Retreat from democracy Image Credit: Si Gam

Retreat from democracy

The rise of Islam and the challenge for Indonesia



For much of the past twenty years, Indonesia has been held up as a model of democratic transition for other countries, particularly those with significant Muslim populations. Indonesia’s leaders like to present their nation as embodying an exemplary path away from authoritarianism. Their form of government, they say, is tolerant yet enshrines religious practice, offering a political alternative for Muslim communities that is more palatable to the West than the failed Arab Spring and the extremist catastrophes that have engulfed the Middle East since America intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This view of Indonesia now needs rethinking. The country’s hard-won advances towards liberalism and tolerance may be under threat. This nation of more than 260 million people – more than 85 per cent of them Muslim – has often been called the “smiling face of Islam”, but that label may no longer apply.

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