The Myth of Pluralism: Nahdlatul Ulama and the Politics of Religious Tolerance in Indonesia
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 42, Number 1, April 2020
- pp. 58-84
- Additional Information
In much of the scholarly literature, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, is recognized as a defender of religious tolerance and pluralism. This is to no small extent the result of how NU has portrayed itself and its actions—including during the 2019 presidential elections, when it professed to have aligned with incumbent president Joko Widodo in order to keep Islamist groups from power. In this article, we analyse the attitudes of NU followers towards religious tolerance and pluralism, and find a significant mismatch between the self-perception of the NU leadership and the actual views held by the NU grassroots. Based on original survey data, we show that NU followers are generally as intolerant of religious minorities as the rest of the Indonesian Muslim population, and in some cases, even more intolerant. We argue that this is the result of NU's long-standing prioritization of battling rival Muslim organizations (which it views as threats to its interests) over advancing substantive tolerance campaigns that could change the religio-political attitudes of its constituency.