Ringkasan sudut pandang umat Muslim Indonesia

Berdasarkan tugas kuliah saya. Versi Bahasa Inggris dapat dibaca di tautan ini. Entah kenapa, saya lupa menerbitkan artikel Bahasa Indonesia.

Ahok dituntut dua tahun penjara karena melakukan penistaan agama yang tidak pernah beliau lakukan. Habib Rizieq, yang dengan lantang dan jelas menghina agama Kristen dan menginginkan semua warga Indonesia untuk tunduk kepada hukum Syariah, masih belum tersentuh UU penistaan agama. Bahkan, Ahok dianggap sebagai pemecah kesatuan bangsa dan Rizieq sebagai pemersatu oleh sebagian umat Muslim.

Sayangnya, ketidakadilan ini bukanlah hal yang mengejutkan. Pertama, Islam adalah agama yang besar di Indonesia, dianut oleh 87.18% penduduk; mudah bagi kelompok mayoritas untuk berkuasa. Saya mendapatkan data tersebut dari sensus penduduk yang diterbikan oleh Badan Pusat Statistik (BPS) pada tahun 2010. agama-agama minoritas juga disebutkan. Tetapi, keseimbangan dalam pengkajian agama tidak selalu dipegang.

Kajian statistik menyeluruh Indonesia yang diterbitkan BPS pada tahun 2016 menyebutkan jumlah sekolah, guru dan murid Madrasah yang dikelola pemerintah dan juga jumlah warga yang melaksanakan ibadah Haji. Begitu juga dengan kajian terbitan tahun 2015 dan 2014. Kajian-kajian tersebut dilaksanakan untuk memahami berbagai segi kehidupan negara, termasuk ‘perkembangan sosial-demografi’, seperti tertera pada halaman pendahuluan setiap kajian tersebut.

Kajian demografi seharusnya meliputi semua kelompok-kelompok, bukan hanya kelompok mayoritas. Umat beragama lain tidak disebut sama sekali sedang umat Islam dikaji lebih dalam. Pemerintah Indonesia terkesan menganaktirikan agama-agama minoritas. Mungkin saya picik karena memermasalahkan kajian statistik. Tetapi, sifat ketidakberimbangan tersebut juga ditunjukan dalam tata kerja pemerintahan.

Dari namanya saja, kementerian agama (kemenag) seharusnya mengayomi semua umat beragama. Tetapi, pada kenyataannya, hanya umat Islam yang dilayani. Kementerian masih dikuasai oleh orang-orang Muslim, termasuk jabatan menteri. Setidaknya, jika mereka hanya mengayomi umat Islam, nama kementerian agama seharusnya diubah menjadi kementerian agama Islam. Tidak perlu bermuslihat.

Tentu saja, saya tidak bisa menuduh pemerintah Indonesia terlalu menganakemaskan Islam. Selain Islam, agama Protestan, Katolik, Buda, Hindu dan Konghucu juga diakui secara resmi. Kemenag, walaupun dikuasai orang-orang Muslim, masih memiliki badan-badan yang mewakili umat beragama lain. Universitas-universitas negeri beragama non-Islam masih dapat ditemukan. Jabatan-jabatan menteri masih bisa dipegang oleh penganut agama-agama lain. Walaupun ada kecenderungan untuk tidak berimbang dan mencampur-aduk agama dengan politik, pemerintah Indonesia masih belum dicemari paham Islamisme.

Saya juga yakin bahwa permasalahan juga dapat ditemukan di masyarakat. Di masa pasca-Soeharto, Syahrin Harahap melihat bahwa rakyat Indonesia memiliki tiga citra yang berbeda: citra keterbukaan dan kerhamonisan, citra sekuler, liberal dan kebarat-baratan dan citra konflik umat beragama dan bersifat terror (2006, p. 32-43).

Pengamatan tersebut menunjukan bahwa suatu bangsa, terutama bangsa yang sangat beragam seperti Indonesia, selalu terdiri atas berbagai macam kelompok yang berbeda. Tetapi, pada saat yang bersamaan, citra-citra yang beragam tersebut juga bersifat hitam-putih.

Kalangan liberal dianggap sebagai kalangan yang tidak mengutamakan keharmonisan, walaupun tokoh-tokoh liberal seperti Ulil Abshar Abdalla mendukung kaum Ahmadiyah. Kita juga lupa menyebutkan bahwa, seperti yang saya sebutkan sebelumnya, Habieb Rizieq dipuja oleh para warga negara yang mengaku mencintai keharmonisan. Topeng yang kita gunakan hanyalah alat untuk bermuslihat.

Rasionalitas, seperti yang dipeluk oleh sebagian para pemikir Islam, dianggap sebagai hal yang cenderung kebarat-baratan. Anggapan itu membuat rasionalitas terkesan bertentangan dengan budaya timur yang dipeluk oleh sebagian besar umat Islam.

Rasionalitas juga tidak dianggap sebagai salah satu unsur citra keterbukaan. Pemikiran rasional hanya dianggap sebagai sesuatu yang menjauhkan kita dari agama, bukan sebagai faktor pendorong keterbukaan. Akibatnya, umat Islam akan melihat pemikiran rasional sebagai sesuatu yang tidak pantas dipeluk.

