Indonesia-US Interfaith Cooperation
Wake-up Call for All Religions

While religion is a very potent motivator, yet no religious group has truly succeeded, according to Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, one of the US delegates speaking at the Indonesia-US Interfaith Cooperation, especially regarding good governance. Indonesia as a good representative of moderate Islam has the opportunity to bridge differences with the western world.

The Indonesia-US Interfaith Cooperation, a joint event by the Indonesian and US Foreign Ministries from January 25 to 27, 2010, continues Tuesday, at Borobudur Hotel, Jakarta, with plenary and closed workshops.

"No collective engine in human history motivates people to go out there and make a difference like religion," Rabbi Brad Hirschfield commented during the plenary regarding the potential of religion to make the world a better place, however he also admitted that all religious groups are, "still doing a poor job."

He mentioned that while religious groups are doing some good works, but there is also a tendency to turn a blind eye when it comes to helping people who are different or "those who don't pray like us, or eat like us."

Perhaps we can relate his opinion with an equally double-edged example recently, as reported in the New York Times and CBS News. In America, the Operation Blessing group by evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson is sending millions of dollars in medication and relief workers to quake-struck Haiti. However, on the other side, after the Haiti quake, the preacher has also rebuked Haiti for being "cursed by one thing after another" since they "swore a pact to the devil."

Hirschfield, the author of "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism", illustrated with a touch of humor that it's easy for a bunch of people of the same religion to gather and tell each other that they're doing a good job.

But the real test is, "to turn beyond our community and ask how are we doing (in improving things)?" He mentioned ideas like measuring the success of religion by looking at the literacy or poverty rates, and not by looking at just how many people belong to what group.

Indonesia's role

As a prelude to the Indonesia-US Interfaith Cooperation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at Harvard University, September 29, 2009, has offered Indonesia's readiness to play the role as a bridge builder between Muslims and the Western world, as documented by the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs.

Syekh Dr Yusuf Al Qardhawi, a prominent Islamic figure also concurs because he believes that Indonesia, with its majority of moslems, is a good representative of moderate Islam to promote interfaith harmony, as reported by Antara.

Action plans

As stated by the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs, this interfaith event is more than just a dialogue, but will be applicable in the form of real actions from Indonesia and the US. Thus, we hope that this event, through its workshops and dialogues can come up with some good action plans and results in its press conference, Wednesday, at 9.30 am, at Borobudur Hotel, Jakarta.

One real interfaith issue that's happening in our region is the court ruling in Malaysia late last year regarding the use of the word "Allah" for non-moslems, which has led to the vandalism of churches and mosques. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for Indonesia to prove its mediating capacity for the sake of peace and harmony for its neighbour.

"This event is not related with Malaysia," said Teuku Faizasyah, the spokesman of Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs, when asked whether the US-Indonesia Interfaith Cooperation will also discuss the possibility of Indonesia assisting Malaysia. He explained that, "this event is more focused on learning from the experiences of both countries (Indonesia and the US) in interfaith issues to come up with concrete matters, such as for education, good governance, and how interfaith religious figures can improve the environment."