Rabu, 14 Januari 2009

Rising radicalism, fundamentalism: To which zeitgeist do we belong?

By Setiono Sugiharto , Jakarta | Tue, 01/13/2009 10:58 AM | Opinion

For an analysis to show scientific rigor and hence credibility in its exposition, it must at least satisfy the following requirements: Statement of the problem, data, methodology and interpretation.

Nurrohman’s article (“NU, Muhammadiyah have failed to promote pluralism at grassroots”) published by The Jakarta Post last month meets these requirements and his analysis is worth reading.

With an implicit problem formulation, the article presented primary data collected by means
of a survey and stated its methodology in terms of the respondents’ demographic information. In addition, a brief interpretation was given.

As a rule of science, it is sufficient to draw and arrive at a relatively valid conclusion: Both radicalism and religious intolerance indeed exist and are no longer a myth.

However, for the sake of comprehensiveness, the interpretation drawn from the survey needs more elaboration.

Consistent with the previous surveys which revealed the Islamic teachers’ stance against
pluralism, Nurrohman’ survey -- with the pesantren leaders as its respondents -- confirmed the same stance, all of which serve as a caveat for the rise of radicalism in the country.

In a country which claims to value differences and to respect pluralism, hearing the news
that extremism is rising is really mind-boggling.

However, if this is the reality we are now facing, we are left with a reflective question: To which cultural zeitgeist do we belong? Do we adhere to modernism, which views truth as absolute and knowledge as certain, and values the notions of rationality, universality and optimism?

Or, are we in favor of modernism’s alter ego -- postmodernism -- which sees truth and knowledge as something relative and stable and epitomizes pessimism, indifference, irrationality and fragmentation?

Or, do we belong to an amalgam of the notions of these two opposing zeitgeists?

It seems we place ourselves somewhere between these two extremes, taking some of their notions as our credos.

The growing concern of radicalism -- which often uses one’s religious faith as the sole justification against those who do not share the same faith -- reflects both modernism and postmodernism dogmas.

Those who rejected pluralism and tolerant attitudes toward different religions see faith as an irrational belief formation.

The imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others and the banning of certain sects to disseminate religious doctrines via violent acts are just a few examples of how faith blinds rationality.

It is common to hear religious people admit that their faith is irrational; they hold that their beliefs constituting their faith contain absolute truth.

This is reminiscent of the philosophy of Tertullian (ca. 160-ca.220 AD), an early Church Father, whose doctrinal teaching Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd) is well-known in the philosophy of religion.

This doctrine further claims that if faith provides eternal salvation for everyone, we should not worry much about rationality.

In other words, holding firmly to one’s faith by means of showing intolerance and violently banning other contesting doctrines deemed “heretical” is necessarily justified even without rational accounts.

This probably explains why radical groups such as the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) are able to justify their brutal acts against what they consider irreverent and blasphemous.

This doctrine also helps explain why the Bali-bomber trio (Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhaqim and Ali Ghufron) showed no remorse after taking Australian lives -- whom they considered kafir (infidel) -- and then were willing to die as “martyrs” when they begged the state to behead them instead of facing the firing squad.

The recent brouhaha over the imminent issuance of fatwa (edict) by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) barring the practice of yoga is another case in point.

To those issuing this fatwa, rational justification is not mandatory. Support of evidence is not required to lay a claim. They deem it sufficient to accuse that yoga practice can erode the faith of many Muslims -- nothing else.

With faith seen as an irrational belief formation, it is then understandable why most of Nurrohman’s respondents oppose pluralism -- and hence progress -- and consent to intolerant attitudes against different faiths.

Despite the fact that many religious people see faith as an irrational belief formation, there are those who don’t react the same way to such a tenet.

For these people, rationality and faith are seen as mutually- reinforcing, cooperative and complementary, rather than antagonistic.

They regard rationality as something enlightening that can lead to faith. No wonder that they always seek a rational basis for every controversial religious edict issued by the authorities.

This is done not to disparage faith over rationality, but rather to find enlightenment.

To some extent, rational justification is believed to provide ways to know the truth of faith.

These two differing camps are comprised of people who emulate a cultural movement of both modernism and postmodernism.

This shows that the spirit of the times in our political, intellectual and cultural climate is not predominantly influenced by the sole postmodernism dogma, which many believe is the rescuer of the complexity of problems we are facing in this era.

Indeed, modernism’s tenets still prevail, shaping our ways of thinking, our ways of seeing things and our ways of creating policy.

The writer is chief-editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and teaches English composition at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.

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