Islam and Politics in Indonesia: Freedom of Religion or Belief and the influence of Islamic actors

©2017 Textbook 89 Pages


In most Islamic societies, freedom of religion or belief is not a reality for religious minorities. Indonesia, home of the biggest Muslim population in the world, is a positive exception in this regard. The country was always a role model for the peaceful co-existence of diverse religious and cultural traditions, but in recent years, Islamic fundamentalist groups challenge the country’s tolerant and pluralistic identity. This book inquires the development of freedom of religion or belief from a political, legal and religious perspective. It analyzes the laws and mechanisms that protect the rights of minorities and traces the role of the country’s most important Islamic organizations and the influence they have on national policy-making. It finally points out possible future developments and how the government can counter the threat of militant Islamism and preserve Indonesia’s tolerant traditions.


Table Of Contents

This is the context of this paper, the implementation of universal rights in a specific place and
time and the interplay between those rights and competing religious values held in
contemporary Indonesia. The focus lies on Islamic approaches to human rights because almost
90% of the country's population identify themselves as Muslims and Islam is the formative
religion in shaping government policies and social discourses.
1.1 Focus of research and guiding questions
This paper aims at analyzing the human right of freedom of religion or belief in Indonesia and
how the competition between different approaches to Islam influences its implementation.
This is guided by several questions that arose from the repeated cases of prosecution of
minority beliefs witnessed in recent years: Is there a dichotomy between human rights in
general and freedom of religion or belief in particular and Islam? Is there a shared
understanding or middle ground able to balance religious demands and universal human
rights? More specific, what is the status of freedom or religion or belief in Indonesia and what
laws and mechanisms exist to protect religious minorities and are they successful? In an
attempt to answer these questions, this paper focuses on analyzing how competing approaches
to Islam offered by different social and political Islamic players interact with and influence the
process of policy-making and policing of religious activities.
1.2 Method of research and structure of the paper
The research approach of this paper is based on a qualitative evaluation of a wide array of
textual sources. Since the topic of this research touches several areas like law, philosophy and
the dynamics of social interaction between the state and religious organizations, it is necessary
to approach the subject in a multi-disciplinary manner in order to be able to cover all the
different influences that shape the way freedom of religion or belief is applied in Indonesia. The
sources used in this research mainly cover the two foci of this paper: Legal sources like
domestic laws, international treaties and other legal texts concerned with the arrangement of
religious freedom in Indonesia on one hand, and non-legal texts providing insight about the
competing stances on the issue of freedom of religion or belief taken up by different national
Islamic organizations, scholars of Islam and civil society actors as well as the government's
response to these stances, on the other hand.

This study is divided into three parts. In the first part, I provide basic background information
about human rights in general and freedom of religion or belief in particular, giving an account
on the development of the international human rights regime, its characteristics and its
implementation into national law. This is followed by a cursory introduction into Indonesia's
history covering only aspects relevant to this paper and an account on the Indonesian
interpretation of the term religion and how this term entered national legislation. Then I look
into the relevant laws and treaties that build the legal framework upon which the Indonesian
government's rulings are based. Legal sources analyzed in this part include international human
rights treaties and national laws like the Indonesian constitution, the state ideology and a
number of laws that are directly connected to freedom of religion or belief.
In the second part I will analyze the crucial documents that reveal the differing approaches and
viewpoints towards freedom of religion or belief put forward by the country's most important
Islamic actors, working out the relation between freedom of religion or belief and different
interpretations of Islam and the way in which they try and influence the government's course of
action towards the issues at hand. The parties analyzed in this study are the religious state
institution Majelis Ulama Indonesia and the most active mass organizations Nahdlatul Ulama,
Muhammadiyah, Jaringan Islam Liberal and the Front Pembela Islam.
These two steps will allow me in the final chapter to examine how this interplay between the
government and the Islamic actors alters the implementation of the freedom of religion or
belief in Indonesia. This analysis will hopefully provide an answer to the question if Islam and
freedom of religion or belief are inherently oppose to each other or if there are ways to
consolidate specific religious values and universal human rights. On a less abstract level, the
question will be addressed if the government is successful in upholding the law of freedom of
religion or belief under the social and cultural circumstances prevalent in Indonesia or if the
demands made by the Islamic organizations curb its implementation, and to what extent.
Bielefeldt provides a useful framework of analysis for understanding why the government acts
the way it does.
This framework will be applied in chapter 4.2.7 `Preliminary analysis of the
Indonesian legal framework'.
Bielefeldt 2013.

