BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Crossing Continents  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Monday, 8 March, 1999, 17:29 GMT
Web Exclusive: Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid
Muslim politician Amien Rais is getting used to the campaign trail
Amien Rais is the leader of PAN, the National Mandate Party. Until the end of last year, he was leader of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia. He is known as a fierce critic of President Suharto, and also has a reputation for supporting Islamic separatism. But he says he fully supports Pancasila - the ideology drawn up by President Sukarno in 1945 which holds that Indonesia treats all major religions equally. Julian Pettifer spoke to Mr. Rais in his house in Yogyakarta.

AR: I don't believe in Sharia state in Indonesia...
JP: Sharia - a state under Islamic law?
AR: Yes because to me and to 99% of Indonesian Muslims Pancasila is our irrevocable and final state ideology, state philosophy. So I think if some circles in the military and other civilian groups have suspected that I was striving for an Islamic state, I think they just make that non-issue as false issue to corner me. They cannot find any proof that in any moment of life that I did speak about Islamic state.

JP: No, but I think they have tended perhaps to recall some of your comments in the past that sounded somewhat sectarian and they have assumed you might have another agenda.
AR: Yes, the reason why I talk about representative democracy is that because when I just went back from Chicago I was shocked - realising that Suharto's policy was very discriminative against Islam. For example he have too many minority leaders in his cabinet so that the interests of Muslim people were just ignored by his ministers and by him too. I think this be redressed and the reason why I was talking about the necessity to have representative government is because it's more stable, it guarantees social and economic justice for the whole people. Just imagine if the majority of the people were repressed and suppressed and ignored and forgotten so their interests would be undermined by Suharto's regime and it was the case at that time.

JP: Do you think because minorities had undue influence during the Suharto regime, what's needed now is positive discrimination to advance the interests of the Islamic majority?
AR: I don't think that affirmative action or positive discrimination will certainly and definitely help us to redress the situation because there's also at least a little danger in reverse discrimination, even if you have good intentions. Maybe in the beginning the policy could be carried out proportionately but after some time, positive or reverse discrimination could become a backlash. That's why I think what we have to do now is to take any discriminatory policy because discrimination is discrimination, whether it's positive or negative, it's still discrimination. I think we don't want to repeat our past mistakes. But at least we can base our policies on fairness and honesty and justice. And based on fairness and justice I think bit by bit we can improve the situation.

JP: Do you think it was inevitable that opposition to Suharto to a large extend has coalesced around Islamic organisations?
AR: I don't think so because the front, the political front which opposed Mr. Suharto consisted of different groups, both from Islamic and non-Islamic organisations or groups. So it is very fortunate that we could gather different or various political groups, regardless of their religious background. But they could still get together to oppose Mr. Suharto. So I think it is very very difficult that those groups will be able to come to a consensus that they will base their political struggle on an Islamic platform. This is just impossible. Also I believe that only quite a few of Islamic groups still believe that Islamic platform can be offered to the Indonesian people. I think after 53 years of our independence we have become mature enough to realise that Islam cannot be made as a political commodity. And it's counterproductive if we make Islam as our main issue in our national life. So I think more than 90% of the Muslim people in this country have made a very strong consensus, agreement, that we most not question any longer the Pancasila as our state philosophy and ideology. Once we talk about an Islamic state, we open up an old wound.

JP: Without asking you to be immodest, what do you think are the strengths you can bring to the leadership of this country?
AR: I think I have self-confidence and I think I have consistency. I have been attacking corruption, collusion and nepotism. So when I said to the public that my first plan is to build a clean and effective government that's not polluted by corruption, collusion and nepotism, I think people will believe me. I think my track record is good. There is no pollution in my track record regarding those chronic diseases. Secondly, by having a really open and all-inclusive political party I can reach out as far as possible to the minds and hearts of the Indonesian people - whether they live in Java or in the outer islands. And thirdly, I think it was me who have the most contribution in forcing Mr. Suharto to stand down. It was recorded in our modern history. So I think with these political capitals, I'm entitled to run for the presidency.