Kita juga lupa bahwa kebudayaan barat sangatlah digemari di Indonesia, bahkan di antara warga-warga yang menentang liberalisme. Budaya pop Islami Indonesia-pun sangat kebarat-baratan, dengan komersialisme dan hedonisme yang mengundang kritikan dari kalangan-kalangan konservatif (Saluz 2009).

Ditambah lagi, banyak para penceramah yang memiliki derajat sebagai selebritas. Setiap ceramah yang mereka berikan selalu menghasilkan uang yang berlimpah. Mereka juga sering muncul di berbagai macam iklan. Mereka sangat mirip dengan para televangelists yang banyak ditemukan di Amerika Serikat, sebuah negara barat.

Para pemikir liberal tersebut juga dianggap kebarat-baratan karena mereka belajar di universitas-universitas barat. Orang-orang yang memiliki anggapan tersebut tidak menyadari bahwa pendidikan Islam modern di negara-negara timur menggunakan model barat; universitas-universitas Islam di timur juga mau mengikuti hasil pertemuan-pertemuan Bologna Process. Gus Dur adalah lulusan Universitas Baghdad dan Quraish Shihab lulusan Universtas Al-Azhar di Kairo. Mereka belajar di perguruan tinggi Arab. Mengapa mereka tidak pernah dicap sebagai ke-Arab-Araban?

Selain dianggap kebarat-baratan, para pemikir liberal tersebut juga dianggap sekuler, walaupun mereka selalu menonjolkan identitas agama mereka, sering melakukan ceremah-ceramah yang sangat berbau agama dan mengajar di perguruan tinggi Islam. Lagi pula, apa kita bisa menjamin bahwa para penentang Islam liberal rajin shalat lima waktu, berzakat, berpuasa setiap Ramadhan, tidak meminum miras dan tidak melakukan hubungan seks di luar nikah?

Citra-citra yang dipaparkan Syahrin Harahap, walaupun mengacu pada orang-orang asing, juga sangatlah lumrah di masyarakat Indonesia. Kita masih suka memberikan cap-cap hitam-putih terhadap sesama, tanpa menyadari bahwa manusia jauh lebih rumit dari pada yang kita ingin bayangkan. Saya juga merasa bahwa Syahrin Harahap menggunakan pendekatan yang salah terhadap permasalahan ini.

Saya menghargai bahwa beliau mau mengakui bahwa umat Islam memiliki masalah dengan fundamentalisme. Tetapi, pada saat yang bersamaan, beliau juga terkesan menyalahkan munculnya fundamentalisme kepada kekuatan dari luar umat dengan mengatakan bahwa Islam adalah agama yang penuh kedamaian.

Sebagai seorang Muslim, saya juga ingin percaya itu. Tetapi, pada kenyataannya, orang-orang beraliran keras tersebut sepenuhnya yakin bahwa paham mereka sesuai dengan ajaran agama. Kita harus menerima kemungkinan bahwa agama yang kita cintai sangatlah jauh dari sempurna.

Saya setuju dengan usulan beliau bahwa penyelesaian masalah aliran garis keras ini dapat dihadapi dengan mengajari para siswa ilmu kajian globalisasi (p. 43). Memang betul bahwa aliran tersebut lahir di luar Indonesia dan menyebar dari satu negara ke negara lainnya. Tetapi, ilmu tersebut tidak mencakup tentang cara penyebarluasan aliran tersebut di satu tempat.

Saya mengusulkan agar umat Islam di Indonesia, termasuk kalangan moderat, untuk bermawas diri tentang cara kita menafsirkan ajaran-ajaran agama dan cara kita memerlakukan orang lain, terutama yang berbeda pandangan. Walaupun kalangan moderat memang tidak pernah menghasut kekerasan dan diskriminasi, kecenderungan mereka untuk mengkafirkan kalangan liberal dan tidak mengakui Islam sebagai ilham aliran keras sudah memberikan dampak buruk yang jelas-jelas sudah bermunculan dan mungkin akan berkepanjangan.

Suka atau tidak, kalangan moderat secara tidak langsung juga bertanggung jawab atas ketidakadilan yang dialami Ahok.

 

Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Hasil sensus penduduk 2010: kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-sehari penduduk Indonesia, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2014, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2015, Statistik Indonesia 2015, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2016, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.

Harahap, S 2016, ‘The image of Indonesia in the world: an interreligious perspective’, The IUP journal of international relations, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 30-44.

Saluz, CN 2009, ‘Youth and pop culture in Indonesian Islam’, Studia Islamika, vol. 16. no. 2, pp. 215-242.

A brief description of the outlooks of Indonesian Muslims

Based on a university assignment I made recently. Improved and translated from Indonesian:

Ahok is charged with two years of imprisonment for a blasphemy he was never guilty of. Habieb Rizieq, who blatantly and clearly insulted the Christian faith and desires for Sharia imposed on every citizen, has yet to be touched by the anti-blasphemy legislation. Worse, Ahok is considered to be the nation’s divider and Rizieq to be a unifier by some Muslims.

Unfortunately, this injustice is not surprising. First of all, Islam is the biggest religion here, venerated by 87.18% of the population; so easy for the majority to rule. I obtained the data from a census published by the Central Agency on Statistics (BPS) in 2010. Minority religions were also mentioned. But, the balance in religious studies was not always embraced.

