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Learning to belong

Educational efforts are being made around the country to enable minorities to feel they belong and to teach majorities that they should value the diversity of Indonesia


Lyn Parker, Raihani and Chang-Yau Hoon

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   Independence Day in a Balinese school
   Lyn Parker

The cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of Indonesia is famed around the world and accepted within Indonesia. The national motto of ‘Unity in Diversity’ places diversity at the centre of the nation-state. But despite significant progress in democratisation, decentralisation and regional autonomy in post-Suharto Indonesia, old fears of federalism, separatism and disunity remain. Multiculturalism and pluralism are still often viewed with suspicion and paranoia is spread by extremists for their own ends.

The term ‘multiculturalism’ grew out of the civil rights movement in the US. Multiculturalism promotes ethnic and cultural diversity: how different cultures can live together peacefully, enjoying the freedom to express themselves but also being mindful of the rights of other groups. Recently in Western Europe ‘multiculturalism’ has been about migration and how minority groups, including Muslim minorities, should be accommodated. But in Indonesia the term has a foreign feel. In the Indonesian context, ‘multiculturalism’ is often said to be all about religion rather than culture. This claim seemed to be strengthened in 2005 when the Indonesian Council of Ulama issued a fatwa condemning pluralism, secularism and liberalism. This unfortunate fatwa has made it difficult for moderate Muslims who appreciate Indonesia’s cultural

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