In the wake of Islamic resurgence and the growing democratic movements in North Africa and the Middle East, it is relevant to see Indonesia as a model of Muslim democracy. The country has shown a stable democratic government, civil liberties, and tremendous economic growth.
Indonesia is a country that surprises. In 1968 Benjamin Higgins called it a ‘chronic dropout’ and the ‘number one economic failure among the major underdeveloped countries’. Who would blame him? The per capita income in 1966 was less than that of 1938, the budget deficit totaled half of government expenditures, and the inflation rate had surpassed 500 percent at the end of 1965. Foreign debt totaled to $2.4 billion in 1966 – at the time when GDP was only $1.4 billion and growing at a mere 2 percent per year.
Indonesia is a puzzle. It is the world’s fourth largest nation and home to the greatest number of Muslims on the planet, yet much of the country’s history and contemporary politics is unknown to outsiders. Indonesia’s literature, rich and vital, is even more unknown. There are many reasons for this. The 17,000 islands strewn along the equator are too diverse and complicated to fit in any simple narrative.