Stop pretending that looting preserves cultures

The European colonisers looted them not because they cared about preserving the local heritages, but because they wanted to impose hard power.

If that wasn’t the case, not only they would try their best to not damage the artefacts, they also wouldn’t massacre the humans who created the heritage and imposed western cultures upon the survivors. We know damn well it was the exact opposites.

And yes, even the contemporary westerners who oppose repatriation also don’t care about cultures.

Even without those vultures of private collectors, the artefacts still end up in museums in faraway lands, trapped behind glass panels. Yes, the visitors are able to admire the unique aesthetics and read the descriptions on the plaques. But, they only perceive them as mere foreign and exotic items and will always do. They won’t understand how culturally significant the artefacts are.

If they are in their “natural habitats” (they are often small bits of a huge archeological site), we can see how they make important parts of entire cultures. In fact, we may witness them being used in the rituals.

Never mind the immersion. How can the artefacts help us witnessing the still-living cultures in action if we don’t see them being “utilised” as originally intended?

No, the “they-don’t-care-about-their-own-cultures” argument is invalid. If you even bother trying, you can find those who still cling onto their heritage. The ones who don’t care are the westernised big city dwellers and government officials and, believe it or not, they don’t represent their entire countries.

Now, what if the cultures represented by the artefacts are already extinct? Surely, it doesn’t matter where they are kept. Well, it still does.

Just take a look at those dinosaurs. They went extinct sixty five million years ago and yet, we still see their descendants not only as modern day reptiles, but also as birds.

Extinct cultures also have left legacies.

Egypt has been an Arabised and Muslim-majority territory for a long time and yet, its Coptic Christian citizens still use Coptic – a Greek-influenced, modern descendent of Ancient Egyptian – as their liturgical language.

Indonesia, my home country, is a Muslim-majority country with Christianity as the biggest minority religion. But, you still can see hints of our Buddhist and Hindu pasts.

Not only we have Sanskrit loanwords in some of our languages (including the national one) and we occasionally use the sembah gesture (which is based on Añjali Mudrā), our official national symbols are derived from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies and most government institutions use Sanskrit mottos.

I don’t have to use non-western countries as examples. The entire western civilisation has its roots in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, two long-extinct civilisations. Latin and Greek are still studied as the classical languages.

If you take a look at western individual countries, you can see some uniqueness as well.

In the United States, one can sees Native American and West African influences through its many different music genres and some of its regional cuisines, even though Native Americans are now an unbelievably tiny minority due to genocides and most black Americans are descendants of slaves who were forcibly uprooted from their homelands.

Even though Al-Andalus has ceased to exist for half a millennium, you still can see the Middle Eastern influences in the Iberian peninsula: from the abundance of Arabic loanwords in Spanish and Portuguese to the abundance of Moorish architecture in, unsurprisingly, modern-day Andalusia.

Nothing lives in a vacuum. Just because something happened a long time ago, that does not mean it won’t leave its marks. The immersion may be weak. But, it still there.

I am also certain learning languages and cuisines is a more effective cultural immersion method than simply staring at goddamn objects.

Obviously, the arguments I stated above are not entirely mine; I either paraphrased them or added my own personal thoughts to them. But, there is one argument which also isn’t mine…. and it is an argument so obvious, I hate myself for not thinking about it earlier: political stability.

Some argue the artefacts should stay in the west because it is the only place free from any political instabilities. But, Youtuber Andrew Rakich – better known as Atun-Shei films – reminds us to expect the unexpected.

In a video which title I forget, he asserts that just because places like London are stable, that does not mean they will always; we cannot certainly predict the future… because we humans are so goddamn unpredictable.

That statement reminds me of what I have learned about history.

Places like Syria, Afghanistan Somalia and Iraq were peaceful (at least, on a surface level as I am deriving this info from photos and videos). Now, they are synonymous with wars, wars and wars.

Less than a century ago, Europe was involved in two world wars; the second started just twenty one years after the first one ended. Now, it is often one of the main destinations for war refugees.

Basically, unless you are into historical denialism and see humans as nothing but predictable androids, the political stability argument does not hold water.

Just like the British Museum’s roof.

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You cultist royalist motherfuckers need to be consistent

You love to claim how the monarch is the reason for the good things that exist in the UK, despite the fact that they are nothing but a mere symbol…

And yet, every time someone condemns the Queen for past colonialism, you fervently and zealously defend her, asserting that she had nothing to do with the atrocities.

Which one is it, then? Does the monarch contribute to the country or not? Unless you proudly declare yourself as a cult member, you cannot pick and choose. You have to acknowledge both sides of her legacy.

