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  • Religious Pluralism in Indonesia: Threats and Opportunities for Democracy ed. by Chiara Formichi
  • Daniel Peterson
Religious Pluralism in Indonesia: Threats and Opportunities for Democracy. Edited by Chiara Formichi. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021. 276 pp.

In post-Soeharto Indonesia, religion should be an uncomplicated matter. Since the second of four constitutional amendments, which was made on 18 August 2000, Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution has guaranteed a raft of liberal democratic rights, including the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. In practice, however, Indonesia’s authorities and judiciary typically [End Page 478] enforce and uphold these guarantees in an inconsistent manner. Indeed, religion in contemporary Indonesia continues to be the subject of corporatist capture, with religious umbrella organizations often working with the authorities to prioritize the protection of religious orthodoxy and the sensibilities of the supposed religious majority over the basic rights of actual religious adherents. Formichi’s edited volume aptly affirms this point and demonstrates how religious discourse in contemporary Indonesia continues to manifest in a myriad of ways.

In the first substantive chapter, Robert Hefner writes of the complexities of Indonesia’s ongoing Islamizing project. Key to this project, Hefner notes, are competing notions of citizenship—a Pancasila-based citizenship whereby all Indonesians are, in theory, equal, or differentiated citizenships, whereby the rights of non-Muslims are subordinated to those of the Muslim majority. Hefner concludes that while religious minorities in Indonesia continue to face “serious challenges from their Islamist rivals … they have by no means been defeated” (chapter 2, p. 32). Of course, in Indonesia, nothing is guaranteed.

Sidney Jones writes about Islamist majoritarianism and the ways by which Joko Widodo’s administration has, in its second term, set about dismantling Islamist groups. As Jones writes, Islamists might be a minority on their own, but their appeals to the Islamic faith are a cunning way of purporting to speak on behalf of the country’s Muslim majority. The trial and conviction of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, Jones notes, was a case in point and one that showed the Widodo administration just how detrimental acceding to Islamist demands can be to Indonesia’s nascent democracy. Jones submits that if Islamist majoritarianism is ever to be truly contained, an inclusivist notion of citizenship needs to be incorporated into school curricula.

Using the West Javan districts of Tasikmalaya and Garut as her counterpoints, Kikue Hamayotsu discusses “intolerant coalitions” and “tolerant coalitions”: the former involve clerical elites who forge coalitions with radical Islamist elements “to consolidate [the [End Page 479] clerics’] religious authority and domination at the grassroots level”, while the latter result “when religious elites forge coalitions with other segments of civil society to prevent radicals from expanding their spheres of influence and authority” (chapter 4, pp. 58–59). Hamayotsu’s chapter recalls and affirms the study by Panggabean and Ali-Fauzi (2014), in which the authors demonstrated that religious conflict is, in fact, best resolved, and public order is therefore best maintained, via effective policing and local government support.

Sutrisno writes about the statue of the Chinese war hero and Confucian deity Kwang Kong and the struggles of ethnic Chinese Confucianists in the Muslim-majority town of Tuban, East Java. The late Mona Lohanda then discusses the most high-profile blasphemy trial in Indonesian history, that of Jakarta’s former governor—and now Pertamina commissioner—Ahok. Lohanda provides a no-frills account of the events that led to Ahok’s indictment and conviction. She also briefly addresses the case of Meliana, an ethnic Chinese Buddhist from Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, who was convicted of blasphemy after complaining about the volume of the azan from a neighbouring mosque, as well as PSI (Indonesian Solidarity Party) founder and former leader Grace Natalie’s declaration that the party would resist the forced closure of places of worship and would never support Islamizing or Christianizing local regulations.

Aragon’s chapter discusses minority “animist” beliefs and the Indonesian Constitutional Court’s landmark 2017 ruling that Indonesians who hold such beliefs should, like adherents of the country’s six official religions, be permitted to have their beliefs officially recognized on their government-issued identity cards...

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