Reforming Morality

Mar 7th, 2011, in Society, by

A sense of déjà vu was in the air when I watched the news of current upheaval in the Middle East. Tunisians, Egyptians, Iranians, Libyans etc just a bit more than us, are in a state of exhaustion, weary due to the many years of hollow promises and minuscule economic progress. Although unlike them we are (almost) free from the clutches of a militaristic regime, in many ways we are sadly similar. Human rights violations still run high, religious freedom is highly questionable and the unity of our nation is to some extent nonexistent except when there's a football match or a natural disaster.

It is thus not unusual if our society and many political analysts fears a domino effect. Could Indonesians, like Egyptians, be inspired to revolt once again against a government that has performed dismally these past few years in many ways? Especially in many social areas ranging from our flimsy economy to our  shameful human rights track record which has been even more stained by the recent torture towards Papua’s separatist by some individuals in the military.

Looking back at the many various social troubles taking place after our reform, history shows that it takes much more than sporadic social problems to trigger a national revolution or reform. But the lack of such upheaval here does not mean that Indonesia hasn't overlooked more than a few problems these past years.

Every country that has undergone a revolution or reform hopes for nothing less than a change in the social-political situation of society itself. But what many countries often overlook, including Indonesia, is that it takes much more than political reform to make such a change. To have a successful transformation is not by merely overthrowing the current government and placing a “reformed” government in its place but is about having and understanding the need of a holistic reform that encompasses not only the government but also larger society.

In layman’s terms, society itself must also be reformed.

The public at large must evolve into a more democratic society. We are foolish to separate government and society because they are in fact one. The solution is not only within the government but it is also in the society itself.

We have not understood that the problem which lies within the society may also be solved by the society itself. Yet before this comes to be, the society must understand that it is always a part of the solution. That is why the reformation of the society, of the people, is of utmost importance because the society has not entirely reached this level of understanding.

Looking at our governments policies in handling social problems(such as religious matters) in Indonesia, our government seems not to have taken this into account, largely because the image of our president seems to be the more pressing issue ever at hand.

How can the people achieve reform? By nothing less than morally educating our society. An ignorant mind is an easily corrupted mind. If we are to be free from any continuing oppression, we must also be free from ourselves — our ignorant selves. The more morally uneducated we are, the more lost we'll become.

We as Indonesians would be lying to ourselves if we denied the fact that we are morally unhealthy. Although I do not wish to generalize our society as a whole, but if we see the rise of intolerance(may it be religious or perhaps racial)that has manifested into violence there is certainly some sort of moral digression in our society.  Those who are aware of our unhealthy morality have tried using religion as the remedy. Although to some degree this may indeed work, it is certainly not a panacea.

There is disorder in our consciousness which has manifested violence and if we are to bring order we cannot depend fully on religion to straighten our tangled minds. Teaching religion without first having an adequate moral education as its foundation may result in nothing more than a corrupted version of that religion and spawn a new generation of terrorists. Teaching morality which is based on religion may form a biased type of moral education.

But what is morality itself? A definition must be clear in order for us to educate our society with the much needed morality. Morality can be defined as some sort of a guideline or rules that most members of society believe in and is vital in maintaining civility in our society. Basically its a set of social norms that most of us have acknowledged. Which in our case is a set of rules that can be and should be based on our pluralistic and praiseworthy Pancasila.

Yes, we do have an education on Pancasila but that is about Pancasila not Pancasila as the basis of our morality. Adding to this our educational system has often been passive, and seeing what Indonesia’s young minds has been able to depressingly do, (violent student riots, violent motorcycle gangs, basically being violent) passively teaching morality has shown very minimal use. There must be a change on how we educate. An active form of moral education must be implemented.

And this where our government has not been able to see.

Our government does not know on how to morally educate our society, instead it has relied heavily on religion to do so. It sees our nation’s morality as a trivial matter. From my personal experience as a recently graduated university student, moral education in the form of Pancasila and civil-moral education is only to be memorized in order for students to advance to the next grade. The actual practice of actively practicing morality is not available for the students.

Such an absurd understanding of moral education will only hinder its progress. Moral education is much more than merely memorizing a set of moralistic guidelines; like practicing chemistry in a lab; morality must also be practiced in a form of “social laboratory.” It must not be memorized but understood and actively practiced so that the individual may evolve into a morally adequate human being.

The individual must have an active participation when it comes to moral education.

If we take examples such as France, which has spearheaded the need for a secular active moral education, it has done an amazing job at implementing active learning moral education by engaging its students in a debate on morality itself. Questioning the moral foundations of society so that the students may not only memorize but understand thoroughly on the morality and the ethics of their society. The students cognition when learning morality is forced to become active. They are forced to question the very foundations of their society, thus producing students that are critical on the defined form of their society’s morality.

