The second annual Asean Literary Festival seeks to unite writers from across the region. (Photo courtesy of

The Quest for ‘Militant Moderates’

MARCH 23, 2015

Jakarta. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Literary Festival closed on Sunday evening with participants agreeing that literature can help build understanding and moderation while lessening radicalism and extremism, which has become a growing threat not only in the region but also across the world.

“We must become militant moderates and create militant moderate writers,” said Haidar Bagir, president of Mizan Group, the largest publisher of Islamic books in Indonesia.

In the wake of the threat posed by Islamic State in Indonesia and the region, he said he and several other Muslim figures have initiated a movement to spread the moderate and peaceful brand of Islam.

Jamil Maidan Flores, a writer from the Philippines and a columnist for the Jakarta Globe, concurred that moderate Muslims and writers must match the activism of militant groups to avoid religion being hijacked by extremist and terrorist groups.

“The only way we can fight radicalism is by being radically moderate,” he said.

Hundreds of Indonesian Muslims have reportedly joined IS, with many concerned these people would spark the re-emergence of terrorism across the Southeast Asian region.

Haidar said that so far, Indonesian Muslims and writers have not really stood up to challenge and denounce militant groups, sending an impression to the public that they condone the radical activism.

In her speech to officially open the festival on Friday, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said literature can boost understanding and unite people.

“Through culture and literature people can know and understand each other and thus create understanding among people. Thus, this kind of festival is very important to help create the Asean community, Retno said.

Asean leaders have agreed to launch the Asean community by the end of the year.

Beside fighting radicalism and extremism, the festival also discussed the role of literature in helping build democracy and respect for the principles of human rights.

Ma Thida, a prominent writer from Myanmar, who was jailed for six years by the military junta, said in her lecture that literary works can help spread democratic values throughout the society.

She said writers have a role to monitor and prevent authorities from abusing their power and violating the basic rights of the people.

The festival also tackled the impact of digitalism and mass-consumerism within the society.

“We are really happy to see very high enthusiasm from the public, especially among young people, to join the discussions and shared their ideas,” festival program director Okky Madasari said. “Seeing our youth like this, we should have an optimism about the future of the country.”

Hundreds of writers from more than 20 countries have joined the festival.

Participants from the 10 Asean member states were joined at the festival by writers from Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Thousands of people from various parts of Indonesia and also from other Asean countries flocked to Jakarta for the festival, according to organizers.