Opinion: "In Indonesia, Islam Loves Democracy"

February 7, 2006

Source: International Herald Tribune


On February 7, 2006 the International Herald Tribune ran an opinion piece by Michael Vatikiotis, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. Vatikiotis writes, "Many casual observers see the attacks on liberal Islamic movements, the closure of bars and the steady drumbeat of hard-line Islamic rhetoric [in Indonesia] as signs that dangerous radicals are gaining acceptance. But what is more significant, in the broader context, is that conservative Islam is gaining ground by democratic means. Just as in Egypt and in Palestine, secular and liberal forces in Indonesia are being beaten at the ballot box... Foreign observers like to assume that Indonesia's emergence as a moderate Muslim democracy means that it will side with the West. Given Indonesia's actions against Islamic extremist groups, this would not seem in doubt when it comes to terrorism. But they should also expect Indonesia to champion the wider Muslim world, where democratic transition has made Indonesia something of a beacon. Modern wealthy Muslims don't seem to have trouble adapting to the new conservative mood. Early evening in the upmarket Cilandak Town Square shopping center, Jakarta's fashionable young show off their Gucci jeans. But instead of hanging out in trendy wine or cigar bars, they now huddle over lattes at plush new coffee houses. Perhaps this embrace of mildly conservative religious values is in the end the best defense against reactionary radicalism."