2 Human Rights: History, characteristics, functioning
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its subsequent implementation in the
international law regime are considered a milestone in modern history, following the
catastrophe of two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century. But the origins of the
human rights discourse precede the wars and are manifold. The idea of basic human rights that
apply to every human being is the product of specific interrelated historical, philosophical,
social and political developments that led to the formulation of the (UDHR) in 1948. This builds
the starting point from which further, more elaborated international treaties on human rights
were developed. Before going into detail about the right to freedom of thought, conscience,
religion of belief (freedom of religion or belief in short), which is the scope of this paper, it is
necessary to give an overview over the development of human rights treaties, their basic
principles and the implementation of human rights in international and national law to
understand the interplay between national legislation that answers to specific demands and
international law regimes that rely on universally applicable human rights.
2.1 The history of the international human rights regime
While the general idea of some form of human rights that protect the rights and dignity of
individuals can be traced back well into the past
, the history of the concept of universal human
rights as a leading motive in international law as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, which this paper is concerned with, is quite recent. After the end of the Second
World War the need for an international system of binding rules that could secure peace and
grant the individual more protection became evident.
In 1945 the United Nations (UN) were
created as a reaction to this need. There have been other inter-governmental organizations
Patnaik 2004: 500-506 Patnaik traces the notion of inherent rights and duties of people back to ancient scholars
like Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. Later Thomas Aquinas enhanced the idea of fundamental human dignity and the
universality of natural law. Through the centuries, philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau further
developed the relationship between individuals and rulers in society and established theories on how to defend
the individual from an all-powerful, abusive authority. The evolution of the thinking about human rights is closely
connected, but not limited to, the rise of modern nation-states in Europe and its monopoly over violence. In the
eighteenth century, Kant delivered the groundwork for human rights in the modern sense with his belief in the
autonomy of the individual and that the purpose of the state is to create conditions in which the individual can
unfold freely and with his separation of human rights from other rights, preparing the idea of human rights as
something universal. Other important impulses came from John Rawls who focused on creating justice as the main
feature of social institutions and argued that a political system has to guarantee equal liberty for each citizen. This
sense of equality is another characteristic of human rights today.
Ballin; Ziebertz (ed.) 2016:2.

before like the League of Nations, but this was created out of a context of the colonization of
large parts of the African, Asian and Pacific world by European powers. There were also other
international movements and organizations fighting for labor rights, women's rights, self-
determination and other issues, that predated the founding of the UN.
The preamble of the
charter of the United Nations states, among other goals, the maintenance of peace and security
and the promotion of human rights as its purpose.
Its first article adds as its purpose:
To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic,
social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for
human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex,
language, or religion
To amplify the goals of the UN charter, the world leaders gathered in the UN decided to put
forward a declaration that would enshrine the protection of human rights. After some
preliminary work done by a Philosophers' Committee to `identify key theoretical issues in
framing a charter of rights for all peoples and nations' in 1946, the UN Commission on Human
Rights started drafting a declaration in January 1947.
This work was then moved to a formal
drafting committee consisting of 18 members from eight member states, chaired by Eleanor
Roosevelt, the widow of the US American President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Commission
decided that they would develop a declaration and not a legally binding treaty that would,
hopefully, `inspirational, energizing and broadly accessible to peoples everywhere' and that it
should include civil and political rights as well as social and economic rights.
After several
revisions that reflected the discussions and objections from different member states, the
General Assembly (the main body of the UN in which all member states are represented and
have a voting right), voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on
December 10, 1948.
Today the UDHR is considered a major step in human history and an
unprecedented effort in peace-keeping and embodiment of human rights standards.
Mutua 2007: 552.
UN Charter: Preamble.
UN Charter Art. 1 (3).
Brown (ed.) 2016: 29.
Brown (ed.) 2016: 30.
Brown (ed.) 2016: 30.
Brown (ed.) 2016: 30. 48 states voted in favor of the declaration, eight countries abstained and two, Honduras
and Yemen, failed to vote or abstain. No nation voted against the declaration.

