The Discourse of Asian Values and its Future

The Discourse of Asian Values and its Future

In this postmodern world, Western notions of civilized society and its universality seem to be challenged by the rest of the world. Fukuyama’s “End of History” seems to be proven obsolete, and on the other hand, the rise of the rest (including alternate forms of political governance) are emerging on the global stage. In this regard, Asia exhibits itself as one of the best representatives of “the other”, challenging Western domination through its increasingly assertive foreign policy and economic power in the world. Some scholars, such as Mahbubani (2008), though may not necessarily adhere to the belief of Asian triumphalism, obviously offer a brand new outlook for forecasting the next stage of global constellation with the Asia-Pacific as its major player.

At the heart of this viewpoint, there is a rough Asian political philosophy taking shape favouring the mixture of free economics and a strong, if not authoritarian, government. It follows a communitarian way of thinking sometimes associated with Confucian philosophy, and its defenders praise it as the engine behind the rapid growth of Asian capitalism, a successful alternative to Anglo-Saxon or Western European capitalism.

To begin with, we often pose this understanding based on the achievement of the so-called “Asian miracles” or “Asian tigers”, referring to the tremendous development of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, which was achieved in a time of political authoritarianism. China’s increasing political and economic power also cited as another example of the Asian way at its best.

However, this depiction is misleading, because it doesn’t take into account other countries in the region such as Myanmar, which suffers from a poor record of development and massive human right abuses, thanks to the economically inefficient and politically incompetent military junta, backed by geopolitical competition in the region.

Thus, the Asian model of bureaucratic authoritarian state combined with market economics does not always work in the same way, depending upon regional political and economic conditions.

Furthermore, Asia’s remarkable economic achievement can also be attributed to increased freedom in social and political aspects. This point is raised by Yasheng Huang, an expert on international political economy from MIT. There exists far more individual freedoms now in terms of social, civil and political rights compared to previous decades, even in places like China. This is Milton turned upside down: more political freedom is good for economic advancement.

Nevertheless, the economic benefits of socio-political freedoms tend to be ignored by the champions of Asian values. Instead, they try to repeatedly propagate their notion despite the fact that the role of state is diminishing in many ways, including in administering political affairs.

Although there are no major reforms or changes both in the context of multilateral relations and domestic politics in Asian countries, the seeds of liberal transformation are visible and embedded in the regional political architecture and national policies of each respective country.

At the regional level, the establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights Commission is a case where ASEAN countries were able to rethink about existing norms and regulations as well as willingness to compromise sovereignty for the sake of human rights.

Intense activities of ‘track-two diplomacy’ through the formation of epistemic communities also contributed to the changing face of the regional order, where ASEAN and other regional entities move from an elitist image towards a people-centered approach. This transformation means more participation and deliberative processes at grassroots levels, which will affect the nature of regional interactions and policymaking in the Asia-Pacific.

At the national level, the continuing wave of democratization in Indonesia is another sign of how economic improvement can go hand-in-hand with political reformation. Indeed, the rhetoric of “democracy” and “reform” has been used even by countries like Singapore and Vietnam to criticize the military junta of Myanmar.

Surely the big question of how to balance between economic development and political freedom remains unanswered. However, respective Asian societies will not have to choose between these two things. Rather, they will learn they can have both, and this kind of awareness is slowly redefining the discourse of Asian values.

Posted on September 9, 2010

Iqra Anugrah is a third year student in College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, majoring in political science and international relations. He is a member of the Advisory Board for Strategic Studies Committee for Indonesian Students’ Association in Japan (PPI Jepang). The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the PPI Jepang.

Radicalization from Below: The Case of Religious Bylaws

Memories of numerous bombing attacks in big cities and churches as well as the dramatic terrorist captures by the police may give an image of contemporary battles against Islamic radicalism in newly-democratized Indonesia. But think about this: rather than blowing-up buildings, some Islamist groups attempt to push the agenda of Sharia implementation through non-violent, formal and even electoral political processes.

In the euphoria of Post-Suharto reform, the blooming of religious bylaws has spread throughout the archipelago. Immature decentralization, completed with economic gap between central and local governments, has provided rooms for radical agenda to mushroom. One manifestation of this agenda is to implement strict interpretation of Islamic norms and values into local ordinances. Some examples of these bylaws are, but not limited to, Islamic dress code for students and government officials at schools and offices on certain days, raids on women alleged for prostitution and other moral misconducts at night and ban on alcohols, clubs and other entertainment activities.

In some places such as Bulukumba in Sulawesi and Bogor in West Java, some Islamic fundamentalist groups such as the Preparatory Committee for the Implementation of Islamic Sharia (KPPSI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) even go further, publicly claim and preach the importance of Sharia as a panacea for all societal problems and gain support from some elements, both from local communities as well as from the government, proven by the attendance of some government officials in their forums.

