, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 06/13/2002 7:34 AM | Opinion
Mochtar Buchori, Legislator, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Jakarta, email@example.com 
In the Indonesian political psyche there seems to be a wall that firmly separates the ""Islamic wing"" from the ""nationalist wing"", the two traditional main pillars of the political system. The rivalry between these two political communities can at times be so bitter that they look at each other not only as rivals, but as adversaries.
This is unhealthy. Many political leaders, now and in the past, have been looking for a formula that can break this political divide. One formula -- supposedly envisaged by first president Bung Karno -- suggests that to end this hostility two hybrid groups should be created, the ""nationalistic-religious"" group, and the ""religious-nationalistic"" group. In current political idiom the political ideology of these two groups might be referred to as ""nationalistic Islamism"" and ""Islamic nationalism"".
The difference between these two ideologies would be very slim, and whether they exist is also questionable. For one thing, the term ""Islamic nationalism"" itself would be an oxymoron, nationalism having claimed to stand outside and above religious matters. In fact, nationalist political parties have always claimed that they are the political home for Indonesians from all religious creeds.
Is it realistic to expect that one day such groups will emerge? Thus far this dream has not materialized. However, developments in the last 10 years or so have signaled shifts within both camps.
The rise of the ""liberal Islam"" movement within the Islamic camp, and the rise in adherence to Islamic religious observance among hard-core nationalists are signs of this shift. Admittedly they are weak signs, but nonetheless departures from political orthodoxies, and readiness for rapprochement.
Even though it is impossible to say at the moment whether this dream of rapprochement would ever come true, it is still possible to say whether the conditions that had caused the discord had changed; and whether these changes indicate converging or diverging trends.
One important cause of this Islam-nationalist discord was education. There was a glaring contrast between the education of Islamic leaders and that of Nationalist leaders. This contrast lay primarily in the cultural orientation that the two educational systems had cultivated in their students.
Whereas the Koranic education introduced Islamic leaders solely to an Islamic orientation of life, the basically secular education of nationalist leaders provided them with a repertoire of knowledge anchored in Western culture. Thus whereas subjects like natural sciences and Western languages were alien to the Islamic leaders of that time, the nationalist leaders were ignorant about ideals of society based on Islam.
The result of this educational dichotomy was that the groups of leaders could not communicate effectively about matters affecting respective followers. The social, economic and cultural factors among the grass roots of each group further separated them. The Islamic and nationalist blocs were thus divided both at the bottom and at the top.
After 1950 the educational situation changed, if only marginally. But the basics are still more or less the same. Islamic educational institutions like the madrasah and pesantren have been modifying themselves with regard to organizational format and method of instruction, but instruction in Islamic theology is still the dominant element.
It is still very difficult to persuade these institutions to introduce mathematics and natural sciences into many of these institutions. Their classic attitude has been that science education would reduce the faith of their students.
Yet suspicion and dislike of everything Western is no longer as strong as they used to be. The State Academy of Islamic Studies (IAIN) is living evidence of this evolution. The question is whether the new Islamic intellectuals are willing to assume a political role or whether they would rather stay away from politics, and live as academics.
On the nationalist side, despite changes in academic quality and cultural orientation, the basic pattern of education is also the same.
A decline in education quality have made students less inclined to boast about achievements. The new cultural orientation in schools has made them conscious of their own cultural identity, and less knowledgeable about Western culture. The ultimate impact of this change is that the feeling of superiority toward people brought up within the Islamic education system has been very much reduced.
However, the mental wall that divides the Islamic and nationalist communities still stands firm, especially among older political leaders. They can argue for days about symbolism, but not about substance. This is obviously an unsettling obstacle for efforts toward national progress.
Where do we go from here? We cannot stop half way in educational reform. Further reform must be based upon a new paradigm, cultural and political, which should take into account our current national and global realities.
What we must build is a new Indonesia that can live in harmony with the rest of the world, and is part of the global civilization.