Friday, 15 July 2011

Pluralism and the City by Marco Kusumawijaya

Tourists sight seeing at Malioboro street during the long weekend holiday in Yogyakarta. (JG Photo/Boy T Harjanto)
Tourists sight seeing at Malioboro street during the long weekend holiday in Yogyakarta. (JG Photo/Boy T Harjanto)
Architect and urbanist Marco Kusumawijaya offers his insight and critiques into pluralism using the ancient city of  Yogjakarta and Solo as examples.

A city is founded, and grows well, on the basis of pluralism. There is no doubt about it in the history of civilization. Options keep things moving forward.

But pluralism is not to be taken for granted. People have fought for it throughout history. Authorities, be they princes or mayors, have intervened to nurture it. And we see happier, more tolerant residents when a city is so managed. Yogjakarta and Solo are perhaps good examples.

Pluralism is not only about religions. This point must be underscored, especially in Indonesia where the discourse on urban pluralism tends to focus too narrowly on religions. There is no doubt that the rise of religion in this new century is a factor, but our youth are being misguided by religious zealots more because of rapid urbanization and abrupt, top-down modernization.

The unemployment rate, which is highest among the youth, must be dealt with. Too much of our talk about young fundamentalists is dominated by religious analysis. Perhaps government authorities prefer this because they are too complacent and lazy to analyze the problem more realistically. Religion is a convenient scapegoat.

The government must enact a policy based more on economic and sociological reasoning, rather than musing about how beautiful religious pluralism is. Even if religious tolerance worked, the increasing number of unemployed youth will find others to manipulate their idle hands. We already have petty criminals called “preman” (thugs) organized by charismatic leaders peddling an ideology.

This is, again, not uncommon. Unemployed youth were organized in the time of Hitler in Germany. Indonesian military organized them, too, for different purposes in the recent past.

Of course it is good for Indonesians to be religious. But this should not cloud the analysis of our policy makers. Our intellectuals and researchers must be put to work. We cannot rely only on religious leaders to fight the zealots who have been manipulating our youth.

It is now high time for our bureaucrats to proactively propose policies and programs based on a wide range of scientific findings. We cannot blame only our politicians when they are not well advised on facts and figures by our bureaucrats. For a city like Jakarta, which lost its status as the capital of contemporary arts to Yogjakarta, pluralism is fundamental for innovation and growth.

Further info on Marco's writings: