Indonesian schools breeding intolerance, says report

indonesian-schoolKUALA LUMPUR: Diversity is under threat in Indonesia as intolerance in government bureaucracy and schools rises.

A special report by The Jakarta Post revealed how intolerance has gripped the country, a phenomenon which also appears to have taken root in Malaysia.

The report said massive propagation of the ultra-conservative brand of Islam had taken place not only in mosques, but also in public domains such as shopping malls, offices, schools and universities.

Most alarming, it said, was the proliferation of intolerance through formal educational institutions, particularly public schools which are not supposed to promote any brand of religion because they run on public funds.

Surprisingly, it found that Islamic schools were generally less conservative than public schools.

It also noted that intolerance was spread by teachers and government-authorised Islamic textbooks.

The Jakarta Post report found the government largely at fault, saying it was not doing enough to put the system back on track.

It said multiple studies by credible organisations, including the religious affairs ministry, had “added credence to the long-held concern that public schools have become fertile ground for religious bigots to sow the seeds of conservatism and intolerance. Many teachers help spread the virus, passing their conservative views to their students”.

“Among students, conservatism has proliferated through extracurricular activities called rohis (Islamic spirituality lectures). Often, rohis speakers preach hatred and the school management turns a blind eye to the toxic practices.

“Interestingly, various surveys have proven that public schools run by the state or private entities are more conservative than Islamic schools. The Ma’arif Institute says this is because the latter are built on solid religious comprehension, while the former rely on less competent theology teachers and are more prone to radical infiltration.”

The Ma’arif Institute had warned about rising intolerance in schools in 2011 and in a study last year, it revealed that a public senior high school in West Java had stopped conducting “an obligatory ceremony that schools across the archipelago hold every Monday because its teachers considered saluting the national flag to be haram (forbidden by God). Instead, the school held a mass Quran recital”.

The report noted that in Aceh, the only province that has formally adopted shariah law, Christian students in the eastern district of Aceh Singkil are required to take lessons on Islam as a prerequisite for final exams.

“This policy is strictly enforced despite the national education law, which guarantees that students nationwide shall receive the morality lessons of their own religious beliefs taught by teachers who embrace the same religion.”

The Jakarta Post report noted that similar concerns had been raised by the Wahid Foundation and the religious affairs ministry.

In their joint studies, made public in February, they found, for instance, that of 1,600 rohis respondents, 33% defined jihad as a holy war against non-Muslims. Also, 60% said they would go on jihad to countries like Syria if they had the chance.

“Thirty-three percent of them believe terrorists like Amrozi, Imam Samudra and others served as role models for good Muslims,” Wahid Foundation programme officer Alamsyah M Djafar was quoted as saying.

“While the phenomenon of radicalising students, especially in senior high school, has become more open and organised, the government has done practically nothing to curb it. Alas, some of its policies are supportive of it,” the Jakarta Post report added.

The report said the Research Centre of the Jakarta State Islamic University (PPIM UIN) found in a recent study that some of the 24 Islamic textbooks published by the education and culture ministry contained intolerant messages.

Teachers are also intolerant, as the PPIM UIN found. A survey it conducted showed that nearly 80% of 500 Islamic morality teachers said they would reject non-Muslim teachers in their schools.

“They also frown upon the presence of other religions’ houses of worship in their neighbourhoods.”

The report quoted the religious affairs ministry’s director-general for Islamic education, Kamaruddin Amin, as saying the government had a hard time dealing with radicalism in many public schools.

He noted that students of minority religions – Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Confucianists – were also subject to discrimination and that only a few schools had their own religion teachers.

The Jakarta Post added that the ministry is developing a new curriculum and new religious textbooks to ensure a more tolerant approach.