Overall statistic studies of the whole country published in 2016 mentioned the numbers of government-run Madrasahs (Islamic schools) along with their students and teachers; there are also numbers for the people who did the Hajj (pilgrimage). Same thing with the 2015 and 2014 publications. The studies were executed to comprehend different aspects of the country’s life, including its ‘key socio-demographic’ characteristics, as stated in the introduction page of every said publication.

Demographic studies should include every single section of a society, not just the majority ones. Other religious groups are not mentioned at all while the study of the Muslim one is quite in-depth. The Indonesian government seems to treat the others like step-children. Maybe I look petty for making a big deal out of statistical researches. But, that lack of impartiality is also shown in the government’s administrative works.

From its name alone, the ministry of religious affairs should serve all religious groups. But, in reality, they only serve Muslims. The ministry is being ruled by Muslims, including the ministerial rank. If they only want to serve Muslims, at least they change their name to ministry of Islamic affairs. No need to be deceptive.

Of course, I cannot completely accuse the government of making Islam the golden child. Besides it, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism are all officially recognised. Despite being dominated by Muslims, the ministry of religious affairs still possesses organisations that represent minority religions. Publicly-funded universities affiliated with other religions can still be found. Ministerial positions can still be held by non-Muslims. Despite the tendency to be religiously one-sided and to mix religion with politics, the Indonesian government has yet to be tainted by Islamist ideology.

I also believe the problem can also be found on the people. In the post-Soeharto era, Syahrin Harahap notices how the Indonesian society possesses three distinct images: harmonious, open and fair interreligious image, secular, liberal and western-oriented image and conflicting, in tension and terroristic image. (2006, p. 32-43).

The observation shows how a nation, especially one as diverse as Indonesia, always consists of distinct collectives. But, at the same times, those said images are very black and white and I find that unnerving.

Indonesian liberals are not thought to prioritise harmony even when they openly oppose religious sectarianism; Ulil Abshar Abdalla even supports the Ahmadis. We also forget about how, as I mentioned earlier, Habieb Rizieq is being praised by so-called harmony-loving citizens. The mask we wear is often deceitful.

Rationality, which is embraced by some Muslim thinkers, is considered to be a highly-western thing. Such assumption gives the impression that rationality is antithetical to eastern cultures and most Muslims are easterners themselves.

Rationality is also not considered as a factor for openness. Rational thinking is just a path towards blasphemy, a path towards atheism. As a result, many Muslims see it as something that we should refrain ourselves from embracing.

We also forget about how popular the western culture is in Indonesia, even among citizens who oppose liberalism. Even the Islamic pop culture is highly westernised, with its commercialism and hedonism that attract conservatives’ distaste (Saluz 2009).

In addition, a load of preachers have attained celebrity status. Every sermon is a generous money generator. They also have appeared in countless commercials. In many ways, they are not unlike the televangelists from the United States, a western country.

Those liberal thinkers are considered too westernised because they studied in western universities. People with such petty assumption don’t realise how modern Islamic education in eastern countries is based on the western one; Islamic universities in the east have followed the results of the Bologna Process. Oh and Gus Dur graduated from University of Baghdad and Quraish Shihab from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. They studied in Arab education institutes. Why weren’t they accused of being too Arabised?

Besides accused of being too western, the liberals are also labelled as secular, despite how open they are about their religious beliefs, how often they give religious sermons and how some of them teach in Islamic educational institutes. Besides, can we guarantee all of those opponents of liberal Islam pray five times a day, do the zakat, fast every Ramadhan, abstain from alcohol and pre-marital sex?

The images shown by Syahrin Harahap, despite referring to the ones foreigners see, also exist among Indonesians. We love to stamp black and white labels on each other, not realising how humans are more complex than we like to imagine. I also feel Syahrin Harahap used the wrong approach to this issue.

I appreciate how he acknowledges Muslims’ extremism problem. But, at the same time, he was an apologist; he seemed to blame the rise of fundamentalism on forces from outside the Muslim world by stating that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion.

As a Muslim myself, I would love to believe that. But, in reality, those extremists genuinely believe their views are completely aligned with Islamic teachings. We should accept the possibility of our beloved religions being far from perfect.

I do agree with his proposal that teaching globalisation studies to students will help combating domestic extremism (p. 43). It is true the ideology was born overseas and spread from one country to another. But, the academic discipline does not cover the whole issue; it does not study how something spreads internally once it reaches a country.

I propose for all Indonesian Muslims, including the moderate ones, to take a look at themselves in the mirror regarding how we decipher Islamic teachings and how we treat our fellow human beings, especially ones whose outlooks contradict ours. Even though the moderates incite neither violence nor discrimination and will call out anyone who do so, their tendency to make infidels out of liberals and unwillingness to admit Islam as the inspiration for extremism have already given birth to possibly long-lasting negative consequences.

Like it or not, the moderates are indirectly responsible for the injustice that befalls Ahok.

 

 

Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Hasil sensus penduduk 2010: kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-sehari penduduk Indonesia, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2014, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2015, Statistik Indonesia 2015, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2016, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.

Harahap, S 2016, ‘The image of Indonesia in the world: an interreligious perspective’, The IUP journal of international relations, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 30-44.

Saluz, CN 2009, ‘Youth and pop culture in Indonesian Islam’, Studia Islamika, vol. 16. no. 2, pp. 215-242.

