The vanity of material rites

As a child, I used to find Ramadhan extremely gruelling. It was very easy for me to feel hungry and thirsty. Just add blazing tropical sun for extra torment. But, that was all physical. Emotionally, it was a different story.

Even though my body was drained of any will to live, I had this inexplicable emotional satisfaction. It was the same feeling that I experience after watching a motion picture work with conflict-afflicted, yet heart-warming story (I did say ‘inexplicable’, didn’t I?). Every fast break was sublime. And then, the end of the month arrived.

Idul Fitri, which is the Indonesian name of Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadhan. It is meant to celebrate the end of the arduous fasting period. But, the most important of all, it is meant for us to forgive and be forgiven by our fellow human beings. A wonderful climax for such sublime spiritual feeling. Then, growing up happens.

The older I get, the less I experience such feeling. Criticalness and cynicism are slowly killing it. I’ve become doubtful of the faithfulness of any positive emotions that pop culture wants us to feel. They are like sugary shells: they can be left out hollow or filled with snake venom. Then, I dragged that attitude up even further to other aspects of life, including religions.

Let me start with fasting. For believers, fasting is meant to show what hunger and thirst feel like, it is an act of self-restraint, a test of our will power. Supposedly, an ability in getting through the process is a sign of spiritual achievement. For many years, I was imbecile enough to believe that. What happens at fast breaks is anything but spiritual.

A fast break is what it really sounds like: the time to break from fasting. A few glasses of drinks and a tiny assortment of snacks, accompanied by our gratefulness for the simplest sustenance we can get. Main meal to be eaten later on. At least, that’s my ideal fast break. Most other people are of no integrity.

For them, it’s all about self-indulgence. Greasy snacks and diabetically-sweet drinks. In total, the ‘snacks’ equal to two highly-calorific and innutritious meals; oh and there’s still a main meal afterwards. There’s no gratitude, only perverse sense of duty to partake in gluttony. Fasting is just a mere chore. Oh and the gluttony doesn’t stop there.

Most religious holidays I know always involve feasts. They are meant to encourage gatherings with everyone, especially with our loved ones. From my experiences, foods can bring people together, even the ones that don’t always meet eye to eye. But, it is naive to expect that during Eid.

Once again, we feel obligated to engage in lecherous food orgies. Most of us only visit houses that provide buffets. Whether we are close or not to the hosts, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the food they provide. Food and money in green envelopes to buy new clothes. Oh, remember when I said how Idul Fitri is about forgiveness? Yeah, just another lie.

We ask our loved ones for forgiveness, they ask us for the same thing…and then, we proceed to wrong each other literally seconds later. Our lyrical words are nothing but showmanship, hiding a nature so malicious that Satan would be thrown off his balance. Living in a gratifying make-believe is more important living in sincerity. Oh, and speaking about dishonesty…

I am very much guilty of the ‘sins’ I mentioned. I see Ramadhan as a mere chore and gluttony is the only reason why I love Eid. In fact, I’ve been (almost proudly) inconsiderate towards many rituals for quite some time. So, I am not entitled to be (self-) righteous about them here. But, I am entitled to be outraged by how we still put confidence in the claimed spiritual benefits.

Ramadhan fails to encourage self-restraint and appreciation of the most basic sustenance. Idul Fitri fails to nurture genuine familial bonds among us. Enforcing compulsion to rituals is impotent in cultivating their supposed benefits. In fact, as I’ve said before, they’ll become mere chores and additional justifications for hedonism. We cannot achieve spirituality by solely immersing ourselves in the corporeal realms. Sounds reasonable enough? Well, not for the self-proclaimed enlightened ones.

They, the individuals who tyrannically equate rituals with spirituality, see themselves as the enlightened saints who have masterfully unraveled the divine they avow to dearly love when, in truth, they are utterly skin-deep organisms who commit sacrilege by stripping down the highly enigmatic and ethereal transcendence into meagre physicality.

But, for all of that, they’ve got the audacity to denounce us, the rituals loathers, of disgraceful sacrilege that they themselves are unabashedly guilty of. Naturally, what can one expect from ungodly self-admiring mortals of imaginary importance? Clearly, anything but humility and self-consciousness.

Okay, I need to wrap it up before I blow up my rant even more.

No, I am not saying that rituals are inherently worthless; regardless of my frustration with religious holidays, I still love some rituals like the daily Islamic prayers. What I am saying is……different strokes for different folks. No matter how cliched this idiom is, its merit still stands.

Your experiences are personally yours. Never ever force others, not even your fellow believers, to observe your favourite rituals, let alone shaming them for not feeling the same profundity. You are literally one human being among a sea of billions. Unless you suffer from a severe case of self-admiration, you cannot seriously think you are the sole bearer of sacred truth.