There have been many reports, news, and research in regards to this phenomenon. However, one question remains unanswered: Where do political parties fit within this discourse? The role of political parties in local parliaments is still an unfilled gap in the context of the so-called Shariatization from below. Some experts, such as Assyaukanie (2007), pointed out some indications that these bylaws are supported not only by Islamic political parties but also by their Secular Nationalist counterparts as well.

Another interesting feature of the relationship between political parties and religious bylaws is the difference of stances between central or national leadership of parties and its local and regional branches. While at the national level both primary leaders of Islamic and Secular parties have expressed their objections and doubts over religious bylaws, the local dynamics are apparently much more fluid and unpredictable.

Civil society groups, NGOs, and other keen observers of politics and Islam in Indonesia criticize political parties’ support for religious bylaws as a mere political tool to obtain votes. From their perspective, the move to support religious bylaws is driven by short-sighted pragmatism and populist reaction towards the “failure” of secular administration, reflected in rising poverty, declining morality, and many other problems.

Eventually the time will come for Indonesia to face her own dilemma of democracy: how she should response to the emergence of illiberal forces in proudly-proclaimed land of pluralism and tolerance. Terrorism and hardline religious extremism may be easier to handle, but the curious case of bottom-up radicalization in the form of demand for religious bylaws definitely needs to be solved differently.

Posted on July 22, 2010

Iqra Anugrah is a third year student in College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, majoring in political science and international relations. He is a member of the Advisory Board for Strategic Studies Committee for Indonesian Students’ Association in Japan (PPI Jepang). The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the PPI Jepang.

Republik, Kebebasan, dan Kemerdekaan

Republik, Kebebasan dan Kemerdekaan

Oleh Iqra Anugrah*

Beberapa hari lagi menjelang ibadah di bulan suci Ramadhan sekaligus peringatan kemerdekaan Indonesia, bangsa kita kembali diguncang berbagai macam peristiwa yang menyerang sendi-sendi kehidupan berbangsa. Aksi-aksi kekerasan yang dilakukan oleh ormas-ormas berbaju agama seperti Front Pembela Islam (FPI) maupun hiruk-pikuk permainan politik dan modal yang tecermin dalam usulan pencalonan Tommy Suharto sebagai calon presiden pemilu 2014 merupakan suatu bukti nyata bahwa prinsip-prinsip kehidupan berbangsa dan bernegara kita sangat rentan dengan penyakit-penyakit fundamentalisme dan radikalisme keagamaan, terorisme dan ancaman keamanan lainnya, serta oligarki dan korupsi politik dan ekonomi.

Dalam kaitannya dengan Hari Ulang Tahun Kemerdekaan RI yang ke-65, mari kita renungkan sejenak realita yang terjadi di hadapan kita dengan visi kemerdekaan yang dicita-citakan oleh the founding fathers. Setelah lebih dari 10 tahun proses reformasi dilakukan, adalah suatu hal yang sangat memalukan bahwasanya kita seringkali menganggap kemerdekaan sebagai sesuatu yang statis dan kosong, taken for granted, bukannya mengisi dan berperan aktif dalam memaknai arti kemerdekaan. Akibatnya, kemerdekaan hanyalah sekedar menjadi slogan, yang dalam sejarah kita seringkali dibajak demi syahwat politik dan ekonomi jangka pendek, baik demi “revolusi”, “pembangunan”, maupun dalam nama “agama”.

Sehingga, ada dua pertanyaan yang perlu dijawab mengenai kemerdekaan dan kemandekan perkembangan masyarakat kita yang tercermin dalam berbagai kejadian-kejadian yang merapuhkan landasan republik: apa arti sebenarnya dari kemerdekaan dan sudahkah kita mencapai cita-cita kemerdekaan?

Kemerdekaan, dalam pandangan penulis, dapat diartikan dalam dua konsep yang mudah dan seringkali disalahartikan dalam diskursus politik kita: kebebasan dan republikanisme, yang mencakup berbagai segi kehidupan berbangsa dan bernegara secara komprehensif.

Pertama, kebebasan pada hakikatnya adalah esensi dari perjuangan kemerdekaan Indonesia untuk terbebas dari tekanan dan dominasi luar kolonialisme, untuk menjadi tuan di negeri sendiri. Kebebasan ini juga bersifat universal dan unik di tiap zaman dan kondisi serta merupakan tema yang utama dari sejarah panjang umat manusia mencari arti hidupnya, seperti dapat kita lihat di zaman keemasan atau The Golden Age peradaban Arab-Islam yang menjamin kebebasan berekspresi dan berpikir sehingga memungkinkan transfer ilmu dan pengetahuan filsafat Yunani ke peradaban Barat yang sedang dalam masa kegelapan, ataupun lahirnya konsep kebebasan kewargaan di Barat yang diperjuangkan oleh kaum pedagang dan intelektual, artes liberales, melawan feodalisme dan struktur sosial-politik dan ekonomi yang mengekang manusia.

