Government can play a key role in fostering social cohesion in religiously and ethnically diverse societies according to leaders from Malaysia and Indonesia who presented studies of the two nations at the June 2, 2012 Global Peace Leadership Conference in Tokyo. Finding strength and enrichment in diversity, rather than challenge and threat, they said is a growing national priority, as globalization increasingly brings peoples and cultures into closer contact.
Mr. L. Gandesan, Deputy Director General of Department of National Unity and Integration, Prime’s Minister Department of Malaysia, said that despite the differences in ethnicity, religion, culture, values, beliefs and practices, Malaysians live together harmoniously.
Mr. Gangesan praised the “foresight and wisdom” that led to the establishment of the Department of National Unity and Integration in 1970, with the task of identifying, establishing, and inculcating a common set of values for citizens of Malaysia, a nation of 28 million people and some 214 ethnic groups.“Malaysia is fortunate to have leaders who have foresight in this issue and have wisely decided on integration as the vehicle for nation building, he said.
“This unselfish orientation toward one’s counterparts, being mindful of the feelings of those around us, considerate of their needs and always striving towards achieving a win-win solution, has consolidated the foundation for building a dynamic nation for the present and future generations.”
He said several government programs have been implemented to promote social integration among Malaysians in the past few decades, including Rukun Tetangga, a neighborhood-based program to promote stability, community involvement, security, environmental awareness, and economic development.
Indonesia: ‘Unity in Diversity’
Indonesia, an archipelago comprising some 17,000 islands, 33 provinces, 300 distinct ethnicities, and 742 different languages and dialects, is the fourth most populous nation in the world with more than 238 million people. “Since its birth Indonesia has been closely acquainted with universal values,” said Dr. Chandra Setiawan, the Coordinator of Presidium of the Supreme Council for Confucian Religion in Indonesia and Chairman of the Executive Board of the Global Peace Foundation Indonesia. “Indonesia is basically an agreement to live together peacefully in diversity to achieve a common dream. Indonesia truly glorifies the values of religion while giving its citizens the freedom of faith.”
Dr. Setiawan noted that all world religions penetrated peacefully upon their first arrival into Indonesia: Islam through Muslim merchants and Sufi orders, Christianity through missionaries, Hinduism through Hindu migrations from India, and Buddhism and Confucian religion through the migration of Chinese Buddhist and Confucians from China and Singapore. “These peaceful penetrations have set the tone of inter-religious interactions among those world religions, and between them and the local religions from many countries. It is only lately, in the last decade, that inter-religious harmony has been disturbed in certain spots.”
The 1945 Constitution of Indonesia also guarantees freedom of religion, he said. “Therefore, although Muslims constitute the majority of Indonesian of the population, Islam is not a state religion. There is no official religion, since Indonesia is not a theocratic state.”
Dr. Setiawan said that the ideology of Pancasila—belief in One God Almighty, Humanity, Indonesia unity, democracy guided by inner wisdom, and social justice for all—represented a national consensus and common platform for all religious groups to meet and discuss the future of Indonesia.
Still, he said, intolerance toward others is stronger today. “Some people try to impose their will and their opinion without any willingness to respect others’ opinions and thoughts. They think that their opinion and thought are the only truth. Usually we think that this standpoint exclusively belongs to religious groups. But this is not always the case. Today there are some secular groups who impose their secular views to everyone. They insist that others must respect their view but they do not respect the views of religious groups.
Belief in One God, the first principle of Pancasila, has become way of life and the state ideology of Indonesia, he said. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, plays an important role by promoting tolerance and acceptance of Pancasila. And centered upon the vision of “One Family under God,” Global Peace Foundation has closely partnered with NU in developing multi-faith, action-oriented initiatives to strengthen families and promote a ‘culture of heart” through service.
“A Confucian always dreams of becoming a JunZi, a gentleman, a practitioner of love who does not identify with a group or gang, but rather is a practitioner of love, broadminded and resolute,” Dr. Setiawan told the conference.
“From oneself spreads the love and loyalty to Tian/God to love for other people. As we trust other people as brothers and sisters, therefore different religions and faiths have to cooperate with each other to uphold human rights and resist discrimination, intolerance and violence."
Especially in Indonesia, he said, "interfaith partnerships within religious communities are important in designing innovative programs for education, disaster relief, poverty amelioration, enhancing employability, drug-addiction treatment, and promoting family values as the common ground for interfaith partnerships. To educate youth in personal transformative experiences, especially those that build bridges of friendship, understanding, and harmonious integration transcending barriers of religion, ethnicity and social status.”