Marchers at a PKB rally carry posters of Abdurrahman Wahid (aka Gus Dur)
Abdurrahman Wahid is leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest Muslim organisation with 30 million members. He has now set up a political party, the PKB or National Awakening Party. Popularly nicknamed 'Gus Dur', he is considered one of Indonesia's most important spiritual and political leaders.

Speaking in Jakarta to Crossing Continents producer Hugh Levinson, he explained how he thought Muslims should approach politics and the state and illustrated how far he took the idea of multi-faith co-operation..

AW: You divide life into two. According to the state, you go to nationalism - no, nationhood - but in other things, your private life, your morality, your way of propagating religion, in your way of dealing with others, you take Islamic principles.

HL: So in other words, there's a limit - where Islam applies and doesn't apply?
AW: Yes, precisely that. Because of this then we can say that in Indonesia they change Islam a little bit.

HL: Many Muslims in this country and abroad would disagree with that conception of Islam. They would say Islam is a total system that should govern all aspects of life
AW: Yes of course. Even in Indonesia they have many many like that. But one important thing is clear. In the elections, which one is stronger. So they may talk about that in Pakistan but we are many, twice that of Pakistan size. And not only we, Bangladesh, you see also the Philippines, you see Malaysia, you see everywhere.

HL: But you think fundamentally that Islam should be kept out of politics, is that right?
AW: Precisely that. I mean Islam and politics have no relation. Because politics is concerned with institutions while we are concerned with morality.
HL: And the two things are divisible?
AW: Yes, we have to base our lives on morality. And by that we shape the institutions instead of - like in Iran they think institutions is more important than morality.

HL: Your organisation has worked hard to build bridges with other religions - for example with Christians here in Indonesia. Can you tell me something about these efforts?
AW: Oh yes, the Catholic Cardinal and the head of the Protestant church sit in your place now many times. It's just that we work together in many fields, in education, in economy, in culture even. So there is no point in quarrelling with them, why? Because we don't quarrel over belief system. Each one is free to follow his own system. For democratisation for example. I and my fellow Christians work for the democratisation of the country since many many years go. When many of these Muslims - including Suharto - don't believe in that.

HL: Why do you think it's so important then publicly to be seen to be joining hands with the Christian leadership in this country?
AW: Because they fight for the same things we fight! Because they are there already and they are more advanced than us in many things. We have to acknowledge this. We have to say that we will learn from them. In that way then we will be healthily following our lives.
HL: It's a very brave viewpoint to take. Some people would say Islam has nothing to learn from Christianity or Christians.
AW: Oh many many things. You know for me, the Christians apply Islamic principle in life about how to educate people, how to make social systems work. How this, how that. They are more advanced than us! Now in science they know more about computer than us. The Muslims are just beginning, like Abdul Salam who got the Nobel Prize in physics just a few years ago. But just look at the Nobel prizewinners in whatever field. They're Christians!

HL: You have been criticised for meeting former President Suharto, you've been criticised for meeting former army leaders. This is seen as betraying pure "reformasi," the reform forces. How do you feel about that?
AW: Well what I do is consistent with the scale of priority I develop. That's one. How to tackle the economic crisis and the food crisis now. Second, how to establish the clean government. The third is how to establish national unity. And fourth only - that's how to make Mr. Suharto - you know - treated according to the law. You cannot just reverse this because if you concentrate on bringing Suharto to court you end by having a violent society, because his followers are still many in Indonesia and they will be angry with this.

HL: You talked about trying to unify the 13,000 islands of this nation. Do you think unity is possible in what is a very chaotic, very diverse situation now?
AW: No, no, no. On the surface it appears like that. But I know Indonesia. I know Indonesian people. They yearn for unity. So I don't think the majority of population will be influenced by these fanatics and that will be apparent in the election.

of Julian Pettifer's interview with Amien Rais
Full audio
of Abdurrahman Wahid's interview
See also:

11 May 98 | LATEST NEWS
23 Aug 98 | Asia-Pacific
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Crossing Continents stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |