“A New Perspective On Democracy in the Middle East”

This morning started with a lecture at the Universitas Islam Negeri Yogyakarta (Islamic State University Yogyakarta) with a seminar by Professor François Burgat. Mr. Burgat is a political scientist and a Senior Research Fellow at the French National Centre for Science. Mr. Burgat has spent over than 20 years in middle-east countries: Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. Professor Burgat shared his experiences and opinions on Democracy in the Middle East. At the beginning of the lecture, Professor Burgat made a simple and basic point that it is impossible to study the Middle East without studying the history of the Middle East. Often times, we forget the importance of learning the history and culture of an area. The history is what shapes and defines the people of an area and determines how the people will react to changes in the future.

During the open question time, a member of the audience asked “Why is the democracy peaceful/ different in Indonesia compared to the Middle East?” Burgat replied that one cannot draw such a distinct picture that Indonesia is peaceful and the Middle East is not violent. This distinction is far too strong and too explicit to put these areas into two separate groups. Burgat focused again on the importance of the area’s history and the culture of the people. He stated that depending on the culture will determine how change occurs. Later in the discussion, Carrie asked whether Burgat thought democracy was the best way for social justice and if it was the only way of true, fair government. He said that it was absolutely the only option, but all democracy looks the same. Burgat believed that all cultures support the same values even in polar opposite cultures. The difference is in the superficial appearance is due to the difference in the symbolic systems that define culture. The symbolic systems of Indonesia are different from the United States, because the Indonesian culture is based around an Islamic symbolic system while the American culture is based around a Christian symbolic system (whether Americans will admit to it or not). Since an American is grown up in the Christian symbolic system and American culture, this can create a major barrier for understanding the form of democracy in Indonesia and vice versa. I believe Burgat was trying to show the democracy of America will not be exactly the same as the democracy in Indonesia or any other country, but that is okay as long as it is a form of democracy in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

After this lecture, we returned to UGM for another series of lectures. The first was Dra Agustine Prasetyo Muniati, Ma, she is a renowned multiculturalism activist. I found her definitions of interfaith dialogue, faith, and religion very interesting. Ibu Nunuk stated that dialogue is not only talking but a commitment to action. It is a promise to work towards the facilitation of interfaith dialogue. For interfaith dialogue to be successful, the participants do not need to unite under a single religion, but under our faith. Religion is the institution, ritual, practice, and teachings of God, while faith is the belief and personal understanding in the mystery of God. By separating these parts of interfaith dialogue theology was very interesting. It showed that dialogue is not only respecting another religion, but responding to the problems of humanity. We all have the same problems and need to work together to solve these problems. Ibu Nunuk was insightful and inspiring with her opinions of interfaith dialogue.

Following Ibu Nunuk, from the Ministery of Foreign Affairs elaborated on the Comprehensive Partnership between Indonesia and the United States.

In the evening, we attended a traditional Indonesian Gamelan rehearsal. This was absolutely breath taking to listen to the rehearsal, we heard a contemporary song and traditional song. The traditional Gamelan song was slow and tranquil, it was almost a soft lullaby that was comforting and smooth. In comparison, the contemporary song was fast paced and exciting. It began with a powerful and dramatic opening and finished to an ever increasing tempo. Both were magnificent, unique, and unlike any other music I had heard before.

The more time one spends in a different culture, the more one is able to appreciate the beauty of the culture. Every day we spend in Indonesia, the more I realize how incredibly blessed I am to be here and how blessed I am to have this brilliant experience.

Selamat Malam!

Anne Marie

Ps. “Ibu” is a term of respect used for an older woman. It is similar to “Mrs.” in English.

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