Kedua, dalam konteks keIndonesiaan, kebebasan menjadi penting karena Indonesia tidak hanya membutuhkan kebebasan positif (freedom to) namun juga kebebasan negative (freedom for) yang menjamin warga negara untuk mengembangkan potensi dan kemanusiaanya dalam struktur politik yang menjamin hak-hak sipilnya, yang merupakan gagasan utama dari republikanisme, yaitu menjamin hak-hak warga dalam bingkai supremasi hukum atau rule of law, bebas dari tekanan konservatisme dan dominasi dari berbagai bentuk institusi-baik dari negara, modal, maupun agama.

Berangkat dari ide-ide ini, apa yang terjadi sekarang merupakan refleksi bahwa kita belum mencapai cita-cita kemerdekaan. Kemerdekaan membutuhkan kebebasan dalam bidang politik, ekonomi, sosial dan budaya, yang dijaga dalam kerangka hukum. Kemerdekaan juga mensyaratkan kesadaran bahwa Indonesia adalah rumah bagi semua, tempat di mana keragaman dan perbedaan dalam suku, agama dan kelas sosial ditanggapi dengan toleransi dalam bentuk semangat keterbukaan dan dialog.

Melihat fenomena yang terjadi sekarang ini, pertanyaan selanjutnya yang muncul adalah sanggupkah kita mewujudkan cita-cita kemerdekaan dalam bingkai kebebasan dan republikanisme?

Tiga Kebebasan

Untuk menjawab tantangan kemerdekaan dan memperkuat demokrasi di Indonesia, diperlukan tiga bentuk kebebasan dari berbagai bentuk dominasi yang menjalar di Indonesia.

Yang pertama adalah kebebasan pikiran, kebebasan dari ketertutupan dan fundamentalisme, yang akan mengakibatkan sikap inward-looking dan kejumudan berpikir yang akhirnya akan mempersempit pola pikir menjadi “kita vs mereka” yang tentunya tidak sehat bagi kehidupan dalam republik kita.

Kebebasan yang kedua adalah kebebasan dari dominasi modal dan institutionalisasi nafsu-nafsu materialistik demi kekuasaan politik maupun ekonomi jangka pendek. Pada tataran sosio-kultural, dominasi modal akan membuat manusia mudah tergelincir kepada fundamentalisme demi “jalan singkat” penyelesaian masalah hidup, sedangkan pada tatanan politik dan legal, dominasi modal akan melahirkan kekuasaan yang koruptif yang tidak transparan dan eksploitatif. Keduanya berujung kepada warga negara yang tidak terbebaskan, suatu kondisi yang akan mengurangi kebebasan mereka sebagai manusia dan kontribusi mereka terhadap republik.

Adapun kebebasan yang ketiga adalah kebebasan dari dominas politik dan ketakutan. Tersedianya ruang bagi aktivitias politik yang deliberatif dan demokratis adalah suatu keharusan bagi sebuah entitas politik yang menamakan dirinya sebagai republik. Kebebasan politik dan penegakan hukum adalah wadah dimana warga negara dapat melakukan haknya, bebas dari tekanan dan ketakutan yang menghalangi warga untuk bertindak.

Dalam tataran kebijakan, tiga kebebasan ini dapat dimanifestasikan dalam “resep” yang cukup mudah, yaitu menanamkan dan mengembangkan “keyakinan publik” atau civic religion terhadap demokrasi dan institusi pendukungnya, supremasi hukum, toleransi dan pluralisme. Perananan kaum intelektual juga menjadi penting, sebagai katalisator untuk transfer nilai-nilai kebebasan dan republikanisme terhadap masyarakat serta “penjaga rel” dan pengawas pemerintah. Menghadapi ancaman dalam berbagai bentuk, baik itu fundamentalisme keagamaan maupun oligarki politik-ekonomi, Indonesia akan tetap merdeka dan tidak perlu gamang selama ia berpegang teguh pada prinsip kebebasan dan republikanisme.

*Iqra Anugrah adalah Mahasiswa di College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Jepang. Ia aktif dalam berbagai gerakan pelajar dan civil society.

Middle East needs truly secular governance

Special to The Japan Times
BEPPU, Oita Pref. — The march for secularism held on April 26 in Lebanon focused attention on the country and the region’s conflicts and battle of values. Thousands of Lebanese from various social backgrounds — Shiite, Sunni, Maronite and more — took to the streets and marched to the national parliament in Beirut to demand a secular state.

Lebanese have a deep-rooted distrust of state-endorsed consociationalism. In this system, religious authority comes first before the state. As a consequence, being a Lebanese in Lebanon is not just a matter of citizenship. The first question that comes to mind when Lebanese meet is “what is your sect?” without considering the fact that all citizens are equal before the law and have equal rights guaranteed by the constitution.

However, collusion between short-sighted religious leaders and corrupt politicians makes implementing the mandate of the constitution difficult. The sectarian system has turned Lebanon, once dubbed the Paris of the Middle East, into a battlefield of civil wars driven by geopolitical interests between conflicting parties in the region.