Also, is it appropriate to observe rituals for hedonism’s sake? It is a question I am not ready to answer yet. But, I am certain that it is inappropriate to dismiss the existence of hedonistic tendencies among the participants.

The tangibility of rituals is also a vulnerability against hedonism. There is no doubt some observances are deeply contemplative. But, you cannot pretend the ones purely motivated by worldly pleasures do not exist. Acknowledge that simply physical observances won’t enhance our celestial existence. Be honest, for God’s sake.

Oh, and I do not understand the hate for hedonism. Like, why? We live in a material world all the frickin’ time. Even the most pious among us have engaged in it more than once. Eating our favourite foods, having fun with family and friends. They are earthly pleasures. They are hedonistic. Hedonism is inevitable.

Pewdiepie and Trump: literally not the same!

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Not long ago, Felix Kjellberg AKA Pewdiepie was accused of anti-Semitism. Well, to this day, he is still accused of it. Admittedly, he is known for his humour which can be extremely obscene, even for fans like me. But, a racist he is not.

I understand that jokes like his can be unpalatable and can be abused by bigots. But, I am one of those who differentiate vulgarity from bigotry. Of course, mainstream media outlets rebuff that. Their disagreement with this view compel them to perform shameless dishonesty.

Instead of analysing his videos in their entirety, the media extracted some parts and reported them…without giving any contexts! Many in the Youtube community, including fellow content creators and even his detractors, came to defend him and called out the so-called journalists who thought slander was journalistic! Traditional media keep trying to besmirch their digital counterparts; this case wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. The annoyance doesn’t stop there.

Some people who were on Pewds’ side compared him to Donald Trump. They believed both shared the same hardship in their public life. Admittedly, they also have to endure daily dose of dehumanising hatred. But, I still can’t see them equals.

First of all, Trump is not being slandered. The media simply report his words and actions that -in any given contexts- blatantly show rejection of the facts, childishness and inhumanity towards his fellow human beings. Admittedly, lies about him do spread around. But, they are minuscule in number compared to unsavoury yet truthful reports of him. That’s different case with Pewdiepie.

Even before the anti-Semitism accusation, people accused him of other horrendous things, like beating his girlfriend and stealing money from his numerous charity fundraising. The evidence? Well, their deep hatred of his videos. They couldn’t lay out circumstantial evidences, let alone the conclusive ones. But, despite all of the falsehood, his fans keep defending him, knowing how poisonous his haters can be.

About Trump’s fans, I notice a juxtaposition. While some do condemn the accusations as slanders, others hold unsettling stances. A portion of them are apathetic and that’s bad enough; apathy towards immorality, even when alleged, means one greenlights its existence. The others are far worse: his lack of morale exhilarates them.

They don’t see his childishness, sexual abuse of women, fear-mongering, rejection of facts, bullying and prejudice as sins. In fact, they believe a strong and powerful leader must possess those attributes. Level-headness, rationality and human decency are seen as sugary, vomit-inducing abnormalities that inherently weak humans crave for. Trump relishes on pandering.

He knows how much his fans fetishise over such sins. The more he boasts them, the more he empowers his fans. For him, popularity is far more important than the dignity of the masses he is sacrificing. As crass as Pewdiepie can be, he still believes in social responsibility.

In recent years, Pewdiepie lost a group of fans because he has stopped pandering to their immaturity, irrationality and lack of sophistication. As he matures, he realises how unprincipled his old self was for empowering his obnoxious fans. Nowadays, he is known for openly lambasting their behaviours. Having many admirers isn’t worth sacrificing the dignity of one’s self and the masses; thankfully, his self-improvement is accompanied by a counter-intuitively fattening fan base.

Many people still don’t realise that Pewdiepie is a satirical character created by Felix Kjellberg. Long time or observant viewers know how to distinguish them from each other. Entertainers aren’t obliged to confirm whether they are in characters or not. Yet Kjellberg has explicitly stated that Pewdiepie is fictional and doesn’t represent his true self. Predictably, not the case with Trump.

I have heard speculations about how Trump the politician is also a character. If that is true (if!), it’s problematic. He keeps convincing everyone, especially his fans, that the persona is a real person. He deliberately and dangerously block out the line between the real and the unreal. But then, what can one expect from a politician? A shred of decency?

Also, ‘normal people’ got consequences for their mistakes. When I said ‘normal people’, I meant people who don’t have extra privileges like fame, fortune or both. Pewdiepie has both and the consequences he got are quite severe.

Apart from the backlashes, he had his Disney contract eliminated, his costly and highly-anticipated web series cancelled and his videos temporarily demonetised. Not to mention mainstream media outlets are constantly thirsty of his blood, keep intentionally distorting his subsequent videos. Despite his fame and fortune, he’s still quite close to be one of the ‘normal ones’, unlike Trump.

