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Kathryn Robinson

In imagining Indonesia’s future, its character as a country with the world’s largest Islamic population emerges as a critical issue. In the post-Suharto period, some commentators have seen the emergence of Islamist politics as a threat to newly attained freedoms. No sooner had women been freed from the constraints of ‘state ibuism’, i.e., the official policy promoting the role of wife and mother (ibu) of the New Order (see Suryakusuma 1996), which endorsed patriarchal familism as a cornerstone of authoritarian politics, than they faced a new kind of patriarchal authority in the demands for the enactment of shari’a as state law. For example, during her 2005 visit to Australia, Indonesian feminist commentator Julia Suryakusuma raised the specter of Islam as the greatest current threat to gender equity and to women as social actors in civic life, whose rights in the domestic sphere are now protected by the state. The growing influence of Middle Eastern Islam in Indonesia, evidenced by funding for organizations, translations of publications, and the increase in Islamist rhetoric, has caused alarm among many observers. This apprehension draws on the stereotype of the Middle East as the source of all that is ‘bad’ about Islam, taken as an undifferentiated whole. But this view of Islam fails to acknowledge debates within Islam and diversity in Islamic practice, not the least of which are the varieties of Islam that can be found throughout the Indonesian archipelago. These diverse practices have emerged as local communities and indigenous polities responded in distinctive and often unique ways during the long period of Islamic conversion, beginning from the thirteenth century.