This is the result of having ethno-religious interests at the front rank, surpassing the need to maintain national unity. Rather than defining a national and multicultural identity, Lebanon has chosen the wrong path and is trapped in a frenzy of identity politics. With this mindset, the selfish tendency for “us” and not for “them” emerged among Lebanese.

Thus, the battle for identity, authority and “singularization” of the country began. Ignoring the reality of a melting-pot society, intolerance grew, which angered the citizens and drove them into the streets to demand equal rights.

The Middle East was once an historically-conscious society where differences were not opposed but respected and celebrated. Albert Hourani, a leading Lebanese-British scholar, illustrated this phenomenon in his classical text “Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age.”

From 1798 to 1939, though the Arabian Peninsula was colonized by European powers, Arab culture enjoyed a high degree of tolerance and equality among the different layers and backgrounds of society. Islamic enlightenment, which was rooted in the region, had a place in the Middle East and combined with new ideas from Europe.

Intellectuals, both Muslim and non-Muslim, ranging from the devout Muhammad Abduh to the secular Taha Hussein, were free to express their opinions and ideas. Discourse over the identity and future of society was dynamic and vibrant, and was brought into practice by the endorsement of political establishments at the time.

But after that the secular administrations of Arab countries failed to manage the economy of newly-independent states, implemented authoritarian methods to maintain power, while at the same time struggled to promote the livelihood of the people. This absence of democratic participation left no room for citizens to have their voices heard.

The only choice open to them was religion, and with the help of chaotic Western foreign policies in the region, militant Islamism rose onto the stage, which has meant that making a sober choice between corruption of the state or delusion from religious fanatics much more difficult.

The consequences have been miserable. Taha Husein’s hope of a modern, Western-friendly Egypt is now far from reality. Lebanon’s achievements in finance and tourism have also dissapeared, replaced by prolonged conflict.

The next task is to watch this civic movement in Lebanon. The sentiment should not be taken for granted because it’s a real desire for change. First and foremost, the state should know its role in society, especially in the context of a multicultural Lebanon. If the state does not know its role in society it will face a big problem. In other words, the state must be able to differentiate between its domain and the domain of citizens. When states regulate things that are beyond its mandate it creates a problematic situation in society.

Government should take care of the people’s welfare, build roads and infrastructure, and help the economy, and not be concerned with one’s religion, ethnicity or any other identity markers.

If the government insists on intervening in people’s lives and doesn’t protect their rights than it’s not a fully-functioning government. It’s simply a dysfunctional state. The Middle East desperately needs effective and efficient governments that treat everyone equally. By committing itself to this principle, Lebanon might regain its status as a home for peaceful coexistence between peoples and religions and send a message to the Middle East and the world.

Iqra Anugrah, a third-year student at the College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan, is active in various Islamic and student groups.

Lifesaving dialogue past due between Islamic world and West

Special to The Japan Times

BEPPU, Oita Pref. — The relationship between the West and the Islamic world is worrisome. Recent events in Western and Muslim countries show the tension between these two civilizations.

Last year the Swiss People’s Party, backed by a popular referendum, proposed a construction ban on mosque minarets. In neighboring France, the rising fear of Islamization has been reflected in the political debate on prohibitions against wearing the burqa. In the Netherlands, far-right politician Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party gained a significant number of votes in recent local elections.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, thousands of sympathizers attended the burial of Dulmatin, the suspected terrorist, and the planned visit of U.S. President Barack Obama was criticized by Hizbut Tahrir, who argued that Obama is a colonizer and war criminal.

Why are these things happening?

It is true that Obama decided to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan and that terrorist groups keep mushrooming, but does it mean there is no room left for dialogue?

The problem is mind-sets. First of all, both sides mistakenly adopt binary logic in their policymaking. This logic leads to a black-and-white, right-or-wrong perspective: One is either with us or with them. Consequently each side triggers fear toward the other. The ultimate manifestation of this belief is hatred and the desire to conquer the other.

Differences are seen as threats that deserve to be excluded and, if necessary, extinguished. Most people in the West and Islamic world aspire to and share similar basic needs. This reality, however, is diluted by the rise of rightwing populism in the West and extreme conservatism in the Muslim world.

Although these conflicting sides seem very different, they share the same need to exploit fear toward the other. They also make tactical use of populist jargon to target and grab the attention of the lower and middle classes — those who have a say in daily politics.

Unfortunately their rhetoric and activities bring both sides excessive media attention. They work hard to keep the spotlight and dominate public discourse about what society should be like.

The situation today is especially ironic when we consider that Islamic and Western societies contributed so much to the development of human civilization in the past. When the age of darkness and close-mindedness prevailed in the West, Muslims were working to enlighten the world with their culture of tolerance, openness and freedom of thought.

