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Criticism and Freedom Must Be Defended

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The absence of healthy public space to discuss has created plenty
of mutilation of ideas in this country. This condition also close
the many opportunities to find social norms for common lives.
Consequently, there are many misunderstanding between groups
and violent actions that emerge. That was the conversation between
Novriantoni of Liberal Islam Network (Jaringan Islam Liberal, JIL) with
M. Fadjroel Rachman, Chair of Working Committee of Indonesian
Socialist Society, last Thursday (2/15).
NOVRIANTONI (JIL): Bung Fadjroel, you are often called a
socialist. What does that mean?
M. FADJROEL RACHMAN: I make a distinction between a
socialist and a communist. Usually I would say that a socialist is still
willing to go to mosque, church, or other worship places. There are
even those who did pilgrimage to Mecca such as Soedjatmoko, the
famous Indonesian intellectual. This means, they still try to be
religious. Because, socialism is actually a flag with several streams of
thinking. The conclusion point is that socialism is understood as
’value, idea, and struggle to free human being from exploitation,
repression, domination, and humiliation of human by other human.’
There are also those basing the idea to religion and for that reason is
called religious-socialism. They do not at all know the ideas of
Marxism. For them, in religion itself there are ideas of justice that
must be implemented in life, the interesting example is H.O.S
Tjokroaminoto in Sosialisme dan Islam. Meanwhile, Mohammad Hatta,

former first Vice President of Republic of Indonesia, tried to develop
Indonesian socialism by combining Islam, genuine democracy, and
Marxist analysis on capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.
But there is also democracy-socialism that bases itself on
democracy and almost say that socialism is capitalism plus political
regulation. There are also those who call themselves socialist-
libertarian who fights for individual rights and social rights of society
in parallel way. There is also Marxist-socialism that is non-communist.
They take the ideas of Marxist but do not acknowledge several of its
doctrinal aspects, such as proletariat dictatorship and class war. There
is also populist socialism that was developed by Sutan Sjahrir, which
uses Marxism critically and put more emphasis on values of humanity
and populism. See his book Sosialisme dan Marxisme: Suatu Kritik
Terhadap Marxisme (1967).
JIL: As a socialist, how do you know religion?
Thank God I have quite strong root of religiosity that dialectically
develop my personal life. First, NU traditional root. I like its idea of
aculturation with culture. Second, modernism of Muhamadiyah is
also interesting because it brings the idea of social alms in its spirit of

when I was a student. Mohammad Iqbal says, only in your anxiety

you will know yourself. I also follow Iqbal when he said that it is in
anxiety and tense of that search, human creativity would “reach”
God’s creativity.
At one point I had the thought that knowledge or science may
be used as the basis of religion. But I eventually understand that
knowledge and science is just providing a method, just like mentioned
by British philosopher, Karl Popper, on problem solving methodology.
Eventually science only provides method and problem solution that
are tentative, hypothetical, and fallible (could be wrong); and therefore
it cannot be used as the basis of faith.
But that does not mean that knowledge or science is the
antithesis of religion. Knowledge and religion have their own methods
in solving problems. Religion actually also cannot take over the
position of science. In my opinion, religion is like a quantum leap of
conscience to faith. In this era, it is hard to imagine if someone
suddenly says, “I will slaughter my son because God told me to!”
like Prophet Ibrahim did to Ismail his son.
Everyone may say that that is crazy and has no common sense.
Such case is an example of leap of faith over conscience. I thin, science
cannot provide that basis. Hence religion and science are two different
things. But religion still provides motivation, such as the effort to
revitalize principles of justice, humanity and solidarity. Such
motivation gives birth to what is called theological humanism that is
based on religion.
But scientific rational thinking could also produce humanism-
secular ideas that to me is not at all contradictory with religion. The
two moves on the basis of the same desire to develop human
solidarity; wanting to live with others or exist with others, without
relations of exploitation, repression, domination or humiliation.
JIL: So socialism and religious doctrin on justice could meet?
It can, although religious leaders always ask: what is your
foundation? But all of those could be answered in a simple way.
Friends who are religious leaders may say that the foundation is from
God, in the form of enlightenment or prophet’s saying and behavior.
From there, spirit of justice grows. But secular-humanis group bases

religion and modernism. And thirs, three generations of my country

are fortunately living in the spirit of scientific rationalism of the West.
Thus, I live in three pillars or the dialectical elements. Those are what
actually shape me. Hence I am not very allienated from religion.
JIL: Does scientific rationalism push you to not have any
organizational affiliation to NU or Muhamadiyah?
Apparently yes. But in my family there are always those who
follow directly one of those mass organizations. But I am truly never
involved in the organizations of NU or Muhamadiyah. When I was a
student at ITB, I took pure chemistry as my major (science). I am
more enticed to the idea of rationalism that pushes criticism,
individualism, dialectic, and materialism. Religion for me is
motivation from actions. I cannot get out from that point, and may
be that is the one that benefits me as an individual in social life.
When I was a student, I once were between the tension of
scientific rationalism and religious doctrine. Even until today I am
still under that tension, certainly with a different understanding than

