Interview with Yenny Zannuba Wahid,
Yuli Ismartono [time 28:06]
2nd November 2007,
Yuli Ismartono:You are director of the Wahid Institute, whose message is seeding plural and peaceful Islam. Can you explain the mission and vision of the Institute?
Yenny Zannuba Wahid: The main mission of the Wahid Institute is to bring Islam to its core message of peace. So, we do all kinds of activities to enhance that message. You've heard before that Islam has been hijacked by the so called extremists, who give the impression of Islam as a religion of hatred, a religion of terrorism, a religion of violence, which is not right. So we want to bring Islam back to its core message, which is about peace.
YI: What exactly are the activities of the Institute that can convey this message?
Yenny Wahid: We do publications, training and discussions. We publish books, newsletters and we host seminars. At the moment we are trying to target younger groups, for example, high school students. So we do activities that will get their interest in spreading this message. We organize writing contests for young kids on the subject of pluralism and we have many writing about it. They are very touching.
YI: And are these contests open to kids around the country?
Yenny Wahid: Yes. I often work with pesantrens, Islamic boarding schools, because these are the agents of change in their respective local areas. So we work with the clerics, engaging them on these activities and we give them training and empowerment. We try to get them to be more independent, and have more say in directing the discourse into more democratic and more peaceful messages.
YI: What has been the result of your campaigns? Have you seen any changes?
Yenny Wahid: I was quite surprised at the vocal reception, from the clerics and the general public, mainly because of the attention that we are trying to get, for example, by using the local media to publish our stories, our activities. It's gone quite well, so far.
YI: You have been quoted as saying that religious life in Indonesia is going through a period of restless change. What do you mean by that?
Yenny Wahid: Well, we were under a condition in which for the past 30 years, religion had been under a tight lid. Then suddenly, the lid was off. One of the good things --the few good things --about the New Order era was that the government did not tolerate religious extremism. But then after the reform era began, many new factions emerged in Indonesia, including religious factions like the more hard-core Islamic groups. We suddenly had people voicing or trying to articulate their beliefs in a very intolerant way. This is what is happening. Also, you see more and more people, in this case politicians, using the language of religion for their political purposes. And these politicians use very conservative language of religion just to get ahead of their peers. It is kind of opportunistic.
YI: Last May, the Wahid Institute conducted a survey in all of the country's provinces on the subject of Islam and terrorism. What was the result?
Yenny Wahid: We thought that tolerance was a concept in Indonesia all this time, but it seems to be threatened now. It seems that we must for more active involvement in getting people to be more tolerant. For example, we surveyed people and the result was that 10 percent of the respondents said they would rather not have Muslims as their neighbors. For us this is a worrying trend, because this carries the seeds of intolerance. And we have more people saying that violence is permissible. It's in discourses. We are quite worried about that.