Thursday, December 16, 2004

Fundamentalism and Liberalism: Is there any in-between?

On my last day in Singapore, Rani informed me about the discussion about Islamic Pluralism to be held at the Black Box - Fort Canning Center and moderated by JIL (Islam Liberal Network)'s activist Ulil Abdashar-Abdalla, on December 14th Tuesday eve.

Entitled 'Islamic Discourse and the Pluralism of Islam', this discussion did not really focus on the theme itself, rather was showing some examples of attempts in pluralizing the view about religions in Indonesia, which of course is interesting in itself. Not so much new stuff being spilled out, but as always, any discussion about pluralism is always refreshing. And surely is important.

Apart from this particular discussion, what has been crossing my mind is that the discourse about religion somehow is always dichotomized between two polars, fundamentalism vs liberalism, forgetting that between two spectrums there lays a big pond of in-between-ness where most of members of society stand. Speaking about pluralism is not speaking about the dualism of fundamentalist vs liberal, isn't it? Pluralism is a belief that reality ultimately includes many different kinds of things. In discourse about religion pluralism acknowledges the co-existence of groups who hold divergent and incompatible views with regard to religious questions. Thus, borrowing from John Courtney Murray in the 1950s, pluralism therefore implies disagreement and dissension within a community.

Supposedly the liberalism has a totally different view than fundamentalism in interpreting religious messages, by holding on values of pluralism, there could always be space for exchanging ideas and appropriate critiques. However, both should not be trapped in competing for the 'right-ness', 'truth', and 'accuracy' by negating each other. It's true that there is a very thin layer between criticizing and negating, thus in practice it will be difficult to criticize without any tendency to negate nor to exclude. However, this is not impossible, and one should keep this in mind if want to hold on to pluralism.

Other important thing is that the existence of in-between-ness which now somehow is forgotten and ignored. How could be any pluralism in the public sphere if there are only two dominant views and the rest are muted? Supposedly the liberalists (well, easier for me to demand liberalists rather than fundamentalists... some of you know why) believe in the importance of pluralism, they should also encourage any different views about religion to grow and at the end this attempt should be more important than promoting any exclusive view of liberalism. But can one liberalist actually do that? Ya... again, difficult but not impossible.. one should be very unselfish and have a zero ego to do so.....

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