No, I don’t believe she was personally responsible for the atrocities. The UK has been a constitutional monarchy for a long time and the monarch is just a symbolic representation of the state; if I want to credit or blame someone, I have to turn my head to the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

But, that does not mean the Queen was never complicit.

Not only she enjoyed the seemingly infinite wealth which would never exist without colonialism, she also willingly became the symbol of it. No, fuck the neutrality bullshit. If you are aware of immorality committed in your name, the least you can do is to publicly speak out against it.

Morality is not a trivial matter, it is a matter of whether you treat your fellow human beings humanely or not. If you feel or act neutral about certain acts of inhumanity, you tolerate them; you are as good as their perpetrators.

She had the power to influence her subjects to reconcile with their country’s dark past. Instead, she chose symbolically represent it.

I bet you that some of you are also the same people who blame entire minority groups for the actions of few, despite the fact that most members have nothing to do with those few and never condone their actions.

Also, if you take offense at my cultist accusation, you have no one but yourselves to blame.

British media outlets spending 24/7 reporting her death, the state spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for her funeral amid an ongoing economic crisis, the country shutting many activities down – including medical appointments and flights – just for her, fellow royalists demanding everyone – including citizens of former colonies- to mourn her, arresting peaceful protestors, Labour party prohibiting members from making any social media posts unless they were about the Queen, royalists condemning businesses for staying open.

You either consider them as trivial non-stories which we shouldn’t make a big deal about OR consider them as wonderful things. Don’t deny it, I have seen your online comments.

Even worse, some of you had the gall to claim that no one forced Brits to mourn her, despite the fact that you didn’t let them to live their daily lives as usual and you also deliberately ruined their goddamn plans.

The gaslighting attempt really adds to the cultist atmosphere.

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No, homogeneity is not a strength

When people argue against multiculturalism, they often project themselves. They think their inability to handle human differences is universal and sectarian conflicts are mundane in diverse places.

Another one of their favourite argument is citing the success of South Korea and Japan. They argue the countries’ near 100% homogeneity is the reason why they are globally successful.

Of course, there are multiple issues with that assertion.

Issue number one: success is relative. While South Korea and Japan have wealth and greater soft power than my country Indonesia does, I will never be envious of their high suicide rates, drinking cultures, stressful student life, severe school bullying and, in this case of Japan, strong history of fascism and historical denialism.

Issue number two: correlation does not equal causation. Those people never provide evidences. They simply connect two things and expect others to believe it at face value. Life is also complicatedly interconnected; even if homogeneity is a factor, it is definitely not the only factor.

Issue number three: even if I accept that shallow definition of success and correlation equals causation, I still don’t see how it proves the inherent superiority of South Korea and Japan.

If homogeneity brings prosperity as they claim it does, then it is comparable to wealth we are born into.

Both give us unbelievably massive leverages. Children born into wealth have better access to education and they can pursue their passions without financial worry. Due to the stricter conformity, homogenous societies have an easier time achieving their collective goals.

Neither wealth nor homogeneity is inherently bad. But, praising a country’s homogeneity is like praising someone for coming from a wealthy family.

You basically praise someone for being born with cheat codes.

Personally, I don’t believe we must commend people who can find common grounds despite their stark differences. Not only I consider that to be a bare minimum, I also don’t want them to pat themselves on the back.

But, I would rather reserve my praise for them. Considering they are the ones who do extra efforts, it is just sensical.

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That’s not how you preserve traditions (and treat your own family)

As an Indonesian, I rarely watch Indonesian films voluntarily. So, the fact that I decided to watch this newly-released feature is a rarity.

Ngeri-Ngeri Sedap (I still don’t know how to translate the title) tells the story of a fractured Batak family; the parents struggle to persuade their university-educated adult sons return home after years. They cannot stand their cold, headstrong father who disapprove of their life decisions.

One of them wants to marry a woman from another ethnic group, one becomes a TV comedian instead of a law practitioner and the youngest child isn’t interested returning home for good, even though tradition calls for it.

Desperate, the parents pretend they are going to divorce, which would compel the sons to return home and talk their mom and dad out of it. The plan works. But, the moment they saw their father, the atmosphere immediately thickens and it will get even worse from here.

The film is not that great, execution wise. The dialogues are full of info dumps, the cinematography fails to capture the beauty of rural North Sumatra (I have visited Lake Toba and I know how ethereally beautiful it is), the crying scene is unintentionally funny, the emotions could have been more intense and the conflict resolves a bit too quickly.