From all the horrible things he has said and done, we punish Trump by creating meaningless backlashes…and making him one of the most powerful individuals on earth. If he is an ordinary person, he would have suffer greater consequences than Felix Kjellberg had. Heck, he would’ve suffered more than his detractors like Reza Aslan and Kathy Griffin had. What we’re doing to him are just a weak microscopic slap to the wrist.

He escapes all of the deserving punishments and still manages to act like the most prosecuted person in the world. Kjellberg suffers punishments harsher than he deserves. But, he acknowledges how undesirable he can be; he is a bigger man than Trump will ever be. Even professionally, he is of lower class than Pewdiepie is.

Trump is a so-called master for the dimwits. They believe him when he said a million dollar loan from daddy is small. They think him hiring multiple bankruptcies and conning people show money-savvy he is. Don’t start with his lack of political experience. Bring that up and they will call you petty for having a decent standard; don’t you know that making political tweets counts? But, there is one expertise he masters: showmanship.

Love or hate him, he is a fantastic reality show star. I even religiously watched The Apprentice at one point. If they want to brag a talent of his, why wouldn’t they bring up this fact? Oh, right. That would make him a politically-illiterate obnoxious celebrity. You know, what they have been accusing anti-Trump celebrities of. They would hate to see their orange calf as someone who doesn’t know his place. You know who does? Felix Kjellberg

You may abhor his aesthetics which, as I’ve said before, can be too jarring even for his fans. But, the man behind the character is skilled. The excessively unpalatable editing is actually time consuming. Some of his shorter videos (less than ten minutes long) are produced out of seamlessly-edited hours-long footage. Don’t forget his photo-shopping skills. Yes, every Youtuber needs it to create thumbnails. But, few expand theirs even further.

In some videos, he has fun with photoshopping; occasionally, his fans request him to photoshop their own photos. The results are usually either hilarious or freaky enough for you to scream ‘KILL IT WITH FIRE!’. When you look at them, you will think they are just results of high technical mastery of computer softwares. No aesthetic profoundness whatsoever. But, before his Youtube career took off, he already made lots of photoshopping works and boy, they are beautiful.

Just look at them. You would think they were created by an actual artist. Of course, you wouldn’t have guessed that artist is the same man who play video games, screams like a little bitch and make Nazi jokes for a living. With that fact, it’s surprising how his videos’ visuals lack any pleasing aesthetics. But, his artistry brings depth to another aspect of his Youtube works: his commentaries.

Every time he seriously remarks on a pop culture phenomenon or reviews a video game, his words always contain valuable insight that provoke level-headed and intelligent individuals to ponder about. He does those while still making self-deprecating jokes. The result? An unpretentious and down-to-earth intelligent Youtuber…who also knows his place.

As a content creator who craves variety, he has made commentaries with a wide range of subject matters. But, if you look closely, almost all of them are concerning pop culture and the media, digital one included. Unlike Trump, Kjellberg is aware what he is knowledgeable and ignorant about and he builds an indestructible (and actually beneficial) giant wall between them.

Even at many paragraphs ago, it was already obvious how different both men are. But, I will end this article by briefly talk about a slightly tangential and borderline ad hominem distinction: their true selves.

As celebrities, both have met many people in-person and each of them receives two contrasting receptions. One has people judging his appalling treatment of his fellow human beings since ever. Another has been complimented by others for his surprising good-natured bearing, juxtaposing his infamous public persona. Guess which one is which?

Yup.

Sorry, I forgot to include this.

I have seen Youtube comments that assert non-existing parallels between Pewdiepie and Trump. Each comment received dozens of likes. As irritating as it is, I sound like I am exaggerating its presence, making it sounds more widespread than it really is.

Yes, there are possibly hundreds or thousands of individuals who believe in such comparison. But, such belief is still a fringe. From my (admittedly limited) observation, the believers have yet to reigned over any comment sections of Facebook posts and Youtube videos that are tackling the Pewdiepie scandal. The reason why I accidentally inflated is how much I am personally annoyed by those people’s lack of wits. It’s simple as that.

I promise this article really ends here.

Or does it?

Those bad apples….

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It seems everyone has an opinion about the Muslim world. Many believe that most Muslims are extremists. Some of them usually refer to stats based on a small sample of Muslims and snub other stats who show contradicting results. Either that or they use the fantabulously infallible evidences: the anecdotes; even evidences unearthed by thoroughly-executed scientific researches are nothing compared to personal experiences of individuals with filthy lenses.

Then, there’s another kind of bigots. They believe extremists are a tiny minority…which the peaceful majority are responsible for. They believe the entire Muslim world is a literal formal organisation, with subservient and well-connected members, complete with clear-cut ranks and lawful centralised authorities. What a wonderful smoking gun; now they have grounds to blame all Muslims. Conspiracies, always too good to be true, don’t they?