Thanks to the efforts of Islamic scholars and intellectuals, the great works of classical Greek philosophers and the introduction of Aristotelian logic triggered enlightenment, liberating the minds of Western citizens who had been oppressed by the state or religion.

Ibn Rushd (commonly known in the West as Averroes), a devout Muslim philosopher and jurist, is considered the father of secular modern thought. He is famous for the idea that the peaceful coexistence of religion and philosophy, faith and reason is the way to God: To move forward, we need to promote a culture of tolerance, openness and freedom.

As the West started to grasp and accept humanist principles of enlightenment, the Islamic world took a backward step by closing doors to reason and inquiry. The situation became more chaotic as shortsighted Western foreign policies focused more on political and economic expansion than on promotion of human values and cooperation.

More problems arose with the appearance of populist politicians and violent groups with neither the historical consciousness nor willingness for dialogue.

What should we do then?

Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the most influential American presidents, was correct when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear paralyzes and prevents us from thinking rationally. To prevent the plague of narrow-mindedness and feelings of inferiority, we must not let ourselves be trapped by illogical paranoia.

Practically speaking, mental, intellectual and spiritual reform should translate into sound foreign and security policies. The failures of Western foreign policy should remind us that waging war is no longer an option. We must bring antiwar politics to the fore of discourse, and change it into cooperation-based tactics of moderation, to promote democratization in the Muslim world.

Counterterrorism measures are the key to making this policy work. Instead of shooting terrorists dead, we must bring suspects into court and subject them to official judgments so that society can see their mistakes. Education plays an important role. Schools and universities should be the place to foster tolerance and cooperation so that our children can interact with each other and respect different cultures and opinions.

We must stop acting as a silent majority. Moderate and progressive voices of Western and Islamic communities must unite and show to the world the real face of civilized and mature societies. We should convince the world that many avenues still exist for dialogue. After all, we know whom to blame for the current mess: Western and Islamic hardline conservatism.

Iqra Anugrah, a third-year student at College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan, is active in various Islamic and student groups.

Demokrasi tanpa Demokrat

Iqra Anugrah

Masa depan demokrasi di Indonesia sedang berada dalam fase yang amat genting. Beberapa tahun yang lalu kita kehilangan Cak Nur, dan belum lama ini kita kehilangan Gus Dur. Ketiadaan dua figur yang selalu berkomitmen dan membela demokrasi serta nilai-nilai demokratik itu seakan-akan menambah panjang daftar ujian bagi bangsa ini. Berbagai skandal dan permasalahan politik, mulai kasus Bank Century, masalah internal KPK, pengemplangan pajak oleh aktor-aktor bisnis, hingga pembakaran rumah ibadah, seakan-akan menyiratkan masa depan yang suram bagi demokrasi di Indonesia. Hal ini menyiratkan pertanyaan yang besar bagi kita semua: adakah masa depan demokrasi di Indonesia? Apa yang terjadi ketika sistem demokratik yang kita terapkan sekarang ternyata belum mampu membawa kesejahteraan dan keadilan?

Fenomena ini merupakan bagian dari menjamurnya demokrasi illiberal. Mengutip Fareed Zakaria, demokrasi illiberal merupakan demokrasi tanpa nilai. Demokrasi seakan-akan hanya dipahami sebagai prosedur elektoral saja. Akibatnya, demokrasi hanya diartikan sebagai cara untuk memperoleh legitimasi melalui proses pemilu. Padahal, demokrasi tidak sama dengan pemilu.

Dalam suatu sistem politik yang demokratik, ada satu persyaratan lagi yang menjadi keniscayaan, yaitu semangat konstitusionalisme atau republikanisme. Dalam konteks suatu republik konstitusional, nilai-nilai yang menjadi landasan utama adalah kebebasan dan keadilan. Prinsip-prinsip ini kemudian diterjemahkan ke dalam berbagai konsepsi legal-politik seperti supremasi hukum, pengakuan terhadap hak asasi manusia, penghormatan terhadap kepemilikan pribadi, dan perlindungan minoritas. Demokrasi dan kebebasan konstitusional, menurut Zakaria, adalah dua sisi dari mata uang yang sama. Menerapkan demokrasi hanya dalam taraf pemilihan umum saja adalah reduksi dari arti demokrasi itu sendiri.

Gejala demokrasi tanpa nilai itulah yang sepertinya sedang menjalar di Indonesia. Berbagai permasalahan politik yang kita hadapi sesungguhnya adalah tantangan dan ujian bagi demokrasi itu sendiri. Dalam demokrasi yang kurang nilai, kebebasan dan keadilan publik senantiasa terancam, dan proses politik menjadi tidak berbeda jauh dari sandiwara atau komedi. Karena itu, tidak aneh apabila sekarang masyarakat dihadapkan pada berbagai fenomena sosial-politik yang unik, dari merebaknya fundamentalisme keagamaan hingga ulah para politikus di gedung parlemen yang mirip dagelan, yang ironis karena justru terjadi di era demokrasi. Politik telah kehilangan maknanya, dari usaha kolektif individual tiap-tiap warga negara untuk mencapai tujuan yang lebih baik menjadi hajatan elektoral tahunan yang tanpa nilai dan sopan santun atau fatsun.

