The Media and Islamic Inclusive Teachings
Paper contributed to the International Islamic Scholars Conference, Jakarta, 23-25 February 2004
by Martin van Bruinessen, ISIM / Utrecht University




The important question is not whether Indonesia's mainstream media have a potential for disseminating Islamic inclusive teachings - they do, and they have almost consistently done so for the past thirty-five years. It is more important to ask why, in spite of this, exclusivist interpretations of Islam have been able to spread so successfully, without access to mainstream media for most of the time. At a time when Indonesia's Muslim intellectuals were developing an open, tolerant and inclusive religious discourse that hardly has a parallel elsewhere in the Muslim world, and that was quite influential at the elite level, counter-discourses that were much more exclusivist developed in the margins, using media and outlets that the intellectual elite was hardly aware of or had disdain for: simple leaflets, cheaply printed books, radical sermons, flyers distributed outside the mosques, all using a simple, unsophisticated language. Two strictly separated audiences thus emerged. The spokesmen for an inclusive Islam, often perceived to be part of the establishment and co-opted by the regime, lost much of the mass audience to the disaffected voices from the margin (which, for a number of reasons, could become more loudly heard from the 1990s on and moved closer to the centre of political society). The urgent task for those representing inclusive teachings appears to be to regain access to the audience that has too long been left to the exclusivists, which means focusing on other than mainstream media. The recent efforts in this direction by such groups as LKiS (Lembaga Kajian Islam dan Sosial, Institute for Islamic and Social Studies) in Yogyakarta and JIL (Jaringan Islam Liberal, Liberal Islam Network) in Jakarta deserve more attention and support.