OPINION: No place for dogma in the academic arena

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Comments from Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir mooting a ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from academic life made headlines recently.

Comments from Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir mooting a ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from academic life made headlines recently.

His comments, which came amid a furore over the establishment of an LGBT counseling group at the University of Indonesia (UI), were met with furious calls for retraction.

I remember the days when I was pursuing my studies in London. There was an “open-house” day designed for all communities in the university to set up booths at an exhibition. All the new students were invited to browse the various societies and communities extant within the college.

During my undergraduate study in Indonesia, a similar event was also held at the beginning of each academic year, but I was nonetheless truly amazed by the diversity of the communities at my London university; it seemed there was no prohibition regarding what communities could be established. The booth for the atheists and agnostics was quite close to that of a religious community.

They all freely distributed information about their events, including a discussion questioning God’s existence. There was also a community for LGBT students to provide assistance and perspectives about sexual orientation.

I thought that in Indonesia it would be very likely that the communities would be disbanded or their discussion would be interrupted and urged to stop by hard-liners.

People may argue that the culture in London is very different from that in Indonesia.

However, it’s not about East versus West — the main thing is that such communities exist in an academic sphere. Why is it important to have such communities in the academic space?

The answer is simple: People associated with universities are supposed to think critically, rather than being dogmatic.

A thriving academic space requires open-mindedness.

What would have happened if the theory of heliocentrism had been rejected, just because it was contrary to church dogma?

Progress would have been arrested, and people would still be living in ignorance.

What is more fundamentally important is building a culture of tolerance, not only regarding religion but also of other issues, including sexual orientation.

Humans are not infallible, the philosopher Karl Popper notes. But how can people know when they make mistakes when there is only one existing view?

They should be able to compare different views and be allowed to reach rational judgment. If not, they become closed-minded, as if they live alone on this planet.

This is the main reason that Popper supports the construction of open society: Through exchange of rational argument and developing mutual tolerance with people holding different views, humans approach the truth, since the competing arguments can complement each other and lead people towards greater understanding.

Further, by inculcating intolerance of values that are “un-Indonesian”, Indonesians are actually contaminating their own value. Discussions, free from the threat of violence, should focus on what Indonesian values really are.

On campus at the University of Indonesia, I often saw flyers calling for the establishment of a religious state in Indonesia.

Were any ministers heard speaking out about this, considering that such an aspiration runs contrary to the values of the Pancasila state ideology?

In a democracy, disagreement, including over sexual orientation, is normal, as long as the existence of each group with different views is guaranteed.

The task of the government is to manage the competing views so they can live peacefully side by side.

The minister’s statement therefore demonstrates a regrettable lack of understanding of this responsibility, and of the need for open-mindedness in the academic space.

(The author, a chemical engineer, won the Ahmad Wahib Award in its annual interfaith writing contest in 2012.)


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