2.1.1 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The UDHR marked the starting point for changes in the field of international politics and
cooperation. While the UDHR itself is not a binding treaty, two international covenants were
built on it: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) devised in 1966, as well as
subsequent human rights treaties and treaties bodies, which together shaped the international
human rights regime.
These two covenants, which have legally binding status in international
law, together with the UDHR form the International Bill of Human Rights. The UDHR itself is not
binding, but it is vital in the sense that it provides a framework for the discussion and discerning
of human rights on a global scale, marked by the `common understanding' of human rights
presented in the preamble of the UDHR. Even if different nations disagree with its formulations,
it provides a structure for these arguments, helping to foster the idea that there are basic
human rights, no matter how contested some might be in different contexts, on an
international level and helping to promote human rights obligations.
One success of the
International Bill of Rights is that, in many countries, most of its provisions are formulated as
national law, proving that the setting of standards, binding and non-binding, leads to a higher
acceptance and willingness to adapt these standards.
Considering the fact that international
human rights law undermines national law and therefore constrains national sovereignty, the
question arises why the vast majority of states are willing to ratify human rights treaties. Some
researchers argue that the reason is that committing to international treaties contributes to the
legitimacy of a state in the international community, indicating that there is a normative `soft
pressure' to play by the same rules if a country wants to act on eye level with other nations in
the international political arena.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights encompasses the most fundamental rights that
human beings possess. These are based on the `inherent dignity and of the equal and
inalienable rights of all members of the human family'
, marking human rights as a secular
concept without religious connotations, that each human being deserves solely because of the
fact of being part of the human family. Its second base is the concept of universalism, the
Arat 2006: 417. The content of the ICCPR will be presented in detail in chapter 4.2 `The legal framework for the
embodiment of freedom of religion or belief'.
Brown (ed.) 2016: 33.
Brown (ed.) 2016: 35.
Tsutsui; Wotipka 2008: 750.
UDHR: Preamble. The value of human dignity is repeated in the preambles to the ICCPR and the ICESCR.

United Nations formulated the UDHR as a concept that is universally valid without difference to
men and women in each region and culture of the world.
The concept of universal validity of
human rights is confronted with the idea of the relativity of human rights. This idea postulates
that all moral values are only a product of the culture and religion in which they emerged, and
can only claim validity in their home culture while other cultures might produce different values
which are equally valid; therefore human rights are relative to their respective cultures, a view
that many Islamic states share.
The declaration protects fundamental rights and freedoms
such as the right to life, liberty and security
, protection from torture
, equality before the
, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
, freedom of opinion and
, or the right to education
and participation.
Similar to the development of the concept of human rights in general, freedom of religion or
belief as a right emerged not out of nowhere as part of the Universal Declaration of
Independence, but is a product of historical processes. Today the Magna Charta Libertatum,
signed by King John of England in 1215, is regarded as the first document mentioning legal
positions that are now fundamental rights, including the guarantee of the freedom of the
English church.
Freedom of religion or belief contains two aspects, the freedom of the
individual and the collective rights of religious communities.
Other documents of human
rights followed that contained the protection of religious freedom and that inspired the UDHR
and human rights as we understand them today.
HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations [...].' Also Art. 2: `Everyone is
entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration , without distinction of any kind, such as race
colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.'
Wittinger 2008: 27.
UDHR: Art.3.
UDHR: Art. 5.
UDHR: Art. 7.
UDHR: Art. 18.
UDHR: Art. 19.
UDHR: Art. 26.
UDHR: Art. 27.
Wittinger 2008: 16.
Wittinger 2008: 15.
Wittinger 2008: 16. The Virginia Bill of Rights of 1776 and the French Declaration of Human Rights of 1789 are
mentioned here.

The relevant article of the UDHR in the context of this analysis is Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes
freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with
others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice,
worship and observance.
This article lays the foundation upon which all international treaties on the protection of
freedom of religion or belief that this paper inquires upon draw.
2.2 Normative universalism: A contentious principle of human rights
What is revolutionary about the emergence of international human rights in the twentieth
century is that until then, only states were subjects of international law and as such possessed
rights and duties in international law while individuals had no such rights. Their treatment was
entirely an internal affair of their home state.
With the ratification of the International Bill of
Rights in 1976, the protection of human rights became an international matter because the
area of human rights was moved from the domestic jurisdiction of a state to an international
legal framework, giving citizens international protection from their own state if it violated their
The rise of international human rights norms as binding legislature instead of just an
abstract ideal produced a number of controversies about the nature of these laws.
One main question revolves around the characteristic of universalism as a key feature of human
rights. Is it realistic or desirable that the rights enshrined in the International Bill of Rights do
apply to each country in a universal manner or do they in fact represent culturally specific
values that are relative and cannot be forced on different cultures? Defendants of the second
opinion argue that the UDHR on which the international treaties are based was at the time of
adoption only embraced by 48 states, mostly from the Western world; therefore its values are
not representing the values of large parts of the world. Imposing these standards on other
cultures is criticized as a form of Western or Eurocentric cultural imperialism.
Schmahl answers to this criticism by pointing out the fact that, while many African and Asian
countries were not involved in the drafting of the UDHR, the document is universally accepted.
Ballin; Ziebertz (ed.) 2016: 1.
Ballin; Ziebertz (ed.) 2016: 2.
Ballin; Ziebertz (ed.) 2016: 7.

