Monarchism, religion and colonialism
Vox made a video about how the English monarch is still the head of state of different countries. In the comment section, I posted this comment:
As an Indonesian, I find it weird that independent countries still have a foreigner living in faraway land as their symbolic head of state. It is even weirder that the faraway land has an entirely different cultural root.
From all any of English royalty-related comments I have made, I consider that to be the least cynical and disparaging and the most matter-of-fact. I mean, Indonesia does not have a head of state who lives in a faraway land; ours, who is also our head of government, is an Indonesian citizen who grew up in Indonesia and has identified as an Indonesian all of their life. Obviously, for people like me, the idea of having a foreigner as a head of state is weird.
But, that comment still manages to ruffle feathers.
As if almost on cue, people started chastising me because I am from Indonesia, a non-Arabian country dominated by a religion of Arabian origin that is Islam, which they deem as a colonising religion. With that fact in mind, they believe I have no right to criticise.
One thing first: I agree with them that Islam is a colonising religion. In many countries, it is undoubtedly a politically, socially and culturally influential religion with large numbers of adherents. It has the ability to devour smaller and less powerful religions without direct coercions and it has definitely done so, including in Indonesia. As an Indonesian Muslim, it is a fact that I have to acknowledge.
But, that’s the only thing I agree with them. I don’t believe a religion is a cultural colonising power.
In essence, religion is a set of spiritual rituals and worldviews. But, the latter are often expressed using ancient figures of speech which original meanings are unknown by modern audience; this allows anyone to create their own interpretations, which may or may not be influenced by one’s cultural backgrounds.
Sunni Islam — the disproportionately dominant Islamic branch in the world and in Indonesia — is a highly decentralised religion, which gives its adherents even more freedom to interpret… and also the freedom to follow any imams as they desire or to not follow any at all.
In Indonesia, the Javanese and Sundanese people — the biggest and second biggest ethnic groups, respectively — are predominantly-Muslim and yet, their traditional arts are still dominated by South Asian influences; the Santris are the only ones who embrace more Middle Eastern ones.
There are indeed Muslim-majority ethnic groups whose cultures have strong Arabian influences. But, they don’t speak Arabic and they certainly do not identify themselves as Arabs. The actual Arab-Indonesians themselves are uninterested in Arabising their homeland; not even all of them can speak Arabic.
Most Indonesian mosques constructed before the 20th century utilised local architectural styles. Oh, and Indonesia’s national official symbols are taken from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies, as a tribute to the region’s Hindu and Buddhist roots.
And even a centralised religion is not that rigid. Yes, the prospect of having spirituality dictated by someone living in a faraway land unnerves me. But, it is still culturally flexible.
In Indonesia, some Catholic congregations love incorporating traditional cultures into their liturgies. Languages, costumes and music, they have no issues staying in touch with the local traditions.
If I use my detractors’ logic, that means I have to see the entire western world as a Middle-Eastern colony, considering Christianity is also from the Middle East.
Regardless of its place and culture of origin, regardless of how centralised the leadership is, a religion can be moulded to fit to any cultures as one pleases… as it has always been since forever.
Meanwhile, a living monarch does not have such malleability. No matter how non-white and non-English your Commonwealth realm country is, no matter how much you try to twist it, the living white English-born and raised monarch will always be white and English.
Oh, and the bit of info about national symbols? It shows how Indonesians aren’t interested in having their country represented by anything Islamic. On a symbolic official level, many of us prefer to be represented by our Hindu and Buddhist ancestors.
If you see Indonesian tourism ads and take a peek at what Indonesian festivals abroad have to offer, you will see Islam is barely mentioned or depicted, if at all. Islam takes centre stage only when the occasions are specifically religious (e.g. Ramadhan fast breaks or Idul Fitri celebrations).
Every time Islamists champion Sharia-fication of Indonesian law, they get harshly reminded by moderate Muslims that Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country and NOT an Islamic one. Unlike the Islamists, the moderates are actually considerate about the religious minorities.
Basically, if you want to call me a hypocrite for posting that comment, make sure a living monarch is entirely comparable to religion and prove that Islam has been used to symbolically represent Indonesia as a whole.
Those “rebuttals” were not even the worst I received. Someone took it to a next level… by claiming that the legitimacy of the Indonesian president is the exact same as the King of England’s. Just like how the monarch hasn’t lived in every single Commonwealth realm, the Indonesian president hasn’t lived in every single Indonesian province, they say.
Yes, it is true Indonesian Presidents haven’t lived in every single province. But, those provinces are… you know… provinces. They are not sovereign states, they are territories of a sovereign state. While presidents have always been Muslims and of Javanese descent (which unfortunately is a sign of poor ethnic and religious representations), they are elected by the people (at least after the fall of Soeharto); citizens from all provinces have the right to vote.
Meanwhile, not only the English monarch is the head of state of different independent countries, it is also a hereditary position and the person holding it was never elected by the people. Apples and oranges, but far more idiotic.
Those are just reminders of how monarchists — especially English ones — are borderline cultish.
If they are not borderline cultish, they wouldn’t do whataboutism, they wouldn’t project, they would try their best to argue using facts and commonsense…
And they certainly would not get riled up by one of the least offensive and provocative anti-monarchist comments ever made.
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