Dystopia is here: A portrayal of communication technology usage

A revised version of a university assignment I made in 2014. We were assigned to analyse a work of art and entertainment that includes new media as its main focus:

Because of its increasing importance in society, cultural representations of the new media has been getting more prominent recently. What Have We Done? is a good example. It is a 2014 short film directed by Sammy Paul and Tim Hautekiet. It is interesting to point out that both people are Youtubers and the film was uploaded to Hautekiet’s Youtube channel. Basically, the directors and the film are parts of the new media themselves. This essay will discuss how the film portrays it. But first, I will have to summarise the plot (to watch the film, click here):

The film is a musical and most of the dialogues are singing. It tells the story about a 19th century Englishman named William Sturgeon, who travelled to the future with his own time machine. The reason why he visited the future is he was disillusioned by the human society and he believed in the existence utopia. In the 21st century, he met a character portrayed by Tim Hautekiet himself Sturgeon asked Hautekiet to introduce him to the achievements of mankind in which the latter eagerly did. But soon, the 19th century man was even more disillusioned; he realised that humans have regressed. Instead of being used for the greater good, technology is used for the complete opposite. Humans are getting less intellectual, more detached from each other and worse, more dehumanised. Sturgeon decided to go back to his time and destroyed the time machine.

The most obvious aspect of the film is its music; it is banal and mostly lighthearted. The banality represents how humans never learn from our mistakes. Ignorance is caused by the lack of knowledge and lack of interaction with people from different backgrounds. The film strongly implies that every single generation in human history is guilty of it. The same thing keeps repeating itself. The lightheartedness represents how humans, including Hautekiet’s character, are apathetic to human regression; sometimes we even cherish it. That is represented by his cheerfulness.

But, the film’s lighthearted music can be perceived as sarcastic and it is possible that Hautekiet’s character is acting so the whole time. According to Miranda Bruce-Mitford (1996, p. 80), “music represents the ordered pattern of the universe”. The music successfully represents the universe portrayed by the film. Musical films often include dance numbers and What Have We Done? (2014) is no exception.

Bruce-Mitford (1996, p. 76) describes dancing as ritualistic movements that emit energies. The film has two dance numbers. The first one features banal and light-hearted dancing; music and dancing have to compliment each other in a musical. Like the music, the dancing represents how humans keep repeating the same mistakes and how we deal with regression; again, the lightheartedness can be interpreted as either cherishing the regression or being sarcastic to it. These actions can be seen as quite ritualistic.

The second dance number is less unoriginal and less cheerful. Every single dancer is shown with a mobile device in his/her hand. Most of them dance with stilted movements and expressionless faces. Four of them dance in couples and their eyes are glued to their mobile devices instead of their partners. They represent humans who are enslaved by technology; they seem not to have lives of their own and when they do, their lives are dedicated solely to the technology instead to their loved ones.

It should be noted the colour red is prominent in the second dance scene. Red represents danger (Bruce-Mitford 1996, p. 106). The film is warning us that if we are not careful, we would be enslaved by technology. From the surface, the visual and musical aspects may be very important to viewers. But, if one digs deeper, one would encounter strong ontological elements.

In the second dance number, Hautekiet sings these lines:

It’s a pretty sweet deal But your soul is the price!

These lines refer to human habits of buying stuff we do not need and misusing the internet. At the exact moment he sings ‘but your soul is the price’, Hautekiet’s face changes its appearance: his skin turns greenish and his eyes become larger and blacker. He also sings that line with demonic voice. Green represents decay and black represents destruction (Bruce-Mitford 1996, pp. 106-107). Our bodies are decaying in a figurative sense because we are not using them and our minds are always somewhere else. We are destroying our souls because we are detaching ourselves from the physical reality. I refrain myself from using the word “destructing” because it implies that the act is deliberate. It is debatable whether we are deliberately destroying our souls or not. But, it raises another question: what is a “soul”?

Soul” is a very abstract concept and there is no universally-accepted definition of it. I define it as a concept of “self” and that is definition I am going to use. There are four different ideas of “self”: dualism, materialism, monistic pantheism and no-self (Meister 2009, pp. 190-196). Dualism is the idea of mind and body as two separate entities. Materialism states that nothing exists beyond the material world. Monistic pantheism is a combination of two ideas: monism, in which everything is one and inseparable from each other, and pantheism, in which everything is divine. No-self believes that “the individual self does not exist”. In some ways, those four ideas are represented in the film.

Dualism is represented by the way people dance. Their bodies are shown to be dancing. But judging from their faces, their minds are somewhere else; their bodies and minds do not influence each other. But then, the dualist nature can also be easily refuted by materialism because how a human brain works also influence the mind (Kim 1996, p. 47). Most of the dancers may have their minds somewhere else. But, their minds become static because their brains are controlled by their mobile devices and their dance movements can be described as static as well; they seem to be directly controlled by the brains.

Materialism can also be used to partially support monistic pantheism. I said partially because monism is shown by the fact that mind and body are inseparable and the film’s materialist idea does not support pantheism because technology is shown as the one and only divine object; pantheism believes everything is equally divine. It is also can be said that materialism also supports the No-Self idea in a way; our minds are influenced by our bodies, which are also influenced by the environments. In a way, those dancers can also be described as not having independent selves. The film has strong elements of dualism, but they can be easily refuted by the other three ideas. I have discussed about the artistic and ontological elements. The last thing I am going to discuss about is how the film portrays human communication.

