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Jakarta Post

Grassroots pioneers fight against intolerance

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, July 4, 2013   /  08:55 am

Lusiman Senen is the kind of son any parents would boast about. He is the school'€™s soccer star and is also active in student organizations as well as taking part in neighborhood functions.

A devoted Muslim from South Halmahera, North Maluku, Lusiman is taking his social skills to another level by spending his vacation living with a Catholic family of Chinese descent in Jakarta.

Lusiman is among 10 high-school students from nine provinces selected to join an exchange program aimed at promoting the importance of diversity and nationalism.

The program, dubbed SabangMerauke, is probably the first of its kind designed to help students understand diversity in a country that hosts more than 1,100 ethnic groups.

Sabang-Merauke co-founder Aichiro Suryo Prabowo said that the participating students would directly experience the diversity of Indonesia by living with host families from different cultural and religious backgrounds.

Aichiro said that he and his two co-founders, Ayu Kartika Dewi and Dyah Widiastuti, established the program on Oct. 28 last year after being inspired by their own student-exchange experiences in other countries. '€œIf they can treat foreigners well, why can'€™t we? We can end clashes caused by diversity if we are open-minded and consider diversity as an asset to our country.'€

Ayu said that Indonesians from childhood needed to understand the danger of disputes over diversity.

She said she witnessed the dangers of intolerance when she was a voluntary teacher in a Muslim village in Halmahera in 2000. '€œThe Christian-Muslim conflict in Maluku'€™s capital city of Ambon from the previous year continued to have a social impact. Some students who had never met Christians told me, '€˜Be careful Ma'€™am, some Christians might burn down your house later'€™.'€

She said that diversity should be taught not only through textbooks but also through experiences.

Despite its long-held respect for pluralism, the world'€™s largest Muslim-majority country is moving toward becoming an intolerant nation.

A survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) late last year found 15.1 percent of respondents had an aversion to people of different faiths, up from 8.2 percent in 2005.

In January, a study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) revealed 68.2 percent of respondents would reject people of a different faith building a place of worship in their neighborhood.

Award-wining educator Retno Listyarti believes that intolerance among students basically stems from '€œnarrow-mindedness'€.

In order to solve the problem, Retno has developed a teaching method for high-school students to easily understand the importance of tolerance. The method is in the form of interactive teaching through a game in which students are forced to think critically about issues related to religious differences. '€œDuring the game I ask my students whether they know about the Ahmadiyah and whether they agree with their persecution. The questions will eventually boil down to '€˜why?'€™.'€

Gadjah Mada University has also developed a method to help fight radicalism through discussion forums held by the newly established Youth Center of the political and social science faculty. '€œRadicalism is basically caused by homogenous social interaction. One way to fight it is to have students from various communities share and exchange their ideas,'€ said the university'€™s sociologist, Muhammad Najib Azca, who is involved in the program. (ian/koi)