its idea on the existence of others; because I am present with other
people. Therefore, norms or humanistic values develop. Or, I cannot
know who I am if others do not react to me.
The lightest example is when you stare at me, I may ask, “What
is wrong with me that he stares at me in such a way?” Thus, the
foundation is the desire to exist with other people, which generates
norms and values of justice and humanity.
JIL: You grown in the spirit of scientific rational spirit. Are
you ever tempted to conduct spiritual search?
I did ever think if science could be my basis to believe in God.
But I am finally convinced that that is not possible because science is
tentative, hypothetical, and fallible (could be wrong). When someone
creates big bang theory as one of the basis of religious belief, I think
he is wrong and have taken a shaky foundation. Because in science,
aside from big bang theory, there are other theories too. And who
knows, in time the theory will be gone and replaced by new theory.
Read the thin book of Stephen Hawking A Brief History of Time, on
the most recent physics and universe theories.
The case is just as dangerous with scientific interpretation of
religion. Ptolomeus once said that earth is the center of the universe
and his thesis was adopted by Church. When Copernicus said that it
was the sun that was circled by the earth, according to his research
finding, the Church still hold on to the old dogma. Consequently,
people like Galileo Galilei must be punished with home jail for life,
and Giordano Bruno was burned for his belief.
Therefore, in that searching process, I found that faith is faith,
and science is science. To me, all people cannot be a total atheist. For
a scientist, to prove that God does not exist is just as difficult as proving
that God exists. Therefore, there is a big problem if scientific logics or
mathematical logics are applied to religion. For instance, in science,
there is always people who want to say that physics and chemistry
findings prove God’s existence. Others say that everything is already
said in Koran or other religions’ holy bible.
But now, NASA send its mission to Pluto to examine its universe
evolution. If suddenly there is found something different from what
is followed by relition, what would religion say? The big problem in

religion logic is tautology trap; feeling that it never has the possibility
of being wrong.
JIL: Bung Fadjroel, there are those arguing that socialism is
religion in broader meaning, while religion is socialism in narrower
meaning. What is your take on this?
We shall return to the definition. Socius means friend or buddy
in Latin. What is wanted by the socialists is the concept of homo homini
socius, human is friend for other human. This is in contradiction with
the concept of homo homini lupus, or human as wolf for other human.
This means, what is searched by socialist movement is values that
exist in common human lives, one that could be used as common
basis of action in handling social, political and economic problems.
The proper term is values-centered socialism. The values are
justice, humanity, populism, freedom, solidarity, welfare, and
equality. Those are values that also could grow from various religions,
and even from people without religious beliefs. But all acknowledge
those values as the basis of common lives. Because without those
values, we are expected to kill one another.
JIL: But why do socialists do not always have a good term
with religious leaders?
They are actually not contradictory. At least, that is what happen
to me. I am pleased to be invited by friends who are religious activits,
such as PKS, KAMMI, HMI, PMII, and other religions such as
Buddhist and Catholic. I participate in their training and has no
problem at all. But during New Order period, there was a
misunderstanding that equates socialism with communism, while
socialism is different from communism.
Socialism is rooted further in the scientific-socialism teaching
of Karl Marx. Actually, the main root is religion. When religion came,
he stroke injustices. When Islam came, he condemned slavery, killings
of women, and others. That is actually also part of socialism. Ibrahim’s
religions acknowledge that human is equal before God. That is actually
also the main basis of socialism teaching.
JIL: If one is rooted in socialism, why still need socialism?
Perhaps the answer is this. God is indeed the source of truth,
but the problem is, in the process of searching the truth, religions

have many interpretations. Those interpretations plus histories of
religions that are no less complicated. When talking about history, in
Islam itself, the first three caliphs were killed by their opponents.
Even Imam Husein, the grandchild of Prophet, with his 70 followers
were killed by 30,000 followers of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah in Karbala,
Iraq today. His head was cut, kicked, spitted, and carried publicly to
Yazid palace. Which means, in the history of religion itself, violent
element is present since its beginning.
Well, the problem is, which interpretation of truth that we will
follow? In Sunni Islam, there are several versions and streams, in
Shiite Islam too there are various version and streams. I mean, the
interpretation of a group of people about religion and the truth of
religion must indeed be separated. Therefore, socialist group as mine
also attempt to find formula so that religious groups or non-religions
groups could live on the basis of common values. The basis of values
we can just take from motivation of religion, humanism spirit,
philosophy, culture, or whatever that could tie our lives together in a
just and human way.
That way we could exist together, live together. We can respect
one another and develop common values and norms of life. That is
what being taught in the open society concept of Karl Popper. Through
open society, individuals choose and are responsible for their freedom,
with that way human becomes themselves, creating themselves. But
problems still exist, every individual could certainly absolutize its
interpretation on God, religion and truth. If it was the dominant
authority who does this, then there would be inquisition like that in
the Middle Ages. Therefore, what we reject is absolute interpretation
of knowledge or religion. I reject absolute interpretation of the two. I
imagine every human being is given freedom to create herself in one
open historical space. Human create their own history and future.
There is end (endism) that is predetermined arbitrarily, even by
JIL: Bung Fadjroel, there is a grand reduction of the meaning
of socialism and communism. For instance the perception that
socialism and communism is anti God and anti religion. Why do
these happen?

