Rejecting Religious Intolerance in Southeast Asia: Using the United Nations Rabat Plan of Action as a road-map for combatting rising religious hatred in Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia

Benedict Rogers
East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide
benrogers@csw.org.uk

Abstract
Southeast Asia is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse regions of the world, a trait that Myanmar and Indonesia epitomize. Myanmar has more than 130 ethnic groups and, although the majority population is Buddhist, has considerable Christian and Muslim communities. In Indonesia, Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims live alongside Christians, Jews and Sikhs.

The tolerance that has made that diversity possible is under threat. In Myanmar, a nationalistic strain of Buddhism has enormous power and is given patronage by the Myanmar military and the USDP, the major opposition party. This perversion of Buddhism’s peaceful core has unleashed a campaign of cruel hatred and violence against the country’s Muslim minorities and has affected Christians as well.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism, enshrined in the state ideology of pancasila, which gives equal status to the country’s recognized religions, is being threatened by the rise of radical Islamism. There have been violent attacks on Ahmadi and Shia Muslims, the closure of Christian churches, and tensions between the radicals and the predominant indigenous Sufi Muslim society.

The Rabat Plan of Action provides a helpful road-map for policy makers who aim to combat rising religious intolerance. It recognises that hate crimes are often rooted in cultural antipathy and the spreading of false information. Legislation is therefore only part of a larger toolbox needed to tackle hate speech. Important recommendations are made relating to the non-legislative policies of state and non-state actors. To challenge the hatred of extremists, we need to form a broad alliance which draws together lawmakers, the media, the international community, and civil society. A simple message resounds: cultural change requires collaboration.
This paper will endeavour to apply the Rabat Plan specifically to the situations in Indonesia and Myanmar. Recommendations will call state actors, media and civil society to work together to combat hate speech narratives through all available channels: education, the judiciary, campaigning platforms, the media, legislation and international diplomacy.

In 2015 Christian Solidarity Worldwide organised the Myanmar-Indonesia Interfaith Exchange which drew together Buddhists, Muslims and Christians from Myanmar and Indonesia and civil society activists from both countries. The Wahid Foundation noted recently that there has been a rise in similar initiatives which promote religious tolerance in Indonesia. Although religious intolerance might appear to be an unstoppable force in both Indonesia and Myanmar, the majority population can be mobilised to promote peace and tolerance. This paper will use the Rabat Plan to explore pathways for that mobilisation.

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