She refers to other resolutions like the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Program of Action of the
UN World Conference on Human Rights and the 2000 Millennium Declaration of the UN
General Assembly, which were drafted with the participation of these states and which refer
heavily on the UDHR. In Schmahl's opinion, agreement to these resolutions expresses an
agreement to the UDHR that they are built on. The sheer prevalence and legal and normative
weight of the adopted human rights norms is interpreted as a de facto acceptance in the
international community.
This argument can be supported by the fact that by 1995, both the
ICCPR and the ICESCR had been ratified of acceded to by 132 states, suggesting that it is
desirable for states to join the international human rights regime despite the fact that they did
not participate in its formulation from its inception.
Referring to the example of
discrimination against women in certain societies, Schmahl further argues that reluctance to
work towards an advancement of the rights of women in a society is not a question of
respecting cultural or religious values but a pretense to preserve established power
Without going into this debate in too much detail I think that, while both arguments presented
by Schmahl are somewhat true, there also can be made legit objections. First, the fact that
international human rights treaties are ratified and widely acknowledged does not necessarily
prove that all the states ratifying them approve of them. As stated above, there rather exists a
normative pressure to ratify these treaties if a state wants to be fully accepted in the
international community. Also ratifying human rights treaties does not actually improve human
rights practices in some countries; it seems more realistic that these countries use the treaties
as a cover up for their poor performance in this area
. This indicates that states ratify these
treaties not because they share their values but because they can except a better reputation
and higher legitimacy internationally while not having to fear too strict consequences if they fail
to meet the human rights standards.
Schmahl's second argument reveals the core of the
problem within the discussion of `universalism' versus `cultural relativism'. By arguing that
there are no cultural or religious reasons why some countries don't endorse women's rights the
Ballin; Ziebertz (ed.) 2016: 7.
Fact Sheet No. 2 (Rev. 1), The International Bill of Human Rights.
Ballin, Ziebertz (ed.) 2016: 10f.
Tsutsui; Wotipka 2008: 749.
One example that supports this interpretation is Saudi-Arabia. Despite the country's horrific human rights
record, especially women's rights, it was elected into the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2016
and into the UN Women's Rights Council in April 2017, responsible for promoting women's rights worldwide.

way they are endorsed in Western societies, only reasons of political power structures, she
ignores the very existence of diverging cultural and religious convictions. When she states: `All
the countries of the world can develop the strength to comply with the demand for change,
which recurs constantly and must be redefined by each succeeding generation [...]'
, what
demand for change does she mean? Apparently a change towards a society that resembles
Western society (empowerment of women) and shares the same values. She doesn't seem to
give consideration to the idea that some societies willingly choose not to develop into a more
Western society, not because they lack `the strength to comply with the demand for change'
but because they do not deem it desirable. The widespread assumption that change and
development is only beneficial if it means a development towards a Western society is the
reason why some people in non-Western society see the discourse on human rights as a neo-
imperialistic product `used to dominate, control and restrict the progress of non-Western
Ballin; Ziebertz (ed.) 2016: 11.
Saeed 2004: 9.

3 Indonesia in the 20
Concentrating on the twentieth century, Indonesia experienced tumultuous times. Recalling the
rapid changes in the country's political and social setup helps to fully understand how policy-
making and Islam influence each other today. In the course of the last one hundred years,
Indonesia faced independence from 300 years of Dutch colonialism, a long-lasting military
regime, a period of democratic reform and a, quite successful, time of political consolidation. A
cursory summary of the history of Indonesia from the colonial period until now puts these
experiences into perspective, focusing on the developments that are significant for this
analysis, mainly the relation between the different dominant groups in the country, the
nationalists, communists and Islamists.
3.1 The colonial period
At the beginning of the sixteenth century Portuguese and Spanish traders entered the
Indonesian islands in search of valuable spices in Maluku, followed by Dutch and British traders.
The Spanish also made attempts to convert the Inhabitants to Catholicism but were driven out
by the Protestant Dutch.
The Dutch, who would become the colonial power in Indonesia for
more than 300 years, put up an outpost in Java in 1596 and in 1602, established the Dutch East
India Company (VOC/Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie).
This marked the beginning of the
Dutch colonial period in the archipelago. The VOC was a merger of Dutch trade companies that
not only controlled matters of trade but held executive powers in political and military matters,
it had the authority to negotiate contracts in the name of the Dutch State, to acquire territory,
to appoint governors and administrative officials, to wage war and generally act as the ruling
The VOC resumed control over the territories considered economical valuable, mainly
on the coasts, and expanded its power over the Portuguese and native controlled islands of
Maluku, Sumatra and Sulawesi. In the year 1800 the VOC declared bankruptcy due to
mismanagement, corruption and high expanses for its military. The Dutch government took
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 54.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 54.
Schulze 2015: 58.