But, the film does have some gems in it.

While I cannot verify the authenticity of the Batak life depiction as I am not a Batak, I adore how it does not use a regional and/or ethnic identity as a punchline or a token, as the common practice in a country where media productions mostly centered in one snobby, cosmopolitan city.

I also love that it is written and directed by an actual Batak filmmaker and most of the main cast members are of Batak lineage; the ones who aren’t grew up surrounded by Batak people. It is refreshing how a film about a certain culture is made by people who have experiences with it.

But, that’s not even the best part: it is also a giant middle finger to “traditional” parenting and toxic loyalty to family.

The father loves accusing his sons of selfishness, even though he is the one who makes everything about himself. The sons always look uneasy and awkward in his presence. The comedian son loves making spiteful comments, even saying that his family is a joke, something to be laugh at. Even though the mother is just as traditional, she openly disapproves how her husband behaves.

It becomes so toxic, not only his sons depart angrily, his wife ends up wanting to divorce for real and the daughter – I forgot to mention the family has a daughter – leaves with her as well.

It also has unexpected commentaries about gender.

When the daughter asked why her brothers seem awkward with each other, the eldest son said their father was always aloof towards his sons, hence their inability to be warm towards other men.

She is also a testament that girls and women often have to sacrifice the most in a patriarchal society. She had to break a romantic relationship because the man was a non-Batak and she gave up her dream as a chef – her cooking talent has been shown from the very beginning – because the father thinks it is not a real job.

She could have easily rebelled. But, if she does, she would severe ties with her elderly parents and no one would take care of them.

The grandma – the father’s mother – is unbelievably wise. She gently points out that different children require different parenting style. You shouldn’t raise university-educated children like you raise ones who didn’t finish middle school, she says.

Okay, maybe not that wise. Surely, you deserve your parents’ warmth regardless of your educational level; I don’t see how dropping out of school makes you less of a human being with feelings.

But, as problematic as her advice is, her point about there is no one correct way to raise children still stands.

The daughter and grandma also represent the gender situation in Indonesia. While the film barely focuses on either character, they add depth to the story. Men are at the forefront with women supporting them behind the scenes.

What I love about the ending is the father finally and sincerely realises his mistakes and tries to amend his mistakes.

He makes a surprise appearance at his comedian son’s TV show which is shot in Jakarta, asserting he is not proud of his son’s success. Why? Because it is his son’s, not his. He has no right to take credit for it.

He visits his other son’s non-Batak lover in West Java and, much to his surprise, she is interested in learning Batak traditions. As a rural dweller, he seems unaware that many urban Indonesians have experiences traversing different cultures; dealing with other regional Indonesian cultures is a mundane task for them.

His visits his youngest son’s boss in Jogjakarta and he learns that his son helps the local farmers – a vulnerable group of people – increasing their agricultural yield, practically making their lives better.

After he gains his sons’ sincere forgiveness (which is what their mother desires), the family reunites.

I love how the film asserts that a family’s unity cannot be achieved unless every member – including the parents – makes their best efforts. In this case, the family reunites after the father finally leaves his bubble, both in literal and figurative sense.

Literally as in he leaves his rural homeland and travels to three different provinces, none of which are in Sumatra. Figuratively as in he leaves the world where views like his are king and enter one with greater diversity of thoughts.

I also love how the film is not anti-tradition. The traditional festival is depicted respectfully (or so it seems), the sons still love Batak food and the soundtracks feature Batak-language songs.

It is not about whether we should preserve traditions or not, it is more about HOW we do it. It is a cautionary tale of how tactlessness will tear your family apart and putting your beloved heritage in even greater risk of extinction.

And, in a rare moment, I feel proud of my fellow countrymen. I don’t know what the haters have to say about the film. But, I have seen so many positive comments online; many feel their negative experiences with traditional parents and/or husbands are validated.

I am glad such Indonesian film exists.

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A tangent about religion:

Indonesia is a place where religiosity is held with high regards, regardless of one’s ethnic and religious backgrounds. The film not-so-subtly hints at that fact.

The family’s house has a quite a few Christian-themed ornaments (if I can call them that), like the cross and pictures of Jesus Christ. There is a moment of brief close-up on a knitted(?) The Last Supper picture and the parents’ bed are often filmed using wide shot, ensuring the overhead cross is seen as well.

They also respect the local pastor. The father wants to impress him by putting a pristine mask on his marriage. The sons also ask him to discourage their parents from divorcing, even though his advice is the same as theirs.

