Agam's Gecko
Monday, October 30, 2006

he recent blogger-based movement, calling for a total boycott of Indonesia, was apparently kicked off in response to a "last straw" event -- the assassination of Reverend Irianto Kongkoli in Palu, Central Sulawesi earlier this month. Rev. Kongkoli was the head of of the Central Sulawesi Protestant Christian Church synod. But the knee-jerking didn't start there. Many pundits were pushing the panic button with the release, a few days earlier, of a nationwide survey of Indonesian Muslims conducted by the well-regarded Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI). The poll had found that 9% of the Muslim population agreed with the statement that bombings (such as the Bali attacks) were a form of jihad to defend Islam.

Hoards of opinion providers then raised the chilling spectre of roughly 19 million Indonesians who would gladly murder them and their children in their sleep. Without getting into the distinction between someone who may passively support someone else conducting violence for Islam (by ticking on a questionaire), with a person who is actually willing to do it, this proportion is undoubtedly significant, and concerning.

But it's too easy to lose sight of the fact, which the knee-jerkers steer clear of, that this is a country where over 90% of Muslims disagree with the jihadist agenda. I can't think of another Muslim-majority country where this is true -- nor indeed in most (if not all) Muslim-minority countries. Certainly Pakistan, any of the Arab states or north African Muslim countries don't have percentages this good. In pure numbers, the total of violent jihad supporters in all those countries, combined with the 9% of Indonesian Muslims, will be far outnumbered by the more than 196 million Muslims (and another 30 million non-Muslims) just in Indonesia who oppose it.

I also seem to recall seeing data recently from several Muslim-minority countries, showing surprisingly high rates of support for violent jihad. In many European countries, Muslims have a higher rate of radicals in the congregation than in some Arab states. Yet Indonesia, with the most pluralistic, multiple-cultured society of any Muslim-majority country, is singled out due to its vast population for fear-mongering, boycotting, and otherwise attempting to turn it into an enemy of civilisation. Knee-jerkers should be careful what they wish for. If they carry on like this, they just might get it.

Also ignored by the fear merchants was the rest of the extensive survey of Muslim attitudes, summarised here at Indonesia Matters (the full results are available here for those who are Indonesian literate). It does not bode well for "political Islam" in the country. Those activists and organisations who push the idea of implementation of syariah law will be disappointed to see that only 5% of respondents disagreed that democracy is "the best system for our country." Of course it will be more scary to say that about 10 million people feel this way, if we assume the sample represents the entire Muslim population -- including many millions of children and infants with presumably no committed political ideology.

But this survey, as they usually are, is a mixed bag. A full 20% said that women should not be public leaders, and 29% said a woman should not be president. Yet I wonder how the same question would be answered in an American survey. Surely there are still some Americans who would also oppose a woman president. Could it be 5%? Or maybe 10%? Even if it were the former, that would be 15 million opposing equal rights for women. By the way, Indonesia has already had a woman president.

This is how people play with numbers. If we hear that 5% of a population are kooks, well -- 5% is something that can be disregarded as insignificant. But 15 million sounds like a huge mass of kooks that cannot be disregarded. In actual fact, surveys cannot be said to represent an entire population of a country, but more accurately just that portion of the population which respondents actually represent. In the LSI survey, that is Indonesian Muslims over the age of 17, voting age. Indonesia is a very young country, median age 26.8 years. Almost 30% are under 14 (CIA Factbook) out of a population (estimated July 2006) of 245 million. This source gives Muslims 88% of the population. If we estimate at least one-third are under 17, the survey represents not 215 million Muslims, but rather 142 million Muslim adults. That means the scary number of jihad supporters over the age of 17, is really about 12 - 13 million.

More results from the survey: the five basic founding principles of the country, known as Pancasila ( belief in God, just and civilised humanity, unity of Indonesia, representative democracy, social justice), as well as the founding 1945 constitution, fit well with both democracy and with Islam, and are the most suitable foundation for the country -- all these statements are supported by at least 80%. Only 5.3% said they are not the most suitable, 6.2% said democracy conflicts with them, and only 3.5% said they conflict with Islam. Slightly more, 8.4% said that democracy conflicts with Islam, while 78.4% said they go well together.

There are some contradictions, however. Asked about the organisations promoting Islamic law, more than 17% said they supported such activity by Jema'ah Islamiyah. Given that only 9% agreed that violent jihad defended Islam, it means that more than half of the JI admirers don't believe the group is reponsible for the violent attacks in the country.

There are many political parties active in Indonesia, most of them based on secular politics. Some have sprouted from the various Muslim social organisations, such as Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, but do not have Islamic platforms. However several parties do have Islamic platforms. Respondents were asked which of the three types of political parties they felt "close" to. An equal proportion, 5%, went to the "Islamic platform" group and to the "based on Muslim social organisations but pluralistic" group.

I'll just add here that of the both types of Muslim-based parties, the most popular is the PKB (National Awakening Party) which grew from Nadhlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in the world (with more than 40 million members). This is the stream from which Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) emerged to become president in 1999. The PKB has many non-Muslim members, and the NU is known for its work promoting religious tolerance and diversity. NU activists help to protect Christian churches every Christmas, the terrorists' favourite time to attack them. One young man of NU became an Indonesian martyr a few years ago, when he died sacrificing himself to protect Christians from such a bomb.

When asked which party they would vote for if an election were held today, and given the choices of only the "Islamic platform" parties and the "based on Muslim organisations" parties, only the PKB managed slightly over 5%. The 3 explicitly Islamic parties ranged from less than 1% to slightly over 4%.

Almost half of Muslims apparently support the fully secular parties, with no ties to religous organisations or platforms. Over a third, 36% are undecided at present -- and they have three more years to make up their minds. Fear-mongers take note. Indonesia is firmly on the side of civilisation at present, and you are playing with fire.


Powered by Blogger

blogspot counter