"Will Pluralism Recover in Indonesia?" a Commentary by Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ

March 17, 2007

Author: Franz Magnis-Suseno

Source: The Jakarta Post


Indonesia arguably owes its existence to two crucial decisions. In both, a majority waived any claim to a special position in the new Indonesia for the sake of unity. In 1928, at the so-called "oath of the youth", the Javanese agreed that Malay, spoken by less than 5 percent of all Indonesians, and not their beautiful ancient Javanese, would become the national language.

And this although the Javanese account for 40 percent of the Indonesian population. It is now generally agreed that, had they chosen Javanese, Indonesia would never have taken off since she would have been regarded by all the others as merely a Javanese project. They would have opted out.

The second crucial decision was, of course, Pancasila. On June 1, 1945, Sukarno proposed Pancasila to overcome serious dissent about the philosophical basis of the future Indonesia (a secular-nationalistic or an Islamic state?).

Pancasila could finally be inserted into the Indonesian Constitution when the assembly unanimously dropped the demand that Muslims be obliged to follow sharia, thereby agreeing implicitly that the majority religion, Islam, would not get any special position in the new state.

This generous, far-sighted recognition of Indonesian pluralism has been the cornerstone of the "improbable" unity of the island nationSabang to Merauke" (a popular nationalistic song), with its hundreds of different languages and its religious pluriformity.