Pew, What Reeks? Indonesia’s Self-Esteem

Heartwarming news from Indonesia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tackled the global perception that Islam and democracy could not work together. The President said Indonesia was a good example of how democracy, modernisation and Islam worked hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, the President said Muslims in Indonesia got along well with democracy and modernity. Thus, the Indonesian democratic model could offer valuable lessons to Arab Spring countries, which are now facing similar challenges.


Indonesia is the most populous majority-Muslim nation in the world. 88 percent of Indonesians follow Islam — that’s more than 200 million Muslims.

Keep that in mind as we take a look at how Indonesia fared in the Pew Research poll that just came out.

According to Pew [report in full, pdf], 93% of Indonesian Muslims say they support religious freedom. Two thumbs up!

But in practice, the sentiment is as good as meaningless. The tolerance you would expect from a populace that claims to love religious liberty shrivels to almost nothing when you scratch the surface. Old-fashioned fundamentalism rules the day. Consider:

• 72% of Indonesian Muslims (144 million) want sharia law, and fully half of all respondents want to apply it to everyone, not just to Muslims.
• 45% favor corporal punishment, and 48% favor stoning of adulterers. Lovely. That’s more than 90 million Muslims who want to transport all of us back to the Middle Ages.
• Almost one in five favor the death penalty for Muslims who leave the faith. How’s that for religious freedom?
• 37% (74 million) say they’d rather have a strongman leader than democracy, with 61 telling Pew the opposite. A roughly 6-to-4 ratio of pro-democracy Muslims versus totalitarian-minded ones doesn’t seem to indicate an abiding love of an egalitarian republic.


• 95% of Indonesian Muslims say you have to believe in god to be moral.
• 91% believe drinking alcohol is immoral; 95% say the same about homosexuality. (Don’t be a drunk queer in Yudhoyono’s progressive paradise, or prepare to do a lot of running and ducking.)
• 93% say wives should always obey husbands.

Like Turkey, Indonesia wants to sell itself as a beacon of Islamic modernity. But if these are the realities in an Islamic country that swears to have made a commitment to moderation and democracy, I’ll leave you to conclude what that means for Muslim countries without such a pledge, and without such a lofty impression of itself.

[image via Asia News]