Jakarta – Indonesia is set to enjoy the benefits of a "demographic bonus" – a large productive population – until 2030, but it has its work cut out to prevent radicalism and intolerance from spreading among its young people.
If the government fails with this project, it is feared that the much-hyped bonus can quickly turn into a huge disadvantage.
Ubaid Matraji, a coordinator for the Network for Indonesian Education Watch (JPPI), said a survey released by Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University's Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) showed intolerance and radicalism remain serious threats for Indonesia's youth.
JPPI is a youth education non-governmental organization and PPIM is the research unit of the Syarif Hidayatullah University.
The respondents for the survey were Muslim teachers and students. Results showed that around 63 percent of the Muslim teachers and 57 percent of the Muslim students were intolerant of other religions.
Ubaid said if the government fails to pay serious attention to the problems of intolerance and radicalism, Indonesia can soon say goodbye to its demographic bonus.
From intolerance to radicalism
"Worse than intolerance, the survey also showed nearly half of the Muslim teachers have opinions that can be considered as radical," Ubaid told Suara Pembaruan, Jakarta Globe's sister publication.
Ubaid criticized the government of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo for not paying enough attention to school conditions, the state of the national curriculum and the movement of radicalized young people.
According to Ubaid, a radical mindset has infiltrated many top government agencies and officials are at a loss to prevent its spread. "They [the intolerant officials] are used to playing roles [to disguise their radicalism]," he said.
The government had disbanded hardline Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in 2017 for "threatening national unity and the state ideology Pancasila."
But though the organization does not officially exist anymore, observers like Ubaid believe their former members remain active and many of them have infiltrated schools, universities, government institutions and also mosques.
Ubaid said the government should collect intelligence on schools and classify them according to how much they have been exposed to intolerance and radicalism.
The government should also make sure that all schools teach Pancasila to their students. Schools can also screen teachers during the recruitment process for radical tendencies.
The specter of identity politics
Rochmat Wahab, a lecturer and former rector of Yogyakarta State University, said the government has already made some efforts to get young students to respect the values of tolerance and diversity through its Civic Education program.
The program is now a compulsory subject in schools. Some of its materials are also taught as part of religious studies and extra-curricular activities like scouting.
However, Rochmat said schools still don't pay enough attention to what teachers and students do after school hours, which leaves gaps for them to get radicalized.
According to him, one way to prevent radicalization is by appealing to the students' nationalistic sentiments. That's why Rochmat has proposed a program to the government to revive a Pancasila-based character education program in the national curriculum.
In the last presidential and legislative elections, politicians battled for support from Muslims, which make up the biggest group among the country's 260 million population.
Most of these politicians, including the supposedly moderate President Jokowi, are not above playing identity politics to win votes.
Since last month's elections, observers say the specter of identity politics is still hanging over the country and there is a real danger it will be exploited by radical groups.
This makes it unsurprising that moderate Muslims are turning back to Pancasila to shield themselves and their children from radicalization.
Totok Amin, a lecturer at Paramadina University, home to many moderate Muslim scholars, said schools are not the only institution responsible for protecting young people from the dangers of radicalism. Communities and families also play a large part.
Totok echoed Ubaid's concerns that Indonesia must ensure its future leaders will not turn radical. The country has to take advantage of its demographic bonus by making sure young people of different ethnicities, religions and races can work together peacefully.
– Jakarta Globe & Suara Pembaruan