Commentary: A Civilizational Clash that Breaks Down in Indonesia

July 7, 2007

Author: Ali Noer Zaman

Source: The Daily Star

According to Samuel Huntington, wars between civilizations are arising because of differences in the foundation of history, language, culture, tradition and religion among nations of the world that eventually shape the particular worldview of a certain group toward another. Globalization has made the world smaller, allowing people to meet more often and increasing awareness of differences, as well as similarities, that separate would-be enemies from allies.

However, Huntington's prediction of a clash of civilizations is rather difficult to apply in Indonesia, which has long been a meeting place for the world's great civilizations. The first foreign influence to infiltrate the region was Indian culture, which spread Hinduism and Buddhism. It was followed by other civilizations, namely the Chinese, the Muslim and, eventually, the Christian West, brought by colonial countries such as the Netherlands.

Interestingly, these great civilizations have converged with each other peacefully, generating a synthesized culture that is uniquely Indonesian. Ensuing wars were mostly rooted in political and economic issues.

The ability of Indonesian culture to absorb various world civilizations, in the words of Clifford Geertz, an American anthropologist studying religions in Java in the 1950s, derives from the existence of the animistic tradition among local communities, allowing a synthesis of elements of animism, Hinduism-Buddhism, Christianity, as well as Islam. This flexible nature has been able to tame the radical nature of foreign culture. According to Geertz, Islam in Java, Indonesia, is a dynamic, adaptable, receptive and pragmatic religion that moves slowly.