INDONESIA: Media should promote Islam and democracy

Speakers at two-day discussion say too much media coverage of hardline groups would adversely affect the country's mostly democratic Muslims

The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

By Tony Hotland

The media should not highlight Muslim hardliners who take the law into their hands in the name of religion, academics said Tuesday during a discussion organized by the German Embassy called "Islam, Democracy and Media Freedom."

The two-day discussion started Tuesday and is set to include scholars, philosophers and members of the media.

Tuesday's speakers included scholars who said controversial or saturated media coverage of hardline groups would tarnish the mostly democratic Muslim population in Indonesia.

The discussion Tuesday also found Islam and democracy had proven their compatibility in the republic, where they said multiculturalism was well preserved.

Speakers at the discussion said democracy in Indonesia was supported by the fact it constitutionally upheld freedom of religion.

Eighty per cent of Indonesia's population is Muslim.

Franz Magnis-Suseno, a reputed scholar from the Driyarkara School of Philosophy said, "Unlike Malaysia, Muslims (here) are legally allowed to embrace a new faith".

"We are seeing unprecedented relations between Muslim organizations and those of other faiths, and it shows democracy survives in a land of Muslims."

This notion was shared by Azyumardi Azra, a professor at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, who said multi-culturalism in Indonesia was viewed as a strong virtue.

He said the difference between Islam in Indonesia and in other countries was that Muslim organizations here were civil society groups.

"Unlike those in the Middle East, they contribute to the development of a civic society here that is very crucial for democracy," he said.

Azyumardi also cited the victory of nationalist parties in elections as an example of democratic Muslims here, despite the birth of various Islam-oriented parties.

"Above that, Muslims here also practice the same Islamic obligations like those in the Middle East.

"That's why I reject claims that say Islam in Indonesia is more peripheral compared to that in the Middle East," he said.

Hans-Ludwig Frese, a German Islam observer at Kleio Humanities in Bremen, said Muslims in Germany, who were mostly from Turkey, also played an important role in sustaining democracy in Germany.

"The difference is they don't claim allegiance to a specific Muslim organization like many here do," he said.

They said because Indonesia was displaying good relations between Islam and democracy, the media here should contribute by not portraying extremism or fueling controversy.

The latest incident around the media and Islam was the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers, inciting worldwide protests by Muslims.

"What the media need to remember is that Muslims here are committed to democracy, so don't mind the hardliners," Azyumardi said.

"Thus the media should take responsibility for having promoted such radical figures."