According to a recently published analysis, Indonesia and Malaysia have successfully shaken off authoritarianism, but are now endangered by increasing polarization and ethno-religious tension (East Asia Forum, 13 February 2023).
World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller comments: “As the author wisely cautions, Indonesia and Malaysia have always been similar enough to make direct comparisons, but different enough to make such direct comparisons problematic. Nevertheless, in both countries, the governments are – at least on paper – far more pluralistic than the opposition, which in both cases is strictly Islamic. However, while in Malaysia the largest party in parliament, the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), is Islamic, in Indonesia, genuinely Islamic parties have never played a particularly major role and do not gain large number of votes; thus Islamic opposition in Indonesia is much more influential outside of parliament than in.”
Thomas Muller points to an unfolding dynamic: “The Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Islamic movement in Indonesia (and some say, in the world), celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023. At a meeting in Surabaya, moderate NU issued a worldwide call to all Muslim countries and movements stating that the anchoring of the nation-state should be ‘at the forefront of the ideological fight against extremism and jihadism as advocated by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’. This call to give up the goal of setting up a worldwide caliphate was effectively throwing the gauntlet at the feet of the Muslim world’s autocratic and authoritarian leaders, as one observer put it (Eurasia Review, 9 February 2023). The author of the Eurasia Review article continued: ‘This challenge goes to the core of a battle for the soul of Islam that involves a competition for religious soft power and leadership in the Muslim world as well as who will define what constitutes moderate Islam.’ It remains to be seen whether this call will simply go unheard, or be amended, or be challenged or even followed. Indonesia, as a country with growing conservative Muslim population may be a good place to start showcasing what this vision means in practice.”