Bagi sebuah bangsa dengan umur demokrasi yang masih “seumur jagung” seperti Indonesia, kejadian ini bisa membawa sebuah krisis demokrasi. Rakyat yang senantiasa dihadapkan pada, dan “diikutsertakan” dalam, drama politik yang tanpa ujung, terutama melalui media, dapat menjadi apatis dan enggan untuk berpartisipasi dalam politik. Tentu saja apatisme ini tidaklah sehat bagi demokrasi, yang memerlukan partisipasi aktif dari warga negaranya.

Menyelamatkan demokrasi
Menemukan jejak demokrasi dalam tradisi politik Indonesia bukanlah suatu hal yang jarang. Adalah Bung Hatta, salah satu dari dwitunggal proklamator kemerdekaan, yang menyadari bahwa demokrasi bukanlah suatu proses pemilihan dan pergantian semata, tapi juga memiliki esensi yang bahkan lebih dalam. Tugas bagi bangsa ini sekarang adalah mengedepankan nilai dan budaya yang menjadi prasyarat bagi tumbuh-kembangnya demokrasi di Indonesia. Kita memerlukan apresiasi terhadap nilai-nilai kebebasan, keadilan, dan keterbukaan.

Karena itu, dalam level masyarakat, demokrasi tidak cukup jika diartikan hanya sebagai suara mayoritas (majority rule), namun juga perlindungan terhadap minoritas dan lebih penting lagi individual dan perbedaan. Kisah perusakan gereja di beberapa daerah di Indonesia akhir-akhir ini haruslah mendapat perhatian yang pantas dari setiap elemen masyarakat dan pemerintah.

Bagi politikus dan pembuat kebijakan, nilai demokratik sepatutnya juga diterjemahkan dalam perilaku sehari-hari, baik di luar maupun di dalam parlemen. Sikap pemerintah akhir-akhir ini, baik lembaga eksekutif dan kepresidenan maupun parlemen, sayangnya tidak mencerminkan semangat tersebut. Hiruk-pikuk anggota DPR di Pansus Century maupun posisi reaksioner Presiden menanggapi demonstran yang membawa kerbau adalah satu bukti nyata bagaimana nilai-nilai demokrasi, kemampuan komunikasi publik, dan etika berpolitik masih merupakan hal yang langka di republik ini.

Menanggapi dinamika politik di Indonesia, tugas bangsa ini ke depan adalah menjaga dan memperkuat demokrasi. Seperti kemerdekaan Indonesia, demokrasi adalah manifestasi dari kebebasan atau free will manusia. Dalam konteks kenegaraan, membela demokrasi adalah membela kebebasan dan hak-hak warga negara. Demokrasi haruslah diperjuangkan. Dan untuk memperjuangkan demokrasi, dibutuhkan komitmen terhadap nilai-nilai demokratik sekaligus orang-orang yang bersedia memperjuangkan prinsip tersebut. Demokrasi hanya akan berhasil jika ia ditopang oleh prinsip-prinsip konstitusionalisme republikan dan politikus-politikus demokratik. Demokrasi tanpa demokrat, seperti yang kita miliki sekarang, hanya akan berujung pada mobokrasi dan lawakan politik yang terinstitusionalisasi.

Democracies that lack liberty

Democracies that lack liberty

Special to The Japan Times

BEPPU, Oita Pref. — Around the world, our generation is witnessing the three Ds: deregulation, decentralization and, ultimately, democratization. The export of democracy is no doubt one of the most important items on the Western foreign policy agenda. Nevertheless, the effort seems to bring more failures than successes. Why is that?

To the Western mind, liberty and democracy are two sides of the same coin. Without liberty, there can be no democracy, and vice versa. However, in non-Western societies, this is not always true. Just pick an Asian country at random and we find anomalies in democratic practice by the Western point of view.

News commentator Fareed Zakaria calls this phenomenon “illiberal democracy,” a mixture of authoritarian and conservative practices under the framework of electoral, democratic politics. That’s why strong guys remain powerful in some countries, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore.

The Islamic world provides many examples of these illiberal practices. Go to Egypt and you’ll see how President Hosni Mubarak and his comrades put so much effort in getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Go to Indonesia and you’ll see how corruption is still rampant and how political Islam and local vigilantes work together in harmony to form the so-called unholy alliance.

From those examples, there is one common similarity: the lack or absence of some aspects of civil and political liberty. Elections and change of political leadership may take place, but the ones who take governmental positions are far from democratic in attitude. Populist autocrats use the democratic mechanism to win political positions and legitimacy from the people.

In reality, they aren’t democrats at all. Once they get into power, they abuse it, implement illiberal policies and, even worse, try to get rid of their adversaries.

This is exactly what happened after the breakdown of Yugoslavia. Extreme nationalists, filled with hatred toward one other, got elected in Serbia, which later tried to wipe out the Kosovar Albanian population. In newly democratized Indonesia, we see how Islamic fundamentalist groups misuse the principle of free speech in a democratic society, attacking dissenting opinions while trying to promote an intolerant agenda toward “the other.”

Responding to this phenomenon, we know that the existence of liberty is the necessary element for democracy. In Zakaria’s words, without constitutional liberalism, the rule of law, protection of property and respect for others, it is difficult to build a fully functioning democracy. Western policymakers often forget that to build a democratic society, we need more than an election.

Instead of fixing the economy, ensuring the rule of law and protecting minorities, they straightaway jump to organizing elections. It is true that an election is probably the most visible indicator of a democratic society, but most of us don’t want to see the electoral process end up in a “mobocracy” due to the absence of supportive cultural values for democracy.

We see the answer to this problem in the Western philosophy of Tocqueville and Machiavelli: Unregulated democracy will undermine people’s liberty. Under republican principles, citizens are free when they follow the law. If there is no law, there will be no liberty. Liberal democracy requires the active participation of law-abiding citizens in the political process. This translates not only into rule of the majority but also into respect toward minorities.

Another important aspect in sustaining democratic politics is justice. This is what Noam Chomsky means when he criticizes the gap between rich and poor citizens in the United States. In Chomskian terms, the economic structure is not democratic.

John Rawls also gives the same argument, saying that when certain rules and regulations are not in the line with the public perception of justice values, they should not be called regulations. The Chomskian and Rawlsian mantra of justice provides the solution to how democratic society should work.

When economic disparity widens, the state should be prepared to do something about it. Thus, in order to “export” and implement democracy, elections and parties alone won’t do. We need effective and efficient institutions, sound public policy, fair laws and regulations, and, above all, a culture of liberty and justice.

In the context of non-Western societies, that’s why it is important to have liberty and equality before democracy. Radical deregulation and decentralization might not be the best answer for transforming society. That does not mean the three Ds should be discouraged, but that the much wiser option is to implement a gradual-type of political reform.

Western decision makers should take this principle to heart. The failure of Western ways in the Middle East is a clear example of ill-preparation for the democratization project. Values come first, followed by structures. If we stick to the same old approach, it’s very likely that we will see another Afghanistan or Pakistan in the near future.

*Iqra Anugrah, a third-year student at the College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, sits on the advisory board for the Strategic Studies Committee of Indonesian Students’ Association in Japan. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his organization.

Islam’s Place in Politics

Islam’s place in politics

Special to The Japan Times

BEPPU, Oita Prefecture — The dynamics of Islam and politics in Indonesia are always worth following. Conventional wisdom says that moderates rule the game. In reality, this is not always true.

Sadanand Dhume, an expert on Islam and Indonesia, recently wrote an article arguing that the moderate is not always the winner. The myth of the moderate Muslim nation has started to change in the post-Suharto reformation era.

Political and economic liberalization has taken place, but not for religious and cultural values. We have had a number of improvements in civil and political freedom, but not in religious freedom. Islamic conservatism and fundamentalism are still widespread, as the battle of values goes on.

Living according to a strict interpretation of Islam in its early days is considered the new utopia. The call for shariah (Islamic law) is proffered as a panacea for our problems. This is not news. Religious interpretation is only the pull factor; the push factor is the daily experience of struggling to maintain a livelihood.

In this situation, religion is hardly distinguishable from delusion. Moreover, corrupted political elites often see it as an opportunity to get more votes, which makes the situation worse. That’s why we see some people trying to justify the establishment of religious bylaws, terrorism and other intolerant actions in the name of religion. Bombings in Jakarta and Aceh legislation allowing punishment by stoning are two recent examples of this phenomenon.

Tensions between the desire to maintain secular, democratic government and the growing force of Islamism present an important question: Is there any place for Islam in politics? We should know that enemy conservatives might be the bad guys, but not all of them are dangerous. As commentator Fareed Zakaria has said, radical Islam is a fact of life.

Our task now is learning how to live with that. It is very important to differentiate and categorize “conservative” and “radical,” since one is different from the other. Some groups might be conservative in matters of religion and culture, while their means of voicing their agenda are nonviolent and nonradical.

Dealing with someone from the FPI (Islamic Defender Front) or Hizbut Tahrir, for instance, is not the same as dealing with someone from Jamaah Tabligh. The government should recognize these differences so as not to become trapped by illogical paranoia. With such a policy, we can hope that these groups will learn from their own mistakes by entering democratic politics and engaging in real political debate. In such a case, the moderate voice matters — to show conservatives that Islam and democracy are much alike.