over control and officially established the Dutch East Indies as a colony, which, apart from a
British intermezzo 1811-1816, it would hold until the end of the Second World War.
Until the second half of the nineteenth century the Dutch dominance over the islands apart
from Java concentrated on coastal trade posts. Only then and until the beginning of the
twentieth century did the Dutch expand their political control over the whole archipelago.
During the nineteenth century heavy resistance against the Dutch occupation broke out, the
most disastrous being the Java War that devastated big parts of the island and, as a result of
the war, diseases and famine, killed more than 200.00 people
and the war against the Muslim
kingdom in Aceh, North Sumatra that lasted for 30 years.
Two effects of these uprisings were
that the expenditures for the wars became a burden for the Dutch colonial administration and
that it gave an impetus for an Indonesian independence movement that would become a
driving force of the country's history in the twentieth century.
The emergence of an Indonesian independent movement in the beginning twentieth century
was connected to international and national factors. Internationally, Japan's victory over Russia
in 1905 gave other peoples in Asia a boost of belief that Europe and its power was not
invincible. Nationally it was a change of colonial politics that gave rise to an educated native
elite that would act as the leaders for independence. Confronted with a growing need for
educated specialists, teachers, doctors, administration officials, engineers, the government of
the Netherlands opened schools for natives where they could learn these skills and received a
modern Western education.
Although the numbers of students in these institutions was small
compared to the population, they worked as a catalyst for the promotion of ideas like
nationalism and awareness towards the deprived and impoverished situation the native people
were living in and contributed to a feeling of a national cultural identity.
Mass organizations
like the Javanese Budi Utomo (Noble Aspiration, founded in 1908) or the Islamic organization
Sarekat Islam (Islamic Cooperation, founded in 1912) spearheaded the nationalist
independence movement.
Later the movement grew and was joined by organizations like
worker unions and political organizations that represented nationalist, Islamist and socialist
Schulze 2015: 80.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 58-60.
Schulze 2015: 86.
Schulze 2015: 100.
Schulze 2015: 107.
Schulze 2015: 108.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 61.

views. Two young leaders in this context were the student of economics Mohammad Hatta and
Sukarno, who would become the first president of the Republic of Indonesia. When the Pacific
War broke out, Japan quickly occupied Java in March 1942, ending the Dutch colonial era and
asked Sukarno and Hatta for their support, arguing that Japan's goal was to drive out
imperialism out of Asia and create a sphere of welfare for the peoples of East Asia.
the Japanese oppressed opposition just like the Dutch and used the archipelago mainly as a
supply base for raw materials and forced labour, Sukarno and Hatta decided to work with
Within the next two years the Japanese re-organized the social forces in the country by
creating PETA (Pembela Tanah Air/Defenders of the Homeland), a native army that would
include the nationalists, and Masyumi (Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia/ Advice Council of
Indonesian Muslims), an organization in which all Islamic groups like the Sarekat Islam or the
Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama were merged, with the hope to control these groups
and indoctrinate the population.
By the year 1944 Japan had to make concessions to the
nationalists because the losses of the Second World War restrained their power to control the
native population and the growing nationalist movement. On September 7 1944 the Japanese
Prime Minister Koiso declared the intent to release Indonesia into independence. After a
drafting committee prepared a constitution
, Sukarno and Hatta declared the independence of
the Republic of Indonesia on August 17 1945.
The purpose of this paper is not to discuss the consequences of colonialism, but what is evident
is that the Dutch colonization of Indonesia changed the course of the country in many ways.
Despite the horrible treatment of the native people and the reckless exploitation of the
country's resources, the colonization also brought European education and ways of thinking,
technology and economic and social structures, be that a good or a bad thing. What is more
important in the context of this analysis is that the awakening of the independence movement
brought forward the conflict between the nationalist and the Islamist group, a conflict that
shaped the nation's attitude towards the embodiment of religious values in its political system.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 63.
Schulze 2015: 127f.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 64.
Chapter 4.2.1 `The constitution of 1945' contains a detailed report on the process of drafting a constitution and
the discussions between the nationalist and the Islamic camp.

3.2 Guided democracy
After declaring independence in 1945 it took another five years until Indonesia became a
centralized state. Those five years were marked by repeated interferences by the Dutch who
tried to establish a union between the Netherlands and parts of the archipelago as single
federal states. This plan was stopped by the United Nations, led by the USA, who urged the
Netherlands to transfer sovereignty to the Indonesian leaders, which was done on 27
December 1949.
Domestically this time was characterized by a growth of socialist and
communist influences in the country, the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was found in
1945, and the tensions between the communist and the nationalist camp.
While a series of
short-lived rebellions of PKI rebels and anarchists in different parts of the country were crushed
by the army and had little immediate consequences, the leftist camp would always be
distrusted by the military and nationalists in the future.
Soon after declaring Indonesia as a centralized state in August 17 1950 and the proclamation of
a new constitution that stipulated a parliamentary democracy, the country and Sukarno as its
leader were confronted with a number of political, economic and administrative problems.
Politically, Indonesia had no experience with political party systems, parliamentarianism or
elections. This led to a rivalry between the main groups in the country, nationalist, leftist and
Islamist, and a delay for the first national elections until September 1955. The Islamist and the
secular camp (nationalists and the military) ended up with almost equal votes in that election,
meaning that no side could become the dominant power in the parliament.
On a global scale
there was a similar situation with the formation of two blocks, capitalist and communist and
the Cold War. In the following years the dissatisfaction with the centralized government in Java
grew on the other island and open rebellions broke out. Sukarno used the situation to impose a
state of emergency in 1957 abolish the parliament.
In 1959 he declared the return to the
presidential constitution of 1945 and installed a pseudo-parliament that appointed him as
president for a lifetime.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 70.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 69.
Schulze 2015: 149.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 76.
Schulze 2015: 152.

