Khabar Southeast Asia

Expert suggests dialogue can limit radicalism

By Rochimawati for Khabar Southeast Asia in Yogyakarta

May 20, 2014

Abdul Gaffar Karim reads in his office on February 11th. The academician believes openness in Islam can help maintain pluralism in Indonesia. [Rochimawati/Khabar]

Abdul Gaffar Karim reads in his office on February 11th. The academician believes openness in Islam can help maintain pluralism in Indonesia. [Rochimawati/Khabar]

Abdul Gaffar Karim, a Madura native and government studies professor at Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University also studies Islam in Indonesia and relations between Sunni and Shia Muslims. He believes education is the key to limiting radicalism.

Khabar: What kind of education in Islam can possibly stop terrorism?

Gaffar: We cannot stop radical thoughts. But we can stop radical thoughts from turning into actions. For most radicals, the problem is the lack of space to express their own views. They need some space to express themselves. We need to seriously guide our community to think. We cannot prohibit people from thinking, but we can balance the thoughts. I think Nadhladtul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah encourage people to think about multiculturalism in Indonesia.

Khabar: Why are some areas in Indonesia prone to terrorist recruitment?

Gaffar: Because they have unresolved conflicts and the government does not do enough to protect the weak or minorities. When there is social inequality and poverty, areas are ripe for radical recruitment.

Khabar: Experts have expressed concern for how jihadists returning from Syria will affect growing extremism in Indonesia. Should the younger generation be concerned about this situation?

Gaffar: Some Indonesians have a limited perspective on the conflict in Syria and view it only as crimes committed by Shia groups. They don't see the whole picture of what is going on.

In this country, there is a role for Shia Muslims. And those who refuse Shia, must be addressed by the government. The government should scrutinize the work of MUI and MUI needs to reform itself ... Meanwhile, there are still many members of the younger generations who think positively for the future.

Khabar: Do you think Indonesia is tolerant enough? If so, why does conflict between Sunni and Shia persist, involving Muslims in Madura, West Java and Yogyakarta?

Gaffar: I just returned from a trip to Bangka-Belitung. I think there are still many areas in Indonesia that demonstrate good tolerance, where people do not preclude other types of religious practices ... People should be tolerant. Why? Because minorities become powerless when there is no tolerance.

Khabar: What is your recommendation to reduce the tension among them?

Gaffar: The important thing is to provide dialogue and public space. Indeed, sometimes creating a public space, we have to defend minorities. In this matter, the government must be completely neutral.

Khabar: What do you think about moderate Islam?

Gaffar: Moderate Islam is open. It means accepting possible changes in society and adapting to social changes... We need to be compatible with social change. I don't think Indonesia has reached that point, especially with the decreasing number of Islamic scholars who agree with the idea of moderate Islam. Individuals who believe in moderate Islam, such as Nurcholis Majid and Gus Dur, know how to maintain pluralism in this country.

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