Oh, and in the beginning of the film, one of the sons explicitly say, “we are Christians”.

While religion is not focused on, the film makes sure we don’t forget about its existence.

I wonder how much of the conservative attitude is attributed to their religious beliefs.

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“You should ‘go out’ more”…

… is what people usually say to me in arguments. When they say ‘go out’, they mean leaving my safe space and exposing myself to different worldview.

Obviously, that’s a sound advice. We should thrive to avoid any echo chambers if we truly have the desire to grow and discern our reality. But, I do know those people don’t care about my well-being; they just hate it that I refuse to appease to them.

People who love exaggerating the flaws of Marvel films think I need to watch anything other than Hollywood blockbusters, not realising that my favourite film directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick, arguably giants of arthouse cinema, and some of my favourite films are not even American, let alone Hollywood.

Some people think I will grow out of my “extremely woke” politics and suggest leaving my echo chamber. It is interesting because not only there is nothing radical about centre-left politics, I used to be a lot more conservative. I also live in a country where even self-proclaimed moderates are very socially conservative. Not to mention the many conservatives, libertarians, liberals and centrists I constantly run into online.

Pro and anti-multiculturalism and anti-Muslim westerners have something in common: they genuinely believe that the west is the only diverse place on earth. The differences? The pro wants to feel superior about their own countries, thinking simply seeing minorities on the streets and having foreign ancestors boost their multicultural cred. The other camps think other places aren’t being forced to be diverse. When I refute their factually incorrect claims, they condescendingly suggest me to interact with people of differing cultural and religious backgrounds.

What they don’t know is I am from Indonesia, a country with six officially recognised religions and literally hundreds of ethnic groups; my hometown specifically has five dominant ethnic groups, which is unusual even for an Indonesian city, and has visible Christian and Buddhist minorities. I attended a middle school where I was one of the few non-Chinese-Indonesian and non-Buddhist students and I got my degree from an Australian university. Oh, and virtually all of my online friends are foreigners and much of them are non-Muslims.

My exposure to different cultures and religions is so mundane. If it wasn’t for my interactions with dumb westerners, I would have kept taking my diverse upbringing for granted.

“The more you know, the more you don’t know”

The older I get, the more I can relate to the quote. As much as I want to see myself as extremely knowledgeable, I have to acknowledge the horizon’s infinite vastness.

I haven’t tasted every film style of imaginable. I haven’t matured politically. And I have only been exposed to a tiny chunk of the world’s cultures and religions. I need to keep learning.

But, as one can tell, my aforementioned opponents clearly don’t care. They all share something in common: the belief that some or all of their opinions are absolutely correct. My mere disagreement is more than enough for them to make a baseless assumption about my personal life, which they make even before I say anything about it.

One may argue I am a hypocrite because I also make assumptions about others when I disagree with them. But, there is a difference.

My aforementioned opponents make assumptions simply because I disagree, that’s literally the sole reason. Meanwhile, I make assumptions based not only on how (un)reasonable and factually (in)accurate their opinions are, but also the anecdotes which they willingly share.

If you say enjoyment of pop culture is a sign of immaturity, I can assume you are a self-righteous bitch who want to feel undeservingly high and mighty about your tastes.

If you say centre-left politics – which is closer to the centre than it is to the far end – is too “woke”, I can assume you are swinging too far to the right end. I can also assume you are unable to perceive life’s many many shades of grey.

If you say multiculturalism can only be found in the west, I can assume you are jingostic westerners who think your countries are more special than they really are and/or you know nothing about lives beyond your borders.

If you admit that you intentionally avoid interactions with the “others” and avoid visiting other countries because you “know” how bad they are, I can definitely say you don’t care about the truth, you just want to affirm your preconceived beliefs.

Again, I refuse to say I have fully escaped all kinds of bubbles. But, I am confident I have escaped more bubbles than my opponents do.

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If you don’t like them, just say it! Don’t make up excuses!

This blog post is a translation of this.

Indonesians know we are a nation ashamed of itself.

Of course, many of us are despicably behaved. But, many of us are ashamed because of things I consider trivial: ashamed of our own heritage.

Let me show you two example cases.

Case one:

On a food-related Facebook post, a foreign citizen of Indonesian descent said she disliked Indonesian cuisine due to the strong and “imbalanced” flavours of spices. That’s why she preferred Indian and Thai ones. She only liked Indonesian foods made abroad.

She also said Thai cuisine was more “sophisticated” than the Indonesian one, hence why there is an abundance of Thai restaurants everywhere.