Indonesia on the other hand has closed its doors towards any reinterpretation of it’s moral foundation. Questioning religion is blasphemy and questioning our Pancasila, which has been used as the basis of our moral education, is seen to disrespect our forefathers. It is unsurprising that many parts of our society has become incredibly defensive when questioned of these sensitive matters, Indonesia’s culture seems to not be accustomed towards criticism especially in these personal issues.

Yet critical thinking alone towards the foundation of our society is not enough, as said above, a form of “social laboratory” is needed. Countries such as Belgium and the United States has seen the need of a hands on approach towards actively teaching moral education hence forcing the students to actively practice their morality outside the classes and directly into society. It is what in the United States is known as community service. The aim of community service is clear, it is not only done to give a certain service to our community that is in need of service but it is also is done to morally sensitize and enhance the social responsibilities of the anyone participating in the community service. It is an activity that is much needed for our students to understand the importance of having an adequate sense of morality.

If our government is able to learn from these examples then perhaps our students have a better chance at becoming a morally sound individual that understands the use of religion as a tool to do good not as a weapon of destruction.

It is hoped that by teaching the correct form of moral education, a moral education that is based on Pancasila rather religion and a moral education that has a more hands on approach it will trigger an inward revolution within the individual. Because as finely and accurately said by the great Indian Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, “Change in society is of secondary importance; that will come about naturally, inevitably, when you as human beings bring about change in yourself.”

A secular based moral education that bases itself on our country’s pluralistic ideologies, must  be put into place and although it is our responsibilities to teach our children of this moral education, it is the government that has the power to reform the educational system of our nation.

Yes it does sound rather idealistic but if we take examples from history such as rights for the African Americans in the early 20th century and compare them now, utopia seems to only reside in our minds. As long as we perceive a certain matter as idealistic that matter will always remain idealistic and if we remain like so, we have learned nothing from history.

Any country undergoing reform in its government must understand the importance of moral education in society. Without first reforming our society by morally educating it, no lasting political reform can ever be achieved.


17 Comments on “Reforming Morality”

  1. avatar Aprianti says:

    Our government does not know on how to morally educate our society, instead instead it has relied heavily on religion to do so. It sees our nation’s morality as a trivial matter. From my personal experience as a recently graduated university student, moral education in the form of Pancasila and civil-moral education is only to be memorized in order for students to advance to the next grade. The actual practice of actively practicing morality is not available for the students.

    Hi Ben,

    Interesting point. This moral problem is I think exactly the problem our country currently needs to resolve. I remember writing almost the same point in my blog about this matter.

  2. avatar nobody says:

    how do you define good and bad in a “secular based morality”?
    right, you can’t. Good and bad will evolve following how the “moral” majority think it fit for their time. So, for example 50 years ago homosexuality was a crime or at least a desease, now it is a human right. All you have to do is to find enough number of people who agree with you, and, voila: good can be bad, bad can be good.
    Oh, and I forget, a significant number of those people must originate from a “western” country, so that they can insert it into some “UN Charter”, where countries like Palau or Micronesia can be enticed to vote which ever way you want in return for a few million us dollars, there by creating the image of a “Universal” values. Now this will give you some right to shove your, having been made “Universal”, values in to the throat of every single human being on the planet, never mind that most likely the big majority of them has never been asked their opinion on the subject.
    Basically I do not see the difference between these so called “humanist” campaigner and the like of FPI. The humanist’s lack of visible violence is just a testament to their larger financial resources and foreign supports: who need to pay people to demonstrate on the street if you can just buy votes or even a new law with some token foreign aid. Faster and less messy.

  3. avatar nobody says:

    so, in sum, without something like religion to anchor these moral values, the moral future of humanity will be decided by those who had the most money to campaign on it. One day in the future some rich man will decide that helping people kill them self is moral, and he will spend a lot of money to campaign for it. Given the trend today, he might succeed. Religion gives the poor something to hold on, because it is not something that can be changed easily just because you have a lot of money or numbers. So for example, beers will still be haram 1000 years in the future, regardless of the effort of the rich beer company. With religion based morality, rich and poor is on equal standing in deciding good vs bad, while in your alternative version, the rich can decide what is moral and what is not, and make it “Universal” with their financial resources or powerful supports.

  4. avatar Oigal says:

    Yes, we have seen those values at work, why just look at the PKS 🙂
    Let’s not talk nonsense about buying or selling or pretend the religion does not favour a select few. If that were the case, you would see the ex Governor of Aceh being whipped instead of some poor girl from the Kampung or you would see Muslims up in arms about their black brothers in the Sudan.

    But lets talk specifics then, tell us which one of the Universal Human Rights you find so offensive Nobody.

    Article 1.

    * All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

    ^ Top
    Article 2.

    * Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

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    Article 3.

    * Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

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    Article 4.

    * No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

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    Article 5.

    * No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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    Article 6.

    * Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

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    Article 7.

    * All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

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    Article 8.

    * Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

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    Article 9.

    * No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

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    Article 10.

    * Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

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    Article 11.

    * (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
    * (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

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    Article 12.

    * No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

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    Article 13.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
    * (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

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    Article 14.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
    * (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

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    Article 15.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
    * (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

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    Article 16.

    * (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
    * (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
    * (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

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    Article 17.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
    * (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

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    Article 18.

    * Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

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    Article 19.

    * Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

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    Article 20.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
    * (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

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    Article 21.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
    * (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
    * (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

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    Article 22.

    * Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

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    Article 23.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
    * (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
    * (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
    * (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

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    Article 24.

    * Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

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    Article 25.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    * (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

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    Article 26.

    * (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
    * (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
    * (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

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    Article 27.

    * (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
    * (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

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    Article 28.

    * Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

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    Article 29.

    * (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
    * (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
    * (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

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    Article 30.

    * Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

  5. avatar Oigal says:

    beers will still be haram 1000 years in the future, by the way that’s just one section of one religion. Hardly useful in a universal sense..

  6. avatar Lairedion says:

    This is an interesting piece written by Julian Baggini. I can broadly subscribe to his reasoning and conclusions on why religion (or any ideology for that manner but that’s my own addition) is not necessarily needed in order to be moral.

    http://www.andrsib.com/dt/moral.htm

  7. avatar Odinius says:

    Another thoughtful post, but I don’t really like the idea of the state teaching a “moral curriculum” determined by those in power. Indonesia has already experimented with that under the New Order, and it wasn’t a rousing success.

    On the other hand, I would very much like to see an expanded social sciences curriculum that talks about what’s in the Constitution and what Indonesia’s founding fathers intended by it. There’s an implicit morality in there, but it’s not the same thing as “moral education.” It simply teaches students how the state is framed legally, what its legal framework entails and what the reasoning behind it was. This is what you have in the US.

  8. avatar Odinius says:

    That’s even debatable. Yes, many Muslims do believe that alcohol consumption is forbidden, and that is their right. But others believe there is evidence in the Quran that it is not, such as related here:

    http://www.free-minds.org/alcohol2

    That said, there’s a reason most Muslims, historically, believe it is–in the Sunnah, there are several verses about the banning of alcohol in Medina; for those who accept the Sunnah as canonical, this is clear evidence. I’m not endorsing one or another theological view here…I’m just pointing out that the religion nobody portrays as a bunch of simple, black-and-white, my-way-or-the-highway laws is actually a web of complex, contested and sometimes overlapping beliefs, moral positions and sets of evidence.

  9. avatar ET says:

    @ Odinius

    An interesting quote from the link you gave us about Koranic prohibition of alcohol

    However, having said all of the above, it must be noted that alcohol is to be treated with `caution` as it may lead to sin and is one of the preferred tools used by the devil to entice humankind.

    No need for divine revelations to make us aware of this as anyone who ever experienced a serious hangover will confirm. Kicking in open doors seems to be a striking feature of many religion based moral principles.

  10. avatar Oigal says:

    I am still waiting to see which of Universal Human Rights in the UN charter ‘nobody’ finds so offensive? Curiously, he was all for the UN in regards to the occupation of Papua.

    Very strange guy, writes well yet totally devoid of logic. A shame really, it would be interesting to have someone to push the ‘hard’ line Islamic case in a rational fashion here. One can only assume he is a Troll (Assmad)

  11. avatar nobody says:

    “It would be interesting to have someone to push the ‘hard’ line Islamic case in a rational fashion here”

    Yes, I know what you want, and I think you’ve attempted several times to push me to take your opposite corner in the past. Sorry, I am not that kind of guy.

    I am just commenting on articles or other comments, not really asking/expecting someone to try to convert me to one point of view or the other here, because there are other, better, means for me to educate my self than just by reading a blog comment.
    Here is just commenting for the sake of commenting, bored, etc. not unlike you. I suppose this is an open site where it is free to comment for everyone with any comment?

    On the Human Right Charter, I never say there is anything offensive on it, it is just the way people took legitimacy from it that I don’t think is appropriate. People mentions it on every discussion as if it is a holy scripture. We should be honest that it is mostly based on what was the accepted norms in a western society, and is now being pushed to everyone as something “universal”, I.e., I might be agreeing with it, but “I don’t have to”.

  12. avatar realest says:

    im a fan of the singapore system, it works that’s all i care. why pursue some total democracy only to end up not getting whatever you dream for in the process?

  13. avatar benlaksana says:

    Superb input, thanks Odinius. I think I’ll research and write about it.

