Friday, May 20, 2011

Who is the 'East' in 'East and West'?

I found the article on the (In)compatibility of Human Rights and the Islamic Doctrine by Matthew Machowski conscientiously written and enlightening. My criticism towards the article is that, like the contemporary discourse on Islam, it is Middle Eastern centric. To be fair, the writer's research focus is on the Middle East, North Africa and Europe (like most scholars, journalists and commentators post 9/11 and/or the Clash of Civilisations).

I understand that the focus on Middle East is a result of a long history between the 'East and the West', international politics and power play, and, of course, oil. What I criticise is the denomination of the 'Islamic world' - as if muslims form a homogenous, unified and collective identity synonymous to Middle Eastern culture. All the more important for Asian thinkers (South, Southeast, East, Central, Asia Pacific) to write about socio-cultural practices of Islam, the implication of international politics and transnational movements in the region.

62% of the world's muslims live in Asia; Indonesia being the country with the most muslim population in the world (195.272.000) with Pakistan (160.829.450), India (154.500.000) and Bangladesh (129.681.509) coming in second, third and fourth respectively.

So why then, when one mentions Islam, the image that comes to mind is a mullah with a beard and a turban?

In spite of being home to the world's largest muslim population, Indonesia is not an Islamic state. The violent acts conducted by extremists are so far proven to be transnational movements aligned with Al Qaeda. There is a current trend of moderation done by mainstream muslim civil societies in Indonesia, relatively supported by the media and even more so with social media, to counter radicalisation. Democracy, with all its weaknesses in theory and practice, is continually being shaped by pragmatic, secular politics, a critical press, a commercial media system, idealist educational elites and a silent majority.

Yesterday, while interviewing a script writer of Islamic programmes for my thesis, he asked me why I chose this topic (Islam, national identity and the television industry). I have always been reserved towards revealing my own ideological position - perhaps for a lack of having one.

But I suppose I have revealed it pretty clearly here.

Oh, and here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Moderating Media

News on the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) has received much media attention in the past few months. My general observation on the Indonesian (liberal, commercial) press in particular have shown an effort of moderating such a threat to the nation state. I've read various headlines on how Indonesia's largest and moderate muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, reinforce that they acknowledge the country's constitution and fundamental views (the Pancasila ideology).

This morning, I've read five news articles and three journalistic photography on the Vesak. The country's largest newspaper, Kompas, included a quarter-of-a-page advertorial portraying a temple with a backdrop of a sunset, with an excerpt on finding peace within (which is one of the dominant teachings in Buddhism and perhaps to contrast against radicalism and violence).

What is currently happening starkly differs from the strategised domestification of religious diversity during Authoritarian Indonesia. The effort to moderate, coming from a liberal, commercial media as well as large muslim bodies, is perhaps motivated by the consciousness of a diverse society in theory and a commercial need to maintain universal values in order to speak to the larger market in practice. I find this very fascinating because it occurs in company of the virtual absence of a government that protects the right of marginalised minorities. And I cannot help but feel hopeful that perhaps something could work under the current system.