's, or any other country's, problems, why is it that the Islamic world is so far behind the West and other non-Muslim countries in economic development and other spheres?

To be sure, if we take a good look at the Islamic world today and ask ourselves which countries are peaceful, prosperous and advanced, we can only name a few: Brunei, Malaysia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

As for the rest, some are either at war with a foreign country or in a civil war, e.g. Iraq, while others face the threat of terrorism masterminded and launched by homegrown radical Islamic groups, e.g. Indonesia.

Ironically, this is the Islamic world that is 1.3 billion strong and has the biggest oil reserve in the world, among a wealth of other natural resources. And, lest we forget, this is the same Islamic world that was the most powerful, advanced and enlightened civilization at one point in history.

Unfortunately, as the West developed and gained dominance following the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, the Islamic world continued to live in its once-glorious past and gradually fell behind.

And as the development gap between the West and the Islamic world has widened, Muslim groups, such as Hizbut Tahrir, have put the blame on democracy as the cause of all the wrongs in the Islamic world.

Some other groups, such as al-Qaeda, have taken a more extreme view, calling the West the enemy of Islam. Thus, they have turned to jihad as the way to fight against the West, particularly the U.S. and its allies, in defense of Islam.

This is certainly the case of the al-Qaeda-linked Jamaah Islamiyah (JI). With its links and operations across Southeast Asia, the JI has been responsible for major terrorist acts in Indonesia, namely the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005; the Jakarta JW Marriott blast in 2003; and the attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta right before the 2004 elections.

As we have seen, violent jihadism is no solution to poverty, backwardness and other problems that Islamic countries are facing today; in fact, it has done more harm to Islam and Muslim-majority nations.

In the JI attacks, for instance, most of the victims were innocent Muslim Indonesians. What is more, these attacks have damaged Indonesia's global image, investor confidence and tourism industry.

But most importantly, these attacks have darkened the good name of Islam.
In a nutshell, such jihadism is no way for Indonesia, or any other Muslim-majority nation, to overcome its national challenges and move forward.

Likewise, instituting sharia, as Hizbut Tahrir would have you believe, is not the answer to Indonesia's problems either.

To be sure, democracy may not be the best political system in the world. Or, as the former British prime minister Winston Churchill put it: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

So, until Indonesia finds a better form of government, it had better stick with democracy.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His writing can be read at www.thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interesting article ...Democracy over theocracy...

One only has to study the history of Islam with a sense of justice and open mind.

If Islam had not been hijacked after the death of the Prophet, p.b.u.h., and the Caliphate had gone to the rightful Caliph, we would be living in a world of peace and harmony.

Interested muslims should read Prof. Mohammad al-Tijani al-Samawi's research books such as Then I Was Guided and others.


4:50 AM  
Blogger Thang D. Nguyen said...

Thank you for your comment.

To understand my thesis further, I invite you to read my article entitled "Time to Think: What the Islamic World Needs to Do".

In that article, I had more space to elabore on my points.

You can find that piece on this blog.



4:52 AM  
Anonymous ria wibisono said...

Nice article, Mr.Thang.
Currently I love reading this kind of articles because I'm doing an undergraduate thesis about nationalism. I can have this article as my reference. Thank you so much.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous emma said...

It's interesting to see your articles about Indonesia. However, I notice few things in many of your articles: you are stereotyping Islam as something against democracy, Jihad as something always violent and what so-called hard-line muslim is always a theocracy.

Well, I can't blame you if you come to that conclusion. Apparently many people (like you) judge these groups of people based on some big mouths of certain people (like that FPI leader) who doesn't necessarily represent what these groups think.

First of all, don't blame Islam for the problems that happen in some countries you called as Islamic world. Because as a moslem I can see that those countries don't even practice the real Islamic law and Islamic way of life (even saudi arabia made many mistakes in 'applying' the law).

Secondly, there's a huge missunderstanding about what Jihad really is. Sadly, it is not only non-moslems who have wrong perception about Jihad. I can say that even most moslems don't understand the real meaning of Jihad.

I remember years ago when I studied in Australia, one of my classmates, a girl from East Europe, blamed jihad for all the violent things happen in middle East. I decided to explain to the class that the real meaning of jihad is waaay different than that violent conception they have. That's when I realised that, prior to my explanation, even my moslem classmates didn't understand what Jihad is. And I can only blame people like Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and the likes for making Jihad such a bad name. Those ulemas have twisted the meaning of Jihad (often) for their personal and political interests.

Regarding the fundamentalist moslems, I noticed that they are one of the first groups who fought against Soeharto's dictatorship. If you say that Islam's theocracy as something against democracy, than you should read more about the history of Islam, and please read about the periods of the first four Caliphs. It is this kind of state that many fundamentalist moslems dream of. I guess you know what the Indonesian translation for civil society. Yes, it's Masyarakat Madani, the word Madani is rooted from "Madinah" (or Medina in English). It's because Medina is the concept of what civil society should be, where democracy, respect, fairness and harmony are the main themes. And I'm sure you are aware that Medina is the city where Mohammed and the four caliphs built Islamic civilization.

However, I have to admit sadly, that the closest examples of this Medina type government (in term of concept) are nowhere in Islamic world. I found them in Scandinavian countries.

Personally speaking, I don't want Indonesia to be an Islamic country or apply Islamic law. Why? because the moslems themselves are not ready for that.

Well, sorry for making such a long comment in your blog. Just wanna make things clear.


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7:57 PM  

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