Promoting tolerance in Indonesia 13. February 2011

Last week I was in central Java, Indonesia, documenting a development project funded by The Asia Foundation that seeks to promote tolerance and other civil values in secondary schools.

The majority of Indonesians are muslim, a fact reflected by every aspect of daily life. Mosques are woven into the urban landscape, and calls to prayer mark the hours of the day. But other beliefs make up significant minority groups in the country and for centuries there has been room for a diversity of practices. Our driver was emblematic of this amalgam -- a Christian convert, his children profess different faiths, and on Friday nights he lets the crowd from the neighborhood mosque spill into his yard.

Recently, however, the country has experienced several outbursts of intolerance. In one area, Christian churches were burned down, and in another, members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam experienced attacks over claims that they were blasphemers.

Given these events, the work of The Asia Foundation seems prescient. Working with local partners, they are training teachers in rural Islamic schools and giving them new ways to incorporate simple values like tolerance and equality into their curriculums. We visited schools where the program was being implemented, speaking with teachers and students. There's no single way to resolve deep tensions between different groups, but its clear that reaching out to youth is an important part. A selection of images can be viewed here.

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