John Hartley (2002, p. 32) defines communication as “interaction by means of mutually recognised signals.” Interactions can be done directly or with a medium. One may think the interactions as with the help of internet as being portrayed are not true communications. But, I have repeatedly mentioned how the characters seem to have their minds somewhere else. They are not evading human communications, they are communicating with other humans somewhere else! The film does not portray the internet as communication destroyer but as a changer of communication; we communicate more with people from faraway than the people physically close to us. The film excellently, but not perfectly, portrays how we use communication technology.

In the film, humans are described as not unwilling to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes, even with more than adequate technology. Human minds are portrayed as slaves to the new technology instead of the opposite. From the surface, the film seems to portray human communications being destroyed by technology. But, it is not destroying communications, it is changing them.

Bruce-Mitford, M 1996, The illustrated books of signs and symbols, DK Publishing, London.

Hartley, J 2002, Communication, cultural and media studies: the key concepts, 3rd edn, Routledge, New York.

Meister, C 2009, Introducing philosophy of religion, Routledge, London.

Kim, J 1996, Philosophy of mind, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.

My identity

(Based on my New Media class assignment. It was made in 2014. Three years ago. In this new version, I will also compare my 2014 view with the current one.)

The pictures above are screenshots of the pages I like on Facebook. The shrinks among you will try to ‘psychoanalyse’ me based on that alone. I am sure you will get your ‘analyses’ wrong. Yes, what I like reveals my true self. But, I have only shown you eighteen pages. You should also consider the groups I join, my taste, my backgrounds, what I share online and how I interact with fellow human beings online and offline. Here, I will discuss how I form my online identity and its legitimacy as a form of legitimacy. First, we need to define what identity is.

2017 update:

Some of the Youtubers featured in the screenshot… well… I have stopped watching them almost completely since 2015, a year after I made this assignment. I also liked a page called ‘Positive Outlooks’. Yeah, I don’t remember how I ended up liking a page with such revoltingly-syrupy name.

R. Atchley (cited in Kelly 2010) defines identity as a group of traits that distinguish a self from the others; it is the only thing that can represent a self. I personally see myself having more than one; my online behaviour is different from the offline one. Stard and Prusak (cited in Kelly 2010) believed that to be true; they stated a self can have more than one depending on how it represents itself. An online identity is different from its offline counterpart because the former tends to be more mindfully presented, considering how social media gives users more time (Champagne cited in Bouvier 2012, p. 40). Every identity is legitimate despite contradicting each other. Online, I have two: humanist and spiritual.

2017 updates:

It is anecdotal, but I believe online identities are not always sensible; they can be a lot nastier than the offline ones. New media seem to be good at breaking down our metaphysical guard.

I still believe one can embrace two seemingly clashing identities; humans are complex creatures. But, I also admit the syncretic identification can appear as cognitive dissonances to most people, especially when said individuals refuse to acknowledge the contradictions’ existence.

My humanist identity is an identity I embrace when dealing with fellow human beings. It covers my social, political and cultural identity. When online, it is mostly liberal and internationalist in nature. I constantly clash with conservatives, I prefer English over Indonesian and most online articles I read are about international issues instead of local ones. When I first joined Facebook, I was far less international but was already liberal. Then, I started to meet people from all over the world and had good relationships with them. Offline, it is a different case.

I still have shreds of conservatism and nationalism inside my offline self. My lifestyle is neither too liberal nor too conservative. I live in Australia at the moment, studying in an international university and have no problem respecting local customs. But, I spend most of social life interacting with fellow Indonesians and acting like a stereotypical Indonesian inside my house. Even though both are different, my online and offline identities greatly influence each other. I would be completely completely liberal and international online if my offline self is not more moderate and more nationalistic. Unlike my humanist identity, my spiritual identity took longer to form itself.

2017 updates:

I am not sure about my usage of the word ‘humanist’. Humanism is often defined as a divine-less and human-centred form of spirituality. It is obvious how my so-called humanist identity has nothing to do with spirituality. Back then, I did not bother to open my thesaurus. Now, I think ‘temporal’ or ‘profane’ are the more appropriate choices.

I was fooling myself when I said I had good relationships with everyone on Facebook. I did end up being close to some users. But, at the same time, I also had many clashes caused by various reasons. Sooo easy to interact with me.

Now, I am back to Indonesia, even though I am still studying off-campus mode on the same university. The reason I mostly interacted with Indonesians while living abroad is I lived with my sister, who had many Indonesian friends and acquaintances in Australia. If my sister was not with me, I would have more interactions with Aussies. If you barely socialise and you live in Australia, your interactions would mostly consist of Aussies. Duh!

Spirituality does not have a universally-accepted definition. I personally define it as a way to embrace one’s true self; it is not necessarily about connecting with the divine as agnostics and atheists may also describe themselves as ‘spiritual’. My online spiritual identity is a reformed/progressive one. I believe there must be a reform in the way believers interpret religious teachings. On Facebook, I join groups and like pages dedicated to progressive/reformed/ Muslims; I also like pages dedicated to progressive Christians. If online users ask what my religion is, I would immediately answer progressive/reformed Islam. Offline, once again, it is a different case.

I am closeted with my belief in order to avoid any conflicts. There are not many openly progressive Muslims. The internet is our safe haven, the only place where we are able to congregate peacefully (most of the time); the online congregation is more spiritually satisfying than the ones I encounter in mosques. But, there is a problem with my spiritual identity: it is insecure and fragile.

