Editorial: Gay official? Why not?
Paper Edition | Page: 6
Despite its long-held respect of pluralism, is Indonesia really moving toward being an intolerant nation? The latest survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) and previous studies focusing on intolerance against minorities seem to validate this worrying trend.
LSI found 15.1 percent of 1,200 respondents interviewed early this month showed an aversion against people adhering to different faiths, up from 8.2 percent surveyed in 2005. Intolerance against Ahmadiyah and Shia minorities has also increased, with the highest level of resentment directed at homosexuals.
In January, a study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) revealed that although 83.4 percent of the respondents admitted to having no problem with neighbors from different ethnic groups, 79.3 percent objected to inter-religious marriage.
A series of attacks targeting minorities, including homosexuals and activists promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and myriad regional ordinances that discriminate against minority groups, have led to a general perception about a rising intolerance in the new characteristics of Indonesia.
In the case of the LSI survey, however, such a conclusion is misleading. About two thirds of respondents interviewed in the LSI survey were uneducated or senior high school graduates at best and earned Rp 2 million (US$208.49) or less per month. Intolerance, therefore, is associated with people with lower educational and economic statuses, who by nature are prone to provocation or incitement. Further study may be needed to prove if acts of intolerance are genuine, self-motivated or not.
We have confidence that so-called growing intolerance does not represent the general picture of Indonesia. The news about hostility against minorities, which has been translated in an extreme manner such as killing, has gone viral thanks to the role of the free media that unfortunately failed to take into account the strong fundamentals of the nation’s respect for pluralism.
Vigilante and radical groups have continued to enjoy free publication and prominence, through their acts of violence against minorities and advocates of minority rights. Strangely, almost all, if not many, groups representing the majority mainstream speak out in condemnation of extremism and acts of intolerance. The voices of intolerant radical groups, despite their minority, have outstripped those of the majority, which prefer to keep silent.
Even the country’s largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, known for their moderate views, fail to draw a clear line, particularly when it comes to a delicate issue like homosexuality, merely because the controversy splits the mainstream organizations themselves. Any statement against or in favor of minority groups coming from NU or Muhammadiyah leaders should therefore be read as personal opinions.
The government, particularly President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has done everything right in projecting Indonesia’s identity as a moderate country where democracy and Islam coexist peacefully. What the government is lacking is proof of its commitment, which has been visible many times through its inaction in the face of acts of intolerance involving individuals, groups and regional governments.
The central government often plays down practices of discrimination against the minorities as a consequence of certain ordinances in place in some regencies, saying it is part of local expressions justified by regional autonomy. In other cases, the government has failed to uphold the law against criminal acts rooted in intolerance. This has only sent the wrong message that the state tolerates intolerance.
Rather than expecting action from the silent majority, advocating tolerance may start from the government, perhaps by promoting a homosexual to a public post. Let’s wait and see.
Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.