Case two:

On Youtube, I made a comment about how invisible Indonesian culture was on the world stage. Not long after, a fellow Indonesian told me the lack of popularity was caused by the lack of aesthetic originality.

He said our ancestral cultures were just carbon copies of Arab and Chinese cultures. He believed that was the reason why foreigners were more interested in Malaysian, Thai and Filipino cultures.

If take a close look, none of their arguments make sense.

The first person said she didn’t like Indonesian cuisine due to the strong and “imbalanced” spices. But, she also liked Indian and Thai cuisines….. which are also known for strong spices.

The second person said Indonesian cultures were just copying foreign ones. But, he also praised Malaysian, Thai and Filipino ones…. which were also influenced by foreign ones; even the end results look similar to the Indonesian ones.

They criticise Indonesia for something…. and praising other countries which also have the same thing. It is obvious they can like something, as long as that something is not Indonesian.

They also said the lack of popularity was caused by its low quality. This also does not make any sense.

If we analyse every single worldwide cultural phenomenon one at a time, we will find a common thread: marketing. That can be done either by governments for diplomatic purposes or by corporations for profit’s sake.

Like it or not, the most effective way to globalise a culture is to showcase it on the world stage. Diligence is not enough; we also have to believe in the quality of the products we are selling.

Try remember: how often we hear news about Indonesians actively promoting our cultures abroad? I am certain the answer is either “rarely” or “never”.

Never mind culture, even our tourism campaign is pathetically sporadic. In 2019, Indonesia was visited by sixteen million foreign tourists. Singapore in the same year? Nineteen millions. We – -the fourth most populous country on earth and the most in Southeast Asia – are defeated by a petite country with frankly unimpressive cultural diversity when compared to Indonesian one.

Besides, if popularity is evidence of high quality, why is junk food popular all over the world? Why is Indomie instant noodle more popular than Indonesian traditional dishes? With that logic, does that mean junk food and Indomie are foods of the highest quality?

Years ago, I was just like those two people, especially when the Indonesian language was involved.

I used to think the Indonesian language – especially its standard register – was a language with rough and flat pronunciations, shallow and insubstantial vocabulary and simplistic grammar; hence why I prefer to blog in English. Nowadays, my opinions are still the same…. except in one aspect.

I still think grammatical tense is useful in decreasing temporal ambiguity. But, from grammatical standpoint, I finally acknowledge one thing which makes Indonesian better than English: the affixes.

Unlike in English, affixes in Indonesian (and Malay in general) are more extensive and consistent. Just by adding prefixes and suffixes, we can change a word’s meaning and decreases the risk of ambiguity. Unlike in English, we rarely encounter commonly-used words with multiple meanings.

I have rambled too much.

The point of my rambling is we – as Indonesians – have the right to dislike anything Indonesian. Not suitable to our tastes, low quality, lack of emotional attachments, morality, any reasons are valid…

… As long as they make sense. In those two cases, the reasons definitely make no sense.

Let’s recap: they criticise Indonesia for one thing and then praising other countries despite having the exact same thing. They also think the lack of popularity is a sign of its low quality, despite the fact that there are low quality foreign cultures which are popular all over the world.

They dislike anything Indonesian simply because those things are Indonesian. If they are foreign citizens with no Indonesian lineage, we would have considered them as prejudiced human beings.

But, those two human beings clearly have the lineage and they have definitely been exposed to life in the country. It is obvious they are ashamed of their own identities. If they have the choice, they would have swapped their ancestors with ones from other countries.

At the same time, they are aware that their honesty would provoke anger of Indonesian nationalist wannabes. As a result, they always find excuses to hide their true feelings.

But, no matter how hard we try hiding the carcasses, no matter how much perfume we use, the stench will seep through eventually.

If those two don’t feel ashamed of their lineage, I am certain their dislike of anything Indonesian would have been more reasonable and wouldn’t unfairly criticising the country.

Oh, and when I am say nationalist wannabes, I am referring to Indonesians who express pride when their country is insulted or sharply criticised and yet, in other times, they refuse to do anything to elevate their country’s esteem.

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“Differences” is not just a bigoted excuse to deny refugees, it is also idiotic

First thing first, your projection is not the reflection of reality. Just because you are shamefully unable to deal with human differences, that does not mean the rest of us share that defect of yours.

If anything, you can find places all over the world in which people get along with each other despite their racial, cultural and religious differences; there are also places that used to be pluralistic but ended up sectarian thanks to European colonialism. The Partition, anyone?