They refuse to admit that Muslims are, in fact, an actual religious group, consisting of distinct individual human beings that mostly aren’t affiliated with each other. We have an assortment of Islamic denominations, sub-denominations and movements which many of us refuse to join in.

We don’t acknowledge the same authorities. They can be celebrity clerics, organisations, ministers of religious affairs or even some obscure preachers who settle in some obscure mosques in obscure neighbourhoods or villages. Heck, many of us don’t even acknowledge any religious authorities at all; we are content with our private spirituality. Should I mention there are over a billion of us on earth? That would be a management catastrophe, wouldn’t it?

Those extremists are indeed venomous bad apples and ought to be taken care off. But, if you want to throw tantrums to Muslims, make sure they are actually guilty. Berate Muslims who are aware of extremism and yet do nothing about it. Berate Muslims who consciously empower its growth. There are lots of them to choose from.

But, it’s glaringly idiotic to think you can berate any random Muslims. Guilt by association is a real fallacy. If you don’t know how stupid that is, just imagine a person who blame every ingredient in the kitchen, including the sugar, for salting his food. For me, it’s less about stupidity and more about prejudice. But, that’s a topic for another time.

At this point, you probably think this article is all about Muslims. Well, to an extend, it is. But, my main concern here is more about the so-called collective guilt. For next example, I will discuss about the police. American police forces to be exact.

American right wingers are notorious for being liable of such fallacy. I do admit they are not the only culprits; even western leftists can succumb to idiocy (or prejudice). The reason why the Right infuriates me in this matter is their hypocrisy.

In the US in recent years, there is an increase in public awareness about police corruptness and brutality. Outrage is loudly expressed. Demands for accountability also increases. People don’t want legal immunity for anyone with uniforms. Then, the Right chime in to defend.

They dismiss the concern as nothing but paranoia, the dignified outrage as nothing but tantrum. They believe there’s nothing wrong with the police forces; cases of corrupt and violent officers are isolated incidents. Just a few bad apples, they say…

No, they are not just a few bad apples. Police forces are actual formal organisations with obedient members, clear-cut ranks and centralised authorities; you know, attributes that the Right unfoundedly think the entire Muslim world has. With such characteristic in place, it’s very definite that a few cases of immorality can be blamed on the entire collectives.

For every few sinful officers, there are approving colleagues, indulgent or sinful superiors, slacking internal affairs officers, inept trainers and recruiters, or a combination of any of them. They all have the legal power and duty to thwart the diseases’ growth. But then, how can function when they’re already infected? They would rather quarantine the healthy ones instead.

I know some of you (if people read my works at all) will start accusing Muslims of silence. Usually, I’d tell you lot to google first before vomiting oral excrement. But, in the end, when you do admit our lack of silence, you will always say we aren’t doing enough. How can our efforts pay off when we’re not supported?

In predominantly-Muslim countries, the authorities love to dismiss the concern of pluralist Muslims while being too lenient towards the extremist ones. Worse, they may even prosecute those pluralist Muslims instead. In the case of Central Asia, the authorities implement anti-extremism legislation so discriminatory, it would potentially affect the innocents. In the west, it is not any better.

Western Muslims are frequently ordered to report extremist individuals. When they do (and many of them will without being ordered to), their words of concern are dismissed as something of no importance. Therefore, the empowerment of extremists is also the fault of non-Muslim westerners.

I explicitly stated that Guilty by Association is a fallacy. Well, that applies to every group on earth, including the police. Unlike the entire Muslim world, it’s logically sound to condemn entire police forces. But, like individual Muslims, it’s logically unsound to berate any random police officers you encounter; their innocence and guilt cannot be assumed.

An individual is literally one person who has his/her own thoughts and feelings. A collective consists of different and contrasting individuals; in some cases, one or a few individuals may completely reign over the other members, influencing the group mentality. Individuals are not collectives and collectives are not individuals.

Frankly, I’m not surprised the American Right embrace this double standard. I mean, they are conservatives. Fearing and demonising the ‘others’ is literally one of their hobbies. They also have a fetish for people in uniforms; they commit a fallacy called Honour by Association, which is also a good topic for another time.

Yes, I just stereotyped other American conservatives. Well, fair is fair. If Muslims can be stereotyped, why can’t we stereotyped them?

Oh and before I end this article, I have to defend Roman Catholics as well.

When anti-Muslim bigots think the Muslim world is a strict formal organisation, anti-religious bigots have the same in mind about every religious group! They literally believe that every single one has deacons, bishops, priests with worshippers on the lowest rank. They seriously base their judgment on skewed understanding of Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.

First of all, Roman Catholics are literally ONE religious group; them alone cannot be used to understand the entire global religious scenes.

Second, ordinary worshippers are indeed members of the church. But, they are not included in the church’s official strata.

Third, even if you include the priests, bishops and deacons to the