Until his discharge in March 1967 Sukarno ruled the country following his concept of `guided
democracy', meaning an authoritarian rule in which the country's three dominant forces were
integrated into the political system without being able to exercise real power without Sukarno's
approval. His goal, or pretense to legitimize his rule, was to achieve national unity. In the end
balancing the three forces did not work out. Sukarno was leaning towards the PKI's political
goals but he needed the military and the Islamists support to stabilize the country. Those in
turn hated communism and tensions between these groups and in the country grew steadily.
The confrontations between the different camps, economic mismanagement, Sukarno's
collaboration with China which many in the military saw as a mistake and other unpopular
decisions led to a situation in 1965 in which his political rivals saw the end of his rule and tried
to prepare themselves to take over control.
These developments led to one of the biggest
mass murders in the twentieth century, the failed coup attempt of 30 September 1965. What
exactly happened on that night is still not completely resolved and is a matter of controversial
and heated discussions, speculations and accusations. What is known is that on the night of
September 30 1965, six senior army generals were killed by a small group of middle-ranked
army officers who then took control over several strategic points in Jakarta. This coup was
ended quickly before it really started by army units led by Major-General Suharto, the
commander of the strategic reserve of the army.
The real tragedy happened between
October 1965 and the end of January 1966. In the aftermath of the coup, which was said to be
orchestrated by the PKI to take over power from Sukarno, a campaign against the PKI and
everybody who was alleged to be a supporter of communism was launched. The bodies of the
dead officers were discovered outside Jakarta on October 4, triggering a public frenzy that
stirred up mass killings of real or suspected supporters of the PKI.
Today there is evidence
that the army, after taking over the mass media, created a campaign of disinformation to
demonize the PKI and fuel the public hysteria. It is vital to note that at that time there were no
investigations that provided proof of an involvement of the PKI in the coup attempt.
authorized the military to set up special units that directly killed alleged communists and,
exploiting the public rage they created, supplied local death squads in villages and towns with
trucks and weapons. These squads gathered and slaughtered thousands of people, mainly in
Java, North Sumatra and Bali. Today the total number of victims of the anti-communist mass-
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 80.
Burchill 2001: 24.
Hindley 1968: 349.
Burchill 2001: 26.

murders taking place between October 1965 and February 1966 is estimated between 500.000
and more than a million, making the massacres one of the biggest mass-killings in the twentieth
Much about the '30 September Movement' remains unclear, especially the question who
orchestrated the killing of the six generals and the possible involvement of Indonesia's leader
Sukarno. There are even reasons to assume that Suharto knew of the coup beforehand but let
it happen in order to justify a `purging' of the country of the communist supporters.
inquiring further into all the complicated details and contradicting views on what exactly
happened, the consequences of that event for the history of Indonesia are clear. After the coup
attempt, Sukarno was under extreme pressure because he refused to ban the PKI despite
pressure from the military and the public, resulting in demonstrations and riots in the streets.
But on 11 March 1966 he gave in and transferred all Presidential authority to the man who, in
the eyes of the public, successfully saved Indonesia from the communist threat, Major-General
Suharto immediately took the chance to formally ban the PKI and arrest the
remaining officials that were loyal to Sukarno. One year later the congress approved Suharto as
acting president and in 1968 he was officially elected as president, a position he would hold for
30 years until his resignation on 21 May 1998.
Another result of the events of 30 September
1665 is the still prevailing anti-communism in the country which, as a side-effect, led to a strong
resentment against atheistic beliefs, with the two seen as intrinsically tied to each other.
Burchill 2001: 27. The atrocities didn't only target alleged communist supporters, but also union members,
ethnic Chinese and other uncomfortable people. Also, hundreds of thousands were thrown into prison for years
without a trial or conviction. The families and children of the victims were stigmatized; they had a stamp in their
passports showing their connection to `communists'. They were not allowed to work in the public sector and were
denied several public services and the right to vote. (Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 95f.)
Burchill 2001: 24.
Schulze 2015: 159.
Schulze 2015: 160.
The events of September 30 and the mass-killings can only be described as traumatizing for the nation.
Discussing the role of the thousands of civilians who participated in the massacres is a taboo and any effort to
confront the role of the military meets with fierce opposition. The military is regarded as the safeguard of the
country against the communist threat and the PKI is pictured as a kind of murderous and immoral monster. In
1984 a movie was produced depicting the events from a military perspective that is simply propagandistic. The
murder of the six generals is shown with gory details, their eyes getting gauged and their genitals cut off. This is
part of the official version, although the autopsies on the corpses revealed that there were no mutilations. Until
today every school class has to watch this movie at least once in history class, and the movie is shown annually on
national television. While the perpetrators never faced trial, the relatives of the victims are still stigmatized in
society. In 2012 and 2014, the US American director Joshua Oppenheimer shot two documentaries in which he
confronted some perpetrators with the families of their victims. These movies sparked controversies in the media
and social networks, making the perspective of the victims visible for the Indonesian public for the first time.
Additionally, in most cases the families are still not allowed to bury their dead relatives properly, refusing them to
be remembered as humans instead of communists. Another aspect that is not yet researched and publicly