Second, it is idiotic because Europeans have so many things in common with each other and yet, they have an extremely long history with wars; mind you, the second world war ended less than a hundred years ago. The EU was created as a war prevention effort!

We don’t even have to go back in time. Just take a look at present Europe!

Never mind the non-white, non-Christian and non-European immigrants, many Europeans still have a problem accepting white, Christian immigrants from other European countries! Are we going to pretend there is no widespread anti-Polish and anti-Romanian sentiment? Are we going to pretend there are no far-right people inciting hatred against other European nationals? Are we going to pretend there is no far-right resurgence in Europe?

Heck, no need to talk about immigrants. Even Europeans hate their fellow white Christian countrymen!

Even though The Troubles have ended in Northern Ireland, there is still hostility between Protestants and Catholics. The conflict between Dutch and French-speaking Belgians shut their federal government down for a month. The UK, France, Spain and Scandinavian countries have a track record of erasing regional languages; France is still reluctant to revive them (surprise surprise). Norwegian language has two officially recognised standardised spellings and that also has caused tensions among the Norwegians.

While Switzerland is not ravaged by sectarianism, the Swiss are also infamous for their unwillingness to learn the other national languages, unless there are direct practical benefits; it is reported that they prefer to speak English with the other language communities rather than learning their tongues.

My point is if cultural clashes are the reasons why you reject SOME refugees, why don’t you reject all of them?

Why worried about clashing with those desert people when you are still unable to unite with your fellow white, Christian and European countrymen?

As I have said too many times before, the problem is not the existence of differences, the problem is your pathetic inability to handle even the most trivial ones.

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So, you have visited other countries and think you know the world?

If you visit other countries as a tourist, do you go to the tourist traps or do you go to where the locals at and interact with them?

If you can speak a foreign language, is your fluency high or is it only enough to order foods at restaurants?

If it is high, are you fluent only in the standard dialect which you can learn entirely in classes? Or are you also fluent in at least one vernacular speech which you can only learn from the streets?

If you live in other countries, do you live among your fellow immigrants or do you live among the locals?

If you live among the locals, are they fluent in foreign languages and very comfortable with anything foreign? Or are they those who can barely speak one and unfamiliar with anything foreign?

What are you trying to gain by interacting with foreigners? Do you want your validation for your beliefs? Or do you actually want to learn?

If you want to gain new knowledge, how do you gain it? Do you interact only with specific groups of a country’s population? Or do you interact with as many citizens as possible?

If you have gained it, how is the quality? Is it very black-and-white and easily digestible? Or is it too nuanced and intricate to be explained simplistically?

Yes, there are such thing wrong answers.

If you cannot speak the people’s everyday languages…

If you don’t go to where the locals at…

If you live only among the fellow immigrants or locals who are familiar with anything foreign…

If you interact only with a small number of locals instead of interacting with as many as possible….

If your interactions with them give you black-and-white and/or belief-affirming “knowledge”…

Then, I can definitely say you still know little about the world beyond your country’s borders. It is apparent you still haven’t fully left the bubbles you grew up in.

Not everyone will fall for your international relations “credentials”.

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So, you think Indonesia is boring?

This is one of those petty blogposts of mine, in which I write them as responses to specific individuals. Spite is one of my life fuels.

There are many Indonesians who believe our country has nothing exciting to offer. This combination of ignorance and self-deprecation is unfortunately common. But recently, I encountered one person who stood out like an infected, pus-ridden toe.

They said Indonesia is nothing but a carbon copy of China and Arabia, hence why the world is more interested in learning about Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

While the amount is not infinite, there are still too many layers of idiocy to put with.

First thing first, being influenced is not the same as copying! If Indonesia is a carbon copy of China and Arabia, then Japan is a carbon copy of China and USA a carbon copy of England. Hell, why don’t we start calling every country on earth a carbon copy of each other? Why is Indonesia singled out here?

Second, we are influenced not just by China and Arabia, but also South Asia, Portugal and the Netherlands. Combined them with the cultures of our bountiful ethnic groups, we are culturally richer than that imbecile thinks it is.

Lastly, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have many similarities to Indonesia. All of them are Southeast Asian countries with Indian and Chinese influences and strong Hindu and Buddhist history. With Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia in particular, they also have Arabian and European influences, Austronesian roots and dominance of Abrahamic religions.

I don’t know how any informed minds can seriously believe the other three countries are more unique. Despite having heard so many dismissive comments about Indonesia, this one ticks me off the most.

I am sure many foreigners have said similar things. But, from my experiences, this dismissiveness is mostly expressed by Indonesians themselves.