The message of the late Nurcholish Madjid now sounds stronger than ever. As there are many paths to God, there are many places for Islam in politics. In Cak Nur’s view, there is no absolute interpretation of politics, since Islam is not a particular ideology or political view, but rather a set of values and ethics for humanity. Thus any attempt to politicize Islam will reduce the meaning of Islam itself.

The legacy of the golden age of Islam and the moderate spirit must be championed all the time. As the church in the Western world has failed to maintain its hegemony due to its political intervention, political Islam should learn how to promote its ideas and survive within the framework of electoral democratic politics.

Moderate and progressive voices of Islam need to build alliances and spread their message through all levels of Indonesian society. The Indonesian government should promote moderate and tolerant ideas by working together with progressive groups.

The government should also stem the widespread trend of fundamentalism and radicalism in society through various educational means and institutions. As history has taught us, Islam and Indonesia will exist and contribute to humanity only within the environment of openness and tolerance toward one other.

The future of Islam and Indonesia depends on their ability to interact with other cultures and civilizations in the secular world. That is the only solution to the problem of inward-looking behavior in the Islamic community. We have the answer; they don’t.

*Iqra Anugrah, an activist in various student and Islamic movements in Indonesia, is a third-year student at College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan.

Rektor di Jepang ‘Diwisuda’ Mahasiswa Indonesia

Beppu – Tak heran jika setiap kelulusannya, para mahasiswa diwisuda oleh sang rektor. Namun berbeda dari biasanya, seorang rektor Universitas di Jepang ‘diwisuda’ oleh para mahasiswanya. Salah seorang mahasiswa itu berasal dari Indonesia.

Mantan rektor Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) Professor Monte Cassim baru saja menyelesaikan masa baktinya memimpin universitas, ia pun ‘diwisuda’ para mahasiswanya.

“Bagi kami, ini merupakan suatu kesempatan yang langka dan kehormatan yang besar untuk dapat ‘mewisuda’ seorang rektor,” kata Mahasiswa S1 APU asal Indonesia, Iqra Anugrah dalam rilis yang diterima detikcom, Kamis (18/3/2010).

Bersama dengan 2 mahasiswa asal Nepal, Iqra yang aktif dalam koran mahasiswa, The APU Times, menyerahkan diploma kepada sang rektor. Iqra juga membacakan ijazah lelaki asal Sri Langka itu di depan 1.000 orang di aula B-Con Plaza, tempat upacara berlangsung di Kota Beppu, Prefektur Oita, Jepang.

“Ini merupakan sebuah kehormatan bagi saya. Seringkali kita tidak menyadari betapa murid-murid kita mengajari kita banyak hal,” balas haru sang Professor Cassim yang sekarang menjabat sebagai Vice-Chancellor the Ritsumeikan Trust.

Prosesi ‘wisuda’ itu pada awalnya tidak direncanakan. Awalnya upacara itu hanya ditujukan untuk mahasiswa yang lulus pada bulan maret 2010. Namun di akhir penghujung upacara, MC menyebutkan ada sebuah kejutan untuk rektor yang baru menyelesaikan masa baktinya.

Professor Cassim sendiri juga tidak asing lagi dengan Indonesia. Casim pernah melakukan berbagai proyek strategis untuk badan dunia PBB di Indonesia dan memberikan banyak dukungan dalam aktifitas akademik dan non akademik bagi mahasiswa Indonesia di APU.


APU Students win 2010 FCCJ Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship Awards

APU Students win 2010 FCCJ Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship Awards:
2010/5/5 17:40:12 (1502 reads)
On Friday, April 9, two APU students attended the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) 2010 Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship Award Gala Dinner and Award Ceremony in Tokyo. Iqra Anugrah (APS 3, Indonesia) won a Distinguished Runner Up prize while HANS Nicholas (APS 4, Indonesia) won an Honorable Mention.

HANS Nicholas (APS 4, Indonesia)

The Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship was created to support university undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in journalism and requires students to submit an essay, video or photo entry based on a common theme. This year’s theme was “NEW MEDIA versus OLD MEDIA: What Japanese youth think about the future of news in newspapers, TV and the internet”.

Winning 50,000yen and 25,000yen book vouchers respectively, essays submitted by Iqra Anugrah and Hans NICHOLAS competed against students from prestigious universities around Japan and the world including Tokyo University, Temple University and The University of Leeds.

Looking back on their success, Hans NICHOLAS and Iqra Anugrah, said, “We were so glad to receive this award from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan – one of the most respected organisations in Japanese journalism. As the only participants from Kyushu, we were proud to compete against students from around the world and this award confirms our belief that APU has an enormous pool of talent that can make positive contributions to our society. We hope that we can continue to work in this field in the near future”.

These achievements by Iqra Anugrah and Hans NICHOLAS add to a string of recent essay contest achievements by APU students including SUZUKI Tamao’s (APS4, Japan), IKENAGA Sosuke (APM4, Japan) and LEE Hee-Woon (APS4, Korea).

Please click here for more information on the Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship Award

Iqra Anugrah (APS 3, Indonesia)

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