Fri, 12 Aug 1994

Soeharto accords role to religious intellectuals

JAKARTA (JP): Religious-based intellectual organizations, widely criticized recently for fostering sectarian politics in Indonesia, yesterday won the presidential seal of approval when they jointly organized a seminar on human resource development.

President Soeharto told the seminar that religious intellectuals play a major role in national development, including promoting the country's religious life.

Indonesia has succeeded in promoting harmony between its various religious communities, he said. "Our nation is now moving towards a more noble goal -- promoting a sense of joint responsibility between the various religious communities towards development.

"Because they employ rational thinking, intellectuals can easily communicate with one another, irrespective of faith," Soeharto said. "Therefore, intellectuals who come from a variety of religious backgrounds can take the lead in promoting this sense of joint responsibility among the various religious communities."

The idea of the seminar, the first time that the various religious-based organizations worked together on a project, was conceived late last year when the groups were criticized for reviving sectarian politics in Indonesia.

The seminar is jointly organized by four of the five religious-based intellectual groupings: ICMI (Moslems), PIKI (Christians), FCHI (Hindus) and KCBI (Buddhists). ISKA, grouping Roman Catholic intellectuals, is not involved but it is expected to take part in future joint projects.

There had been calls earlier for these various organizations to merge into a single group, but the idea failed to garner support from those associations.

ICMI, chaired by B.J. Habibie, a powerful cabinet minister, has been criticized for promoting sectarian politics because many of its leaders are active in politics. Habibie stressed that ICMI members do not represent the organization while they are active in politics.

Soeharto acknowledged that intellectuals have been one of the main forces in the history of the national struggle, both before and after independence.

"The history of our national struggle shows that our intellectuals have a tradition of appearing in the front line," he said.

He cited as examples the establishment in 1908 of Budi Utomo, the first national movement when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony, and the 1928 Youth Pledge, when young people from various parts of Indonesia gathered in Jakarta to pronounce their intention to form one nation, one country and one language.

Intellectuals also helped lay the basis for an independent Indonesia and have participated in the nation-building process since independence in 1945, he added.

The seminar on human resource development will proceed today and tomorrow at the Kartika Chandra Hotel in Jakarta. Among the prominent figures scheduled to address the gathering include former ministers Rudini and Emil Salim, and intellectuals Nurcholish Madjid, Salim Said, Dawam Rahardjo, M.M. Papayungan, I Gusti Ngurah Bagus, Sabam Sirait and Amir Santoso.

Soeharto said Indonesia has passed the test of promoting peaceful co-existence between the various religions, something which only a few other countries in the world have managed.

Many other countries are witnessing upheavals due to the rise of religious fanaticism or conflicts between various sects of the same religion, making life miserable even for their followers, he said.

"We hope that what we have achieved in this field can contribute to human civilization," he said. "The world has experienced many conflicts between states and the religious communities, something which need not have happened." (emb)