Bambang Muryanto, "Religion enters into US-RI strategic ties," thejakartapost.com
The strategic partnership between Indonesia and the United States got a spiritual boost with the establishment of the Indonesia-US Council on Religion and Pluralism, which launched its inaugural meeting in Yogyakarta on Wednesday.
The council — comprising 32 religious leaders, scholars, public figures and media leaders from both countries — is tasked with implementing the vision laid out by presidents Barack Obama and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo during their meeting to sign the strategic partnership in Washington last October in which they called for greater civil society engagement.
The two leaders have said they decided to establish the council because the two countries share similar experiences and challenges on issues of religion and pluralism.
“The broad goals of the council are to develop a shared understanding of how the United States and Indonesia are each religiously diverse and tolerant, identify the remaining challenges we each face in the sphere of religion and pluralism, and explore together what we might do collaboratively in these regards,” the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO) chairman David Merrill said in his opening remarks.
The society, with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, helped select the council members and organize the inaugural meeting.
On the Indonesian side, the new council include Azyumardi Azra, Agustinus Ulahayanan, Henriette Lebang, Din Syamsuddin and Muhammad Ali. On the US side, they include Galen Carey, Mohamed Magid, Elder Randy D. Funk and Salam Al-Marayati.
Merrill and Esti Andayani, the director general for information and public diplomacy at the Foreign Ministry, opened the inaugural meeting.
“The two Presidents endorsed the council on religion and pluralism, an innovative bilateral mechanism, designed to promote pluralism, tolerance and moderation,” USINDO said quoting the statement issued by Obama and Jokowi.
The US and Indonesia both have large and diverse populations, including religious diversity. But while both countries’ constitutions guarantee freedom of religion, they face problems implementing the stipulation. Both countries have also been the target of terrorist attacks fuelled by religious fervor.
It is expected that the council will be a forum not only for sharing experiences but also for joint collaborations in addressing common problems.
The two-day meeting will draw a roadmap of collaborative projects on issues like increasing religious understanding and tolerance, promoting religious education models of critical thinking and respect, and ways of countering violent extremism, according to USINDO.