  14. avatar Oigal says:

    Actually for what it is worth I was serious about finding what the actual Sharia pushers in Indonesia actually envisage. It’s a catch cry to the faithful but it’s all shims and mirrors. You can understand it’s appeal to the left behind at it’s most base level but the moment some actually asks what does it actually mean..it gets all very vague and trust me type nonsense.

  15. avatar John Green says:

    There is no equal footing in autocratic religious countries. That is what all the turmoil in the Moslem African countries is all about.

    You cannot ban all aspects of religion entirely but what you must do is separate religion from the state and ban all aspects and influences from schools and colleges. The European countries learned this years ago.

    You cannot allow anyone who has the perverted view that God is talking directly to him anywhere near children and young people. Anyone who is influenced in their thinking and in their actions by books such as the Bible and the Quran MUST be prevented from any form of influence over the defining of morality and the formulation of civil law.

    Religion in its many perverted forms leads to hatred, bigotry and corruption. Talk to any woman who has the misfortune to live in an Islamic country. Any Islamic country. Talk to anyone who is a member of an alternative minority religion in an Islamic country. They will be able to describe to you what bigotry and hatred feels like.

    Let us rid the world of this pestilence, beginning in Indonesia.

  16. avatar rustyprince says:

    Benlaksana, I think what your advocating is at this juncture too risky for the ruling elite. By which I mean the first requirement is a quid pro quo that the state distributes the resources in a fair as manner as possible, health care & education, and citizens then seek change within the parameters of the law. Currently there is a huge amount of unfairness in Indonesian society, that it shows no real evidence of manifesting into widespread chaos is a result of the still lingering New Order indoctrination and the constraint religion has imposed with festering grievances seeing their energy dissipated on the Ahmadiyah/protestant churches in Bekasi. There is also the patronage element of politics here and because democracy has a clean bill of health the politically vanquished shun violent vengeance and on the whole regroup for the next election when victory brings the spoils to their pockets. How much longer the current status quo can uphold the elite’s blissful cocoon is debatable but teach them a French style civic morality and hey promto you’ll have the military back at the helm as the student radicalism traverses to the kampung indifference.

  17. avatar Tawhid1982 says:

    There is no equal footing in autocratic religious countries. That is what all the turmoil in the Moslem African countries is all about.

    False.

    You cannot ban all aspects of religion entirely but what you must do is separate religion from the state and ban all aspects and influences from schools and colleges. The European countries learned this years ago.

    The European countries learned nothing of importance. For example, without learning knowledge and science from Muslim countries, Europe would be poorer than Congo in Africa. After all, it was Congo’s wealth which Belgium looted that made Belgium as wealthy as it was.

    If secularism is the way forward, can you explain why Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman and others are way ahead of Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, among others?

    You cannot allow anyone who has the perverted view that God is talking directly to him anywhere near children and young people.

    Is that a central tenet of Judaism – that God talks to you directly?

    Anyone who is influenced in their thinking and in their actions by books such as the Bible and the Quran MUST be prevented from any form of influence over the defining of morality and the formulation of civil law.

    That is as ridiculous a statement as any Jew can make. The perfect code of law for all times has been provided in the Quran in accordance with the commands of Allah (SWT), hence anyone who is well versed in the Quran and Sunnah MUST be in charge of defining morality and formulating civil law.

    Maybe the Torah is different which is something you intentionally excluded.

    Religion in its many perverted forms leads to hatred, bigotry and corruption.

    In its perverted forms, perhaps, or perhaps, if your religion is false.

    In contrast, secularism, atheism and other man made systems lead to perjury, theft, mass murder, genocide, torture, wars, oppression, subjugation, prostitution (as widespread in the Western world) and many other ills.

    Talk to any woman who has the misfortune to live in an Islamic country.

    Many men and women, children and elderly had the fortune to live in an Islamic country though not many had the misfortune to live there. It’s simply impossible to live in an Islamic country and call this experience a misfortune.

    Any Islamic country. Talk to anyone who is a member of an alternative minority religion in an Islamic country. They will be able to describe to you what bigotry and hatred feels like.

    Or better yet, talk to anyone in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Sudan, Somalia, to name a few, talk to anyone over there. They would be able to tell you better what secular Western homosexuality-driven ideology, war, mass murder, genocide, torture, undescribable acts of violence and too many other forms of violations of human sanctity feel like.

    Why is it that in none of the non-Muslim countries there is no Shariah recognized by law but Muslims should not follow Shariah in their own countries to please the kafir minorities? This does not make any sense from the perspective of reciprocation.

    Let us rid the world of this pestilence, beginning in Indonesia.

    I am all for ridding the world of pestilences like secularism, atheism, crimes, murder, homosexuality, incest, drug abuse, western pornography, prostitution and all other violations of sanctity.

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