Oh, and I am not done yet. I am going to list many facts about Indonesia to prove that it is an interesting country to learn about.

Buckle up, bitches!

It is the fourth biggest country, the biggest Muslim-majority country and the biggest archipelago country on earth.

It is sandwiched between two oceans and two continents; despite being considered a part of Asia, it is more accurate to describe as a transcontinental country. It forms a large chunk of the pacific ring of fire.

Indonesia has over a thousand ethnic groups, many with their subgroups; the biggest and second biggest form about 40% and 18% of the country’s population, respectively. The majority are of Austronesian roots, with minorities of Chinese-Indonesians, Arab-Indonesians, Eurasian-Indonesians, Melanesians and Indian-Indonesians.

Even though Indonesia has hundreds of living languages, only one is official: Indonesian. It is a standardised Malay dialect (many Indonesians refuse to call it Malay) and has partial intelligibility to standardised Malay dialects in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

It is an Austronesian language with Sanskrit, Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese (don’t know which dialects), regional languages and, of course, English loanwords. But, despite being the national language, it has no native speakers; people speak either a vernacular Malay dialect or an entirely distinct regional language, with Javanese as the biggest in the country. Both Malay and Javanese are in the top 30 list of most spoken languages on earth.

Interestingly, unlike many former colonies of western countries, the colonial language was never dominant here, not even during the Dutch colonial rule.

Well, Malay was already the lingua franca in many parts of Southeast Asian prior European colonisation; the Dutch might find it unnecessary to introduce Dutch as one. I also heard they refused to teach the language because they feared most indigenous Indonesians would have access to better education. Who knows?

I also don’t know why the elite Indonesians -who definitely spoke it- refused to pass the language down. But, knowing the nationalistic mood of the country’s earlier days, this might rub people the wrong way. Not to mention that Soekarno -our first president- expelled every white and Eurasian Dutch person. Again, who knows?

Apart from (Sunni) Islam, the state also officially recognises Protestantism (confusingly labeled as Christianity), Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and, recently, Confucianism. If your religion is none of the above, you still have to choose one for official documentations.

Oh, and official recognition is different from being state religions. The former means the authorities recognise your beliefs as religions of their own rights. The latter is about state endorsement.

Even though the ministry of religious affairs has always been dominated by Muslims, the state also funds Christian, Hindu and Buddhist activities. Public schools have religious studies lessons for non-Muslim students and there are state-funded Christian, Hindu and Buddhist universities.

Despite being a Muslim-majority country with actual practicing Muslims AKA not cultural Muslims, our national symbols are of Hindu-Buddhist origins. Garuda – the mythological bird – is seen as a visual representation of the country. Our national motto, the mottos of many national institutions and the name of our state ideology are in Sanskrit. Not to mention the Indonesians who still use Sanskrit-sounding names. Just because most of us are no longer Hindus and Buddhists, that does not mean we should forget our Hindu-Buddhist past.

Nowadays, the biggest Hindu denomination is the Balinese one; the other existing ones are numerically minuscule. The biggest Buddhist denomination is the Chinese one; the existing “locally-grown” ones are also tiny.

The Javanese people – the biggest ethnic group – are unsurprisingly predominantly-Muslim. But, interestingly, many Javanese embrace both Islam and Kejawen, a syncretic religion with strong animist elements.

Remember the aforementioned ethnic diversity? It comes with the package that we also boast culinary diversity. Our regional cuisines are so distinct from each other, they taste as if they are from different countries; Javanese cuisine is very sweet, Sundanese dishes taste earthy while Minang ones are drenched in spicy coconut gravy. Some cuisines are mostly indigenous while others have heavier foreign influences. Culinary wise, we can cater to a wide range of taste buds.

In spite of the distinctiveness, they also share traits. There are many variants of nasi goreng (fried rice), soto (a type of soup), kerupuk (fried crackers) and sambal (chili sauce). While some variants are available all over, others are exclusively found in certain regions.

Indonesia has 34 provinces, five are autonomous. One is Aceh, literally the only Sharia province. One is Jogjakarta, the only absolute monarchy province. Two of them are Papuan provinces. One of them is, of course, our national capital.

We also have five provinces with religion other than Islam as the majority or narrow majority. One is Hindu-majority Bali and the rest Christian-majority, three are Protestant and one is Roman catholic.

And just another reminder that we are a big ass country! We are a giant with many experiences to tell!

Do I think Indonesia is the most unique country on earth? No, I don’t. But, I still think the country is far more intriguing than many people think it is.