I am doubtful that I perfectly represent my identity. I tend to have low tolerance of conservative and moderate Muslims, even the non-violent ones, seemingly contradicting my so-called progressive nature. Technically, I am a progressive/reformist-wannabe militant liberal. It will actually help if I interact with more people, not just the ones who claim to be progressive.

Piotr Bobkowski (2008) believed young people are not enlightened enough to properly express their faith (p. 3) and yet they can be too showy (p. 21). Literally me. I am very quick to announce my religiosity while still not being learned enough. Compared that to my fellow self-identified progressive/reformist Muslims who are both well-read and reserved.

2017 updates:

I still embrace that definition of spirituality. But, nowadays, it has become more layered and slightly more complex (only slightly). I realised how I defined it in 2014 was too simplistic and superficial.

I keep typing ‘reformed/progressive’ regarding my Islamic identity. Many people use the two words interchangeably, sometimes along with the word ‘liberal’. From what I know, there are no established distinctions between reformist, progressive and liberal Muslims. But, I tend to identify with the first two as I do think liberalism is different from progressivism and reformism.

My militant liberal attitude was short-lived. I was very impressionable and let myself influenced by the nasty self-proclaimed reformed/progressive Muslims whose idea of progressive Islam includes selling their fellow believers to anti-Muslim bigots. That’s why I am often reluctant to join online communities dedicated to such well-intentioned movement. It is too bad because many self-proclaimed progressives out there still maintain their dignity.

I agree with Bobkowski to an extend. It is true youngsters are prone to irrationality and immaturity; unsurprising considering how young brains are not fully-developed. But, at the same time, adults can also be guilty of the same, especially when it comes to spirituality. Case in point, those sell-out so-called progressive Muslims.

Online identity is as legitimate as its offline counterpart. In the digital era, both are inevitable crucial parts in overall human identities. One can’t live without the other, despite seemingly different from the surface. It is not important if they are different from each other or not, it is more important if they are true to a person’s true self and they don’t make him or her an intolerant individual.

2017 update:

It should be like this: it is more important if they encourage our true selves to embrace reason and high moral standards.

 

Bobkowski, P 2008, ‘An Analysis of Religious Identity Presentation on Facebook’, International Communication Association 2008 Annual Meeting – Conference Paper, pp. 1-24.

 

Bourvier, G 2012, ‘How Facebook users select identity categories for self-presentation,’ Journal of Multicultural Discourses, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 37-53.

 

Kelly, L 2010, What is Identity?, Australian Museum, retrieved 19 May 2010, <http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/Museullaneous/What-is-identity>.

Diversity and a shared identity

What is culture? Well, it is often seen as a tool to determine how one perceives life and seen as an inseparable part of our identity. For many, cultural identity is easy to pin down. But, for anyone of multiple backgrounds, it is quite problematic. It is even more problematic to pin down the identity of an entire country.

It is no secret that Australia is a multicultural country and has always been. Before the arrivals of Europeans, the continent was already diverse with hundreds of indigenous languages being spoken (assuming one language represents one culture). Under the White Australia policy, the country was still multicultural, albeit differently, with massive immigration from various European countries. Now, it can be argued that the country is even more multicultural considering there are less restrictions for non-European immigration. How about Indonesia?

Unlike Australia, Indonesia still retains its native population. But, like Australia, it is also multicultural and has always been. There are over 300 native ethnics groups in the country. Many regional cultures are strongly shaped by Indian, Chinese, Arab, Dutch and Portuguese influences. Overall, Chinese-Indonesians are the fifteenth biggest ethnic group (Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, p. 9). An assortment of indigenous and international flavours. How does one determine the overall cultural identities of each country? Well, almost a trick question. One cannot do that simply to a highly diverse country.

In the case of Australia, some may argue the country’s identity must be based on Anglo-Saxon culture as the white people of such heritage are the majority. But, it is discriminating against white people and racial minorities of other roots. Some may argue that Aussie identity must be of Aboriginal roots. But, most Aussies are not Aboriginals. Forcing non-Aboriginals to embrace Aboriginal culture, something they are not familiar with, is also discriminatory. Even if they settle on it, there is another problem: which indigenous culture should they choose?

As I said, there are lots of them to choose from. I am not familiar with a single one. But, I can safely assume some are very distinct from each other. If they prefer the easy way out by choosing only one, they would create needless conflicts by culturally alienating a chunk of the population. Even if the chosen culture is also the most numerically dominant, cultural well-being of the minorities should be something to be mindful of. Similar case with Indonesia.

Forming 40 per cent of the country’s total population, Javanese people are the biggest ethnic group. Unsurprisingly, they are among the most culturally influential ethnic groups in the country. Javanese words are widely-used in pop culture, Javanese foods are easily found everywhere, Javanese social hierarchies are used in the establishments and all Indonesian presidents, living or deceased, have Javanese blood running through their veins. But, when we look at other ethnicities, we will see lots of disparities.

Batak people, Madurese people, Bugis people and a group of smaller Sulawesi ethnicities are the third, fifth, eighth and fourth biggest groups, respectively (2010). Yet, apart from the shallow stereotyping of the first two, I know nothing about their heritages. Nothing. I know some singers of Batak descent; even then, they sing westernised pop songs. Foods of those cultures are unheard of on a national level. Compared that to other statistically smaller peoples.

