POST C – Cross-cultural experiences of politics and religion

Maddy Wilcox-Kerr is a 21-year old UNSW student who is currently studying in Yogyakarta. She is halfway through a six-month exchange program and feels somewhat settled into the Indonesian lifestyle. As someone with the same age, cultural background and social demographic, she is the perfect subject to interview as her observations are contextually applicable.11152676_579572738852554_969386313303435239_n

Religion and politics had a conflicting relationship in 20th century Indonesia. Following the ban of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1996, Indonesians avoided any leftist persuasion and were therefore united by the moral groundings of Islam. Javanese “abangan”, a looser, syncretic branch gradually merged with the orthodox “santri” Islam (Hasan, 2014). Today, Indonesians have adopted a unique and practical rendition of this ancient religion. Maddy points out that “women will wear jilbab’s and cover there shoulders, but are happy to breastfeed in public “.

Over the past fifty years, younger Indonesians have become less politically grounded, perhaps because there is no experiential fear of genocide. As Maddy says, “I hang around students a lot and politics is rarely talked about. I have noticed that the younger students are more liberal and don’t believe in the death penalty etc. However if you talk to someone of the older generation he or she treat his or her president like a god and assume that any decision he makes is correct”.

Corruption seems to be systemic in recent Indonesian governments. Transparency International (2015) places Indonesia 107th worst out of 177 countries for institutional corruption. Kurniawan (2012) describes communist parties as “stationary bandits” and governments moving towards democracy as “roving bandits”, whose corruption is intensified by its limited timeframe.11034227_10153148019207629_7743584389382622920_n

The past few governments – particularly the previous one led by Yudhoyono – have hardly aligned with the democratic goals of the current Reformasi era (Kurniawan, 2012). The Indonesian Constitution states that it protects religious freedom (article 29 [2]), however instead of helping Ahmadis and Shiite refugees, “Yudhoyono’s religious affairs minister asked them to convert to Sunni Islam” (Rafsadi, 2014, para 10). Maddy’s experience confers “there is a political pressure to identify as a certain religion because a citizen has to have it written on their ID cards even if they aren’t practicing. This is because the government is yet to accept atheism”.

Recently, political parties seem confused as to whether they identify as Muslim leaders promoting faith or secular parties protecting religious minorities. The 2008 Pornography Act sought to dissuade public displays of affection and Islamic principles such as sex before marriage (Pausacker, 2008). But such an extreme and ambiguously worded law is hard to implement. As Maddy observes, “to be honest I haven’t even noticed the implementation of this law… I know that it is common for young people to have sex before marriage and even though people dress conservative and put up a super innocent front a lot of the youth do quite ‘naughty’ things”.

Maddy’s observations have informed the notion that Indonesia is ideologically conflicted in regards to religion and politics. In the younger generation, there is a shift towards indifference; “most of the young people I hang out with don’t care what the Quran tells them to do”. This is only reflective as the next stage in Indonesia’s historically volatile religious and political current.



Hasan, P.A.R, 2014, ‘Why Islam matters in Indonesian politics’, The Conversation, Paramida, viewed 27 April 2015, <;

International Transparency, 2015, ‘Corruption by country/territory’, viewed 27 April 2015, <;

Kurniawan, B. 2012, ‘Democracy and corruption in Indonesia’, The Jakarta Post, Bandar Lampung, viewed 27 April 2015, <;

Pausacker, H. 2008, ‘Hot Debates’, Inside Indonesia, viewed 20 April 2015 <;

Rafsadi, I. 2014, ‘Is a new law enough to protect religious minorities in Indonesia?’, The Conversation, Paramadina, viewed 26 April 2015 <;

All images courtesy of Maddy Wilcox-Kerr

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