The Jakarta Post
In her Nurcholish Madjid Memorial Lecture (NMML) in December 2013, Sidney Jones's unanswered questions were: How can you teach tolerance in schools if there are strong countervailing influences at work, and how and by whom can religious teachers be trained?
The questions were raised after the director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict presented her analysis on religious radicalization in Indonesia, which to a certain extent referred to research conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) and the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) throughout 2006-2008, as well as the Institute for Islam and Peace Studies (LaKIP) in 2011.
LaKIP's survey, for instance, conducted in more than 50 schools, suggested that many religious teachers and their students were intolerant. Some 49 percent of high school students supported radical activities in the name of religion; 42 percent of teachers and 52 percent of students favored taking action against unauthorized houses of worship; and 38 percent of the teachers and 68 percent of the students favored damaging the houses or facilities of members of deviant sects.
To answer Jones' question, we should get a better picture of why this is taking place. One available means is to consider the intolerance phenomenon a repercussion of 'Islamic activism', which is defined broadly by Quintan Wiktorowicz (2004) as the mobilization of contention to support Muslim causes.
Through this perspective, we can see that all education levels are actually effective social sites for organizing contention with the availability of a significant number of people and educational infrastructures. Schools provide not only the opportunities to instill an Islamist framework into students' young minds but they do this to teachers and parents as well.
Politically, the opportunities to organize contention in the educational domain are significantly available because of the minor presence or even the absence of the state. The government, for example, keeps deploying the 'panacea' model in dealing with education, thinking that significant change can be realized merely through a single action such as by tinkering with curriculum.
Consequently, the Education Ministry keeps failing to cope with the root of the problem: Teachers' lack of subject knowledge and pedagogy, as well as their lack of motivational drive (World Bank, 2010). We can also see how the subsequent policies issued have failed to alter the schools' paralyzing bureaucratic managements.
The situation, which has put Indonesia's education in jeopardy, takes us to the second aspect of Islamic activism in education. Islamic movement groups exploit education to mobilize contention openly or clandestinely. Their members in education, both teachers and activists, move to institute radical religious services or activities and found Islamist schools.
The most structured and widespread mobilizations are certainly that of the tarbiyya (education and upbringing) activists. Inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement, they have successfully seized opportunities at least since the 1970s. Starting with the mostly secular campuses where they militantly prepared members and interwove networks, they have now established their own schools that are commonly named 'integrated Islamic schools'.
To materialize collective action, Islamist educational activists conduct framing processes consistently. Learning resources and activities, religious services or any available opportunities are militantly used to articulate the core imperative of Islamic movements: The desire to create a society governed and guided by sharia.
In mobilizing resources to build a school, for example, they diagnose the Muslims' disadvantages in the Indonesian secular education system, insisting Islam as the solution and provide rationales to gather support from potential donors. They propagate that acquiring secular sciences with sharia disposition will cope with the miseries of fraudulent management, content, processes and outputs.
All endeavors in Islamic educational activism have actually exhibited a consistent repertoire of contention ' that they are interconnected one another and leading to the sharia disposition. The tarbiyya activists, for instance, started their movements among university students, developed informal learning centers for high school students and finally established their own schools.
In educational practice, while most ordinary public schools stay in the corrupt Indonesian educational system, the Islamist schools innovate themselves in both exploring their Islamic symbols and facilitating the students to learn secular subjects. Many of the schools adapt internationally developed curriculum, especially through using textbooks imported from Singapore, England, the US and Australia.
After all, with a better picture of why intolerant teachers and students are at large, we actually can still say that we are not without hope. Although they are now encircled by tarbiyya schools, there are modern Islamic schools with multiculturalism and inclusiveness. There are also pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools) deliberately asserting their peaceful global Islamic vision. It depends on us though, whether or not we will help strengthen them.
History keeps showing us that there are many more people who make rational choices.
Political Islam with radicalism as its backbone has repeatedly showed its incapability to materialize the religious utopia.
The writer is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Religion and Democracy (PUSAD), Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.
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