Batak people, Madurese people, Bugis people and a group of smaller Sulawesi ethnicities are the third, fifth, eighth and fourth biggest groups, respectively (2010). Yet, apart from the shallow stereotyping of the first two, I know nothing about their heritages. Nothing. I know some singers of Batak descent; even then, they sing westernised pop songs. Foods of those cultures are unheard of on a national level. Compared that to other statistically smaller peoples.

To summarise, the national identities of both countries are relatively sound considering they are based on the ancestral heritage of each country’s masses. Relatively sound. The exclusion of other heritages also embraced by the people is, as I said, alienating. It is gross disunity. Yes, 100% inclusivity is impossible. But, when they entirely exclude even the numerically significant cultures, the unification effort is either half-arse or a sugarcoated form of sectarianism. If only there is no diversity…

What if there is none? Surely, homogeneity would make it easier to define a country’s national identity. There is literally just one available option. No minorities to be mindful of. Only one national collective, united under a definite cultural singularity. Except, that premise ignores who we really are: human beings.

We tend to see ourselves as mere collectives. But, we often forget that one human collective embodies distinct human individuals, each with their own biases. An utterly all-embracing agreement on anything can never be realised. Not one. Not even on matters like cultural identity. Especially on matters like cultural identity.

Culture is abstract and inherently intangible; it is unaffected by cold objectivity and it will always succumb to our biases. In the end, a culture is not defined by a joint agreement, but by the ones who speak the loudest, the ones who see themselves as worthy spokespersons. It does not matter if many disapprove. The conceited loudmouths win and we ought to listen to them.

In conclusion, there is no easy way to determine a country’s cultural identity; any of such efforts will forever be contentious. But, from my personal point of view, there is a way out.

A study shows youths who have experienced racial and cultural education are less likely to show signs of racism (Mansouri 2009, p. 110). Frankly, I do not know if they are genuinely unprejudiced or just being politically correct. But, we still can learn something from this: cultural backgrounds do not matter. What matters is our sense of belonging in which we identify as Indonesians, Aussies or what have you and unite with fellow citizens. Never ever let others using our predestined familial circumstances to negate your self-proclaimed identification.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-hari penduduk Indonesia, BPS, Jakarta.

Mansouri, F, Jenkins, L, Morgan, L & Taouk, M 2009, The impact of racism upon the health and wellbeing of young Australians, Foundations For Young Australians, Melbourne.

Syrian refugees: help them…and don’t

(An article based on my philosophy class essay)

Refugee crisis. It seems to be an everlastingly divisive facet of human life. To help or not to help, that is the question. Many are dangerously single-minded once they have taken a stance. Some wish to welcome refugees because of moral obligations. Others refuse to because of security and financial reasons. I am among those who are neither.

I believe literally everything in life has its strengths and weaknesses. In this case, I can spot them straight away. The welcomers may be motivated by a sense of humanity, or a lack of common sense. The refusers may be motivated by common sense, or a sense of inhumanity. Here, I will scrutinise the motives of both sides and try to present some possible solutions in the end. Oh and I will use the Syrian refugee crisis as a case study.

Don’t help them

Against:

For me, there are creatures worse than the openly immoral ones: the pretenders. In this case, they claim to be refusers because of security and financial concerns. But, in truth, the sense of practicality has been just a false face that unconvincingly hides bigotry, unmistakably visible for every living soul to witness. How they slander the refugees says a lot.

First, they love to accuse every single one as economic migrants, despite the fact that they are not. A refugee’s motive is to escape extreme harms at all cost. An economic migrant only needs a better job opportunity. Literally two different types of people! Never mind that such idiotic understanding of the vocabulary insults our intelligence. The accusers slander the refugees as money-hungry beings who were never in danger in the first place! Of course, they have to jack up the vilification by bringing Jihadism.

Some believe many refugees are Trojan horses for ISIS. Others believe all of them are! The refusers use a solid evidence that is paranoia and extreme fear of the ‘others’. They look different, their culture is different and their God is different; therefore, they are inherently evil and must be treated as such. This and the economic migrants accusation reduce the refugees as diverse and complex human beings to dehumanising stereotypes that exudes dangerous falsehood. This kind of refusers believe refugees should be left to die. Besides the shameless immorality, the refusers also have an unreasonable demand: gender and age quotas.

They are offended after finding out that (from a cherry-picked selection of photos) most refugees are supposedly young men; they believe young men must stay in war-ridden Syria and fight. Even in a matter of life and death, we must always uphold arbitrary and ever-changing gender roles; God forbids if we prioritise human well-being over cavemen customs.

For:

But, this side of the argument can also have a strength: the inclusion of rationality. Admittedly, it is can feel cruelly cold and seemingly defies our innate human nature. But, our contemptuous opinions still do not conceal the fact that we need rationality. It is one thing that elevates us to a status other earthly beings have yet to achieve. So what if it feels cold? That is something we have to deal with it. Besides, that coldness is useful in warding off a disease called sentimentality.

Sentimentality encourages us to execute decisions based on whether they feel right or not. Feelings matter, reason doesn’t. Sentimental people may think it is a moral and humane approach to life. But, in truth, it is nothing but selfishness. We do things because we want to please ourselves emotionally, not because we think hard about what is actually best for ourselves and others. We cannot remedy the world with sentimentality.

Help them

Against:

I am quick to berate anyone who demonise refugees with slanders. But, I also oppose the idea of unconditional acceptance. It’s financially reckless to the host countries’ finance. Assisting refugees is costly for everyone; even the wealthiest countries have limited savings. Refugees are not economic migrants whom we can ethically screen simply based on their skills. Either we limit their intake or not taking a single one of them. Unlimited intake should never be an option. Besides this, security is also an issue.

I believe most refugees are not security risks. But, there is no doubt that a handful possibly are; terrorists are often in disguise. As the atrocities of Jihadists are notorious, vigilance is essential. Unconditional acceptance means we endanger the lives of many innocent people. The same immorality we see on the dehumanisation of refugees. Besides security, integration is also a problem.

I love diversity and I am all for its existence. But, when sickly, it is prone to sectarianism. When we refuse to respect others’ identities and be reasonable about our own, conflicts are inevitable. The arrival of outsiders is a good example.

If you plan to stay permanently in your new home, integrate! Cultures are abstract entities. Trust me, you can embrace more than one of them! There is no excuse to not blend in. Heck, even if you don’t plan to stay permanently, never ever force the locals to embrace your culture. In the end, the locals will be antagonised at their own homes and outsiders will be even more marginalised. My fellow supporters of diversity barely talk against this.

For:

Abdusalam Guseinov expressed how rationality is not always the sensible approach to problems (2014). He believes morality is about our ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices and that is supposedly out of rationality’s scope. Just like emotions, rationality should also be tamed.

Sometimes, seemingly contradicting my previous statement, the best decisions we can make are based on whether they feel right or not. The ‘coldness’ of reason is not inherently bad. But, we should not let it take over us if we don’t want to see our fellow human beings as mere piles of flesh, blood and bones.

After visiting a refugee camp with her colleagues, sociologist Elizabeth Holzer saw how the refugees’ daily lives were still similar to our own (2014, p. 868). They are not that different from us, despite the differing religious and cultural backgrounds, despite them experiencing an extreme situation which we should be grateful for not enduring it ourselves. This is not a philosophical musing, this is a methodical sociological observation. It should be more than enough to prove their humanness.

Possible solutions

My proposed solution is obvious if one reads the previous paragraphs. We should consider the possible risks of welcoming refugees while, at the same time, confronting the bigotry against them. I also believe the inclusion of rationality and emotions should be strictly balanced.

Of course, my solution is too simplistic and it barely counts as one. I am also literally one person. I also spend. Social issues are very complex and require complex solutions constructed by people of various perspectives. This is why we need global ethics.

It is the best solution we have so far because it fulfills the nationalistic needs of individual countries, while still taking ‘universal moral values’ into consideration (Wonicki 2014, p. 261). Ethics (and philosophy in general) still has objectivity, albeit different the one in science. Ethics sees validity in every viewpoint, as long as they are based on good reasoning and solid evidences. They can be rejected for their fallacies and saying they are just ‘opinions’ is a poor defense. Now that we have one proposed solution, how are we going to implement it?

Philosopher Keith Horton (2014) believed he and his colleagues must reach the masses if they desire to popularise ethics discussions. He proposed these steps (pp. 308-309): 1. do further research on relevant ‘strategic’ issues; 2. make them presentable to wider audiences; 3. join or establish networks; 4. establish relations with non-academic groups and/or individuals with similar goals.

Again, Horton is just one person. His proposals’ effectiveness has yet to be proven. But, unlike me, he was giving genuinely more empirical suggestions. If there are more ethicists who make similar endeavours, it would be easier to improve the relatively young and underdeveloped discipline (Dower 2014, p. 14). Besides that, we should also involve the media in this conversation.

Edward Girardet and Loretta Hieber stated how journalists refuse to advocate humanitarianism, citing objectivity as a pretext. But then, those same journalists are eager to promote their government’s patriotic endeavours or commercialism in general (2002, p. 166). Whether those actions are journalistic or not, that is an entirely different matter.

Those so-called journalists drop their objectivity only when it is personally beneficial for them to do so. The media should admit this deep-rooted hypocrisy and courageously confront it (Girardet & Hieber 2002, p. 166). Bear in mind that the media is greatly powerful.

Girardet and Hieber (p. 172) suggested that, in order to spread the words, humanitarian organisations need to study the societal roles of media and to join forces with independent media. They also argued that independent media should bring their ‘faith in quality reporting’ back to life instead of giving in. We cannot expect commercial media to be self-reflective any time soon, if ever.

Just like Horton’s, Girardet and Hieber’s proposal is far from perfect, albeit (again) better than mine. Once again, we need more individuals partaking in this conversation. More participation means more perspectives. More perspectives means the more we (ideally) would be mindful in the problem-solving.

Girardet, E & Hieber, L 2002, ‘The media and humanitarian values’, Refugee survey quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, 166-172.

Guseinov, AE 2014, ‘Morality as the limit rationality’, Russian studies in philosophy, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 18-38.

Holzer, E 2014, ‘Humanitarian crisis as everyday life’, Sociological forum, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 851-872.

Horton, K 2014, ‘Global ethics: increasing our positive impact’, Journal of global ethics, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 304-311.

Dower, N 2014, ‘Global ethics: dimensions and prospects’, Journal of global ethics, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 8-15.

Wonicki, R 2014, ‘Global ethics and human responsibility: challenges for the theory and discipline’, Journal of global ethics, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 261-266.