lasting legacy of Sukarno is the state ideology Pancasila, which was put forward as the guiding
principle of the independent state as part of the constitution of 1945.
3.3 New Order regime and democratization
Suharto's New Order regime (as opposed to the `old order' under Sukarno) can be
characterized as an authoritarian regime with a centralized government controlled by the
military. All important social forces were incorporated into the political system in order to
control them. In 1973 three political parties were created that included these forces. The
Muslim parties had to merge into the PPP (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan/Unified
Development Party), the secular and Christian parties into the PDI (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia/
Indonesian Democratic Party) and the groups that supported the New Order were put into the
Golkar party (Golongan Karya/Functional Groups). Civil organizations like workers unions or
women's groups were allowed but controlled by New Order people.
Another way to silence
any efforts to change the nature of the nation was a decree from 1978. All schools and
universities were ordered to provide lessons on Pancasila, the state ideology, in order to foster
a single vision for the country. More importantly, all social organizations an political parties had
to adopt Pancasila as their single ideological basis, a step that was mainly targeted against the
efforts of some Islamic groups to spread an Islamic ideology in the nation.
National stability and development became the leading credo of the government, leading to a
successful economic development of the country without any civil participation, no free press
and no independent judiciary.
Internationally Suharto abandoned Sukarno's pro-Communist
vision and sought for reconciliation with the Western powers who thanked him by lifting the
international isolation of the regime and with international investments in the country.
Despite these economic successes opposition against the New Order regime grew. From the
1980s on people protested against the corruption of the Suharto family and few rich families of
oligarchs who controlled most of the country's wealth and against the repressive actions taken
up against dissidents. Because even members of the military, Suharto's main base of support,
discussed is the role of Western intelligence agencies, mainly US American and Australian, in the massacres and
their support for the military at that time.
The Pancasila is presented in detail in chapter `Pancasila: The state ideology'.
Schulze 2015: 162f.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 85.
Schulze 2015: 167.
Schulze 2015: 163.

distanced themselves from him, he turned to embracing the Muslim majority to gather their
support. He put leaders of the Muslim community in important government positions and in
1990, established the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals ICMI (Ikatan Cendekiawan
Muslim Indonesia), opening Indonesian politics for Islam.
This step opened the political and
public arena for advocates of a stronger implementation of Islamic principles in politics and
society, including the later discussed quasi-governmental MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia) and
the Islamist hardline group FPI (Front Pembela Islam). The consequences of this step are visible
in today's democratic post-New Order era with many Islamic social and political groups rising in
popularity and influence.
But the event that caused Suharto to step down in May 1998 was the Asian financial crises of
1997/8. Due to a hyperinflation of the Indonesian Rupiah and state debts the government was
forced to introduce an austerity program that caused millions of people to lose their jobs and
shops and businesses to close down. The frustrations about this situation combined with the
corruption and nepotism of the ruling families caused mass demonstrations against the
government, leading to Suharto's resignation on 21 May 1998.
Since the end of the New Order regime Indonesia made an impressive development. Unlike in
other regions the transition from authoritarian rule to a democratic system went mostly
peaceful, apart from local violent conflicts in places like Ambon, Maluku and Poso, Sulawesi,
where conflicts between Christians and Muslims led to several years of violent clashes. This is in
big parts the work of Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, Suharto's vice-president who took the office
after the general's resignation and introduced important democratic reforms. He introduced a
real separation of powers, freedom of press, reformed the electoral law to make democratic
elections possible, provided more autonomy for universities and made preparations for a
stronger autonomy of the provinces, weakening the authority of the central government.
Indonesia also ratified the UN treaties on human rights during Habibie's term. These structural
reforms provided the basis for the democratic and decentralized development of Indonesia in
the following years. Although some problems of the past like the widespread corruption and
the return of old elites to powerful positions in military and politics are not completely solved,
Indonesia managed to hold peaceful and fair elections from the local to the national level,
Madinier; Picard (ed.) 2011: 16.
Fuller 2011: 2f.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 88.
Großmann; Jordan et al. (ed.) 2015: 102.

