Mon, 15 Dec 2003

Revival of ICMI not a threat : Scholars

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The New Order's practice of abusing Islam in order to gain Muslim support in elections is still possible although it is no longer a threat to religious harmony in the country, a scholar said on Sunday.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) deputy secretary-general Masduki Baidlawi said that this was the way things stood even if the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) returned to the political stage.

He, nevertheless, said moves to sell Islam as a "political commodity" would no longer be effective in gaining support from the grassroots, a community that ICMI had failed to cultivate, Masduki told The Jakarta Post.

He said ICMI had once grown fast due to the country's undemocratic political situation.

"We cannot deny the fact that the revival of ICMI has, more or less, a strong relation to moves by certain political parties to garner support from Muslims in next year's elections.

"But I don't think the maneuver will be effective because ICMI achieved influence under circumstances that failed to uphold democracy. It collapsed as the regime collapsed. And now, with the country entering the so-called democracy era, people have other options. If ICMI wants to make a return, I don't think it will win grass-root support," Masduki said.

ICMI concluded its national meeting on Sunday, marked by a discussion featuring former president B.J. Habibie.

The association was founded by the then research minister Habibie as an apparent effort to widen political support for president Soeharto.

Habibie took over as president after Soeharto stepped down in 1998, and it was under his rule that the use of Islamic attributes mushroomed among political parties and community groups.

Muslims account for 90 percent of Indonesia's 215 million population, the largest population of all majority Muslim countries.

"Islamization reflected the worries at that time," Masduki said, adding that sectarian conflicts across the country had mushroomed as a result.

The People's Consultative Assembly elected Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid as president to replace Habibie, who was in power for 17 months.

Efforts to restore religious harmony started afterwards with strong commitments being made by the leaders of NU and another prominent Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah.

Meanwhile, Bachtiar Effendi, a Muslim scholar from Muhammadiyah, doubted the possibility of ICMI serving as a vehicle for political parties affiliated to the New Order regime.

"The relationship between Habibie and Soeharto's supporters has collapsed since the former assumed power. To date, there has been no effort to restore the ties," Bachtiar told the Post.

A total of 24 political parties have been declared eligible to contest the legislative election in April, 20, 2004. Analysts, however, said that about 60 percent of the parties were linked to the New Order. They also said that next year's elections would see the comeback of elements of the old regime.

Bachtiar, nevertheless, dismissed the assumption.

"Following the downfall of Soeharto, Golkar has been split into three prominent factions: Soeharto supporters, the Habibie clique and the supporters of incumbent Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung.

"As of today, the three have yet to reconcile nor to start opening dialog," Bachtiar said.