November 29, 2012

Discussing identity, multiculturalism and peace-building in Indonesia

İhsan Yılmaz

JAKARTA -- Scholars and activists from all over the world and from all walks of life gathered in the lovely Indonesian resort city of Bogor to share their experiences on peace and peace-building activities.

The 4th World Peace Forum (WPF) was organized in Bogor by the Indonesian Muhammadiyah movement, a loose social organization which claims more than 40 million members, the Cheng Ho Multi Culture Education Trust of Malaysia and the Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation Among Civilizations (CDCC). The WPF states that its main objective is to advocate for the fundamental pillars of world peace through the enlightening vision of One Humanity, One Destiny and One Responsibility. The 4th WPF 2012 set to tackle the topic of “Consolidating Multicultural Democracy,” as respect for varying identities and multiculturalism is vital to promoting democracy and peace. The WPF puts it that, despite advances in the democratic trajectory among the world’s nations, humanity still faces a concerning rise in clashes between identities as a result of campaigns in some countries for a more exclusive national identity. Multiculturalism is also facing challenges brought about by the free flow of people representing different ethnicities and religions. It is obvious that rejecting multiculturalism as a framework for living together would harm the principle of humanity and lead to the sorts of conflicts that would prove Samuel Huntington right. I was invited by the Muhammadiyah to talk about my academic work on the peace-building activities of the Hizmet (Gülen) movement, which is based in more than 140 countries.

I explained to the participants how the multicultural yet peaceful coexistence of the Ottoman era, which experienced a democratically elected parliament with 40 percent non-Muslim deputies in 1876, still in the time of the caliph, received a heavy blow from rising nationalism. The empire collapsed following the emergence of several nation-states, including the last-comers to the nationalist cause, the Turks. The founding fathers of this Turkish nation-state spent almost all the country’s energy and capital to build a nation and a specific Turkish identity. In a top-down fashion, the founders used a social engineering approach through various Gramscian hegemonic apparatuses of the state. Unfortunately, the Turkish state formed a bonding social capital only around the LAST (Laicist, Ataturkist, Sunni Muslim and Turkish) monolithic identity. This “Homo LASTus” identity lacked the true social capitol or bridging abilities that would allow for a peaceful coexistence with the other identities present in the Ottoman multicultural setting. Instead, the advocates of the LAST identity tried to exclude, marginalize, assimilate and vilify other identities such as leftists, liberals, Alevis, Kurds and observant Muslims.

Obviously, this homogenous and mono-cultural nation-building project has to date only been partially successful and has been challenged by anti-hegemonic identities on the periphery. Leftists, liberals, Alevis, Kurds and observant Muslims have rejected assimilation and prefer integration only so far as they adapt their identities, not jettison them. The Hizmet movement is a manifestation of this rejection that focuses on conscientious objection, peaceful and positive action, community building with a peace-building vision and multicultural social activism that generates bridging social capital. That is why a movement that started as a religious community in Izmir in the late 1960s around the ideas of the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has transformed itself into a faith-based movement composed of multiple loosely connected horizontal networks and participant from all walks of life, including Jewish and Christian volunteers. As a result of its intercultural activism in more than 140 countries, the movement is gradually losing its Turkish-dominated inclusivist identity and becoming a cosmopolitan phenomenon that organizes around universally accepted norms, principles, ethics, morals and a common vision. Time will only tell how it will continue to evolve.

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 November 2012, Wednesday
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