Here’s a question for you: what do countries like South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, India, Thailand, USA, the UK, France and Singapore – which are culturally distinct from one another – have in common but Indonesia does not?

Soft power.

Seriously, how often do you see Indonesian tourism advertisement? How often do you encounter Indonesian restaurants in countries with small Indonesian communities? How often do you encounter Indonesian culture festivals overseas? How often do you encounter organisations that promote Indonesian cultures overseas? How often do you encounter enticing depictions of Indonesia in foreign media?

I am certain the answer is either “barely” or “not at all”; when you do encounter aggressive tourism campaign, it was only certain years. I am also certain if you ask the same things about the other countries, you would be more likely to get answers other than “barely” or “not at all”.

Obviously, don’t take my words for it. Just do basic researches about those other countries’ heritage. You would find out that – when compared to the others – they are not as unique as you think they are.

Once you know, you would realise originality has nothing to do with a country’s popularity. If that is the case, diverse and highly populous countries like Indonesia should have ended up as cultural giants.

But, reality says otherwise. Instead, South Korea, Japan and Singapore – countries that relatively have way less cultural things to offer – easily kick us to the curb. The first two are known for their homogeneity; it is impressive such big populations can still be that homogenous.

And Singapore? Let’s face it: if it wasn’t for its small size, its diversity would feel way less impressive.

Oh, and I keep mentioning religion because we are barely included in global discourses about Islam, if at all.

Almost every time globally-influential western media talks about Islam, they almost always feature South Asian, West Asian, North African and western perspectives. Indonesia is rarely involved.

Obviously, we are just one country; we can only represent ourselves. But, it is short-sighted to exclude us from the conversations.

Not only we are fourth biggest country and the biggest Muslim-majority one, we are also the only one in the top 10 list which is neither South Asian, West Asian nor African; we are Southeast Asian. Not to mention the Indonesian diaspora is globally invisible.

We would have easily offered distinct perspectives about Islamic identity, interreligious lives and how religions interact with culture and politics. The global discourses about Islam would not be too dominated by South Asian, West Asian, North African and western perspectives.

If foreign media interview the right kind of Indonesians, we would have added even more nuances to the conversations.

Our exclusion from them is exasperating. If they are willing to ignore a country as gigantic as Indonesia, just imagine how they would treat the smaller and lesser-known ones.

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What Dave Chappelle’s defenders reveal about so-called comedy fans

They don’t get what freedom of speech is

They think they can dictate what others can feel offended by, dictate how others feel anything.

While you should definitely criticise their lack of level-headedness, you should also remember they are your fellow human beings, NOT your toy robots. It is unreasonable of you to demand them to stop behaving like human beings.

While you have the right to defend any jokes, it is just sensical that the butts of the jokes – whose lives are definitely being affected – are entitled to the biggest megaphones.

And when the jokes target the likes of you and you are fine with it, just remember that you are just one person. As worthy as your opinions are, your fellows’ are just as important.

They care too much about your feelings

If they really don’t, why would they think negative opinions ruin their fun? Why can’t they just enjoy the things enjoy and ignore the haters?

I was able to enjoy Harry Potter despite knowing that religious puritans hated the series and they even made the books banned from school libraries. Considering we live in a digital age, we can still access banned works, anyway.

Maybe they are those annoying fans who demand the rest of the world to love what they love. Maybe they think their taste comedy is objectively the best and it is an atrocity against reason to think otherwise.

Those are fair assumptions. Don’t deny it.

They don’t know comedy that well

They believe jokes are meant to be jokes, nothing more. Well, history of comedy says otherwise.

In America, some of its most legendary comedians are ones who insert serious messages into their jokes. Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Smothers Brothers, Mort Sahl are just a few examples.

If you want to go more contemporary, The Daily Show correspondents and veterans are arguably the most well-known examples. Heck, even Chappelle himself has inserted commentaries about racism into his jokes. In fact, isn’t that a reason why he became a legend in the first place?

Regardless whether Chappelle is a transphobe or just a preteen edgelord stuck in an adult’s body, how can anyone who claims to be comedy fans thinks every joke should never be taken seriously?

If jokes can have underlying serious commentaries, why can’t they accept that jokes can also harbour genuine bigotry?

Pay attention to the jokers when they are not performing. The more they talk sincerely, the more likely they reveal their true selves. Then, we can tell whether their jokes are just edgy OR genuinely hateful.

Wait, who am I kidding? I am expecting too much from my fellow human beings.

Too many of them are blind to what is in front of them…. and yet, I am expecting them to read between the lines.

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