introduce far-reaching civil rights and sustain economic growth since the beginning of the
democratization process. Today the country has a vivid civil society with groups engaging in
social and political concerns, a wide spectrum of political parties, debates between religious
groups, a critical press and an active public discourse taking place mostly in the internet.
3.4 Unity in Diversity: Religious harmony as an ideal of the state
As one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries with more than 1.300 ethnicities
speaking more than 700 languages
, Indonesia needed a way to represent this diversity and
implement it into the national identity after gaining independence in order to foster a sense of
belonging for the wide-spread and diverse ethnicities and to prevent the newly established
nation from breaking apart into single states. This effort is symbolized in the national motto:
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, an old Javanese phrase meaning `out of many, one' and translated as
`unity in diversity', which is part of the national symbol Garuda Pancasila.
The motto is meant
to reflect the unity of the different peoples, cultures and religions native in Indonesia. In the
context of religious minorities, this emphasis on unity is problematic. Since its independence,
and especially during the New Order regime, the state agenda relies on development, stability
and unity.
Everything that might threaten this state-imposed unity is perceived as a danger to
public order and safety, including religious differences that might disrupt public harmony. As a
consequence religious pluralism is seen as a potential cause for social unrest that needs to be
managed by the state. Since the 1960s, religious harmony has been an explicit paradigm of the
Indonesian government and in 1981 the Ministry of Religion issued a decree formulating a
`Trilogy of Harmony', an approach that has been implemented in a number of different policies:
Religious harmony is defined as 1) internal religious harmony, 2) inter-religious harmony and 3)
harmony between religious adherents and the government.
The policies following this
approach share some assumptions about religious harmony that reflect the way religious
plurality is framed in Indonesian politics. Religion is seen as a source of conflict that must be
monitored and controlled by the government if it wants to prevent public discord. Religious
Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland 2013: 41.
UUD Art. 36A.
Kirkham (ed.) 2013: 70.
Kirkham (ed.) 2013: 69.

harmony is not a desirable value in itself but rather used as `a state tool meant to protect
political and social stability (along with the existing regime), not citizens' rights.
The ramifications of this perspective of pluralism as a potential source of conflict for religious
minorities and their right to freedom of religion or belief will be discussed in chapter 4.2.5 `The
Joint Ministerial Regulation on the Construction of Places of Worship'.
3.5 Religious minorities in Indonesia today
Some background data is needed to provide the context for the discussion of the status of
religious minorities in the country. According to a national census undertaken by the
Indonesian Body for Statistics in 2010, the total population is 237.6 million. The religious
affiliations are distributed like this: 87% identified as Muslim, 6.9% Protestant, 3% Catholic,
1.7% Hinduism, 0.7% Buddhism and 0.05% Confucianism. The remaining 0.38% were not asked
about their religion or did not answer the question.
Data collected by the Indonesian
Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) estimates that there are around 245 non-official
religions in Indonesia.
On a first glance, this census confirms that the vast majority of Indonesian's identify as
Muslims, at least on the paper. But this information alone is not telling much about the number
of followers of religious minority groups, because in many cases, followers of indigenous beliefs
identify themselves as one of the six official religions in their identity card in order to avoid
This restriction does not apply to minorities within an established religion like
Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims. The number of Shia Muslims is about 2.5 million, a small fraction
within Indonesian Muslims.
The number of Ahmadiyahs is less clear, while the Jama'ah
Ahmadiyah Indonesia (JAI, the head body of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia, claims to have up to half a
million members, the Ministry of Religion gives a number of 50.000 to 80.000 members.
The Ahmadiyah is a religious movement founded in Qadian in Punja, India in 1889 by Mirza
Ghulam Ahmad. Their beliefs and practices are mainly convergent with those of mainstream
Kirkham (ed.) 2013: 70.
More on this issue and the estimated number of followers of kepercayaan in chapter 4.1.4 `Forms of belief not
recognized as agama'.
Formichi 2014: 3.
ISEAS Working Paper 2011: 3.


Type of Edition
ISBN (Softcover)
File size
1 MB
Institution / College
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg – Theologie
Publication date
2018 (August)
Human Rights democracy New Order regime minority Pancasila

Title: Islam and Politics in Indonesia: Freedom of Religion or Belief and the influence of Islamic actors
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89 pages