The socialists always say that communist people robbed the
values of socialism. Their excuse, in Marx’ book of Communist
Manifesto, is clear that there is socialism that is rooted in philosopy,
culture, humanism, even religion, way before scientific socialism
exists. Marx undermined Christian Socialism and German Socialism,
for instance, and condemned Proudhon, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and
Robert Owen. Well, if we want that understanding, actually we are
rooted far into that direction. But the communists always say that
there is one and only valid socialism idea is communism or scientific
socialism, which is actually pseudo-scientific. The product is 70 years
of Soviet Union regime with victims of 60 million people dead. Read
the crazyness of that communist regime in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag
This may be similar to what happen today to Islam. Suddenly
there are many people stunned because Islam is equalized with Al
Qaeda. Suddenly people were shocked. That is the same with the
astonishment of the Christians when charismatic group was seen as
the only face of Indonesian Christianity. Certainly the Catholics also
reject Cesare Borgia, former cardinal, figure of Machiavelli’s Il Principe
that wa brutal and barbaric, son of Pope Alexander VI as the face of
Catholic people. So there, there is mutilation of ideas. In Indonesia, it
happens because in New Order period all that is socialist, communist,
even liberalist were strongly challenged. Not even under New Order,
until today Liberal Islam Network is totally opposed.
This means, we indeed never have healthy public space to
discuss an idea?
True. Therefore the biggest idea of struggle of socialist
movement is securing civil rights. In principal, civil, political,
economic, social and cultural rights must be fully secured and fought
for. If there is any groups that is surrounded by mass, such as Liberal
Islam Network that was surrounded by Islam Defender Front (Front
Pembela Islam), for reasons osf different thinking, then they must be
defended because to think and have opinion are rights. This has
nothing to do with dogmatism, because some socialists do not care
anymore with Marx. The socialists only say, we fight for the civil and

political rights of every individual. If members of Ahmadiyah were
chased because of their belief, they must be defenced because to adopt
one belief is a right.
Regardless if this belief is considered deviant by the majority?
Yes. Because it is with freedom that people could create
themselves; human could become human. At this point we ask: what
is the meaning of freedom? That is the possibility to doubt, make
mistake, and conduct exploratory process or experimentation, also
the possibility to say no to whatever authority that halts, be it political,
social, religion, philosophy, esthetic autorities, or others. In such climat
of freedom, there is always the opportunity to make mistakes. Human
has the potential of truth and mistake at the same time. And they are
free to be tested in their fallibility. In the frame of knowledge, that is
called the possibility to do falsification. Because it is through process
of error ellimination that life could develop, which means people
learn from mistakes. And at that point also civil, political, economic,
social and cultural rights could develop.
JIL: What is the stand of the socialists on violence because of
differrent religious beliefs?
The socialists oppose this, because the perpetrators are
challenging and taking away other people’s civil and political rights.
The one who is right is God, while human only provides interpretation
of truth. Therefore the statements of people who misled certain
religious groups should never exist if we rely on civil rights to hold
certain belief. The right to freely voice opinion, meet and associate,
must be protected, because that is our way to exist together.
That is the norms that are achieved by human and allowed by
religion. If God is willing, all people could hold a uniform Islam, or
become one Christian. Yet there is still diversity. Indeed in diversity
there is dialog, and in healthy dialog will grow what we call truth. It
cannot be that somebody calls himself the rightest. Therefore, we
always need public space or democracy space where dialog could be
executed in healthy ways while respecting other’s civil rights. The
biggest enemy of knowledge is dogmatism, while the biggest enemy
of democracy is authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

JIL: What kind of state could be expected to accomodate many
groups and streams peacefully?
Socialism always take democracy route. That democracy route
means the protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural
rights of every group. Meanwhile the communists try to take over
the state to enact dictatorship; and that is what opposed by the
socialists. For them, there need to be one ruling class (the proletariat),
while differences beyond the aspiration of ruling group are stopped
and muzzled. The end point is totalitarianism. For the socialists,
socialism without democracy means dictatorship, and in return,
democracy without socialism means injustices.
Religion actually also has big potential to become totalitarian,
especially when it interprets things absolutely. The same with
socialism. Thus all teachings, be it secular or non-secular, have the
potential to become totalitarian and kill people. Just like what Hannah
Arendt said in The Origins of Totalitarianism that every ideology has
totalitarian element and will develop fully if there is a totalitarian
movement that supports it.
Therefore, what we underline is: every religion or stream of
thinking must continue to defend the climate of criticism and freedom.
Freedom there means that we can still make mistake and learn from
mistake. There is nothing absolute from products of human thinking.
The one who is right is just God. The absence of monopoly of truth
requires us to continue to defend democracy space.

Link: http://www.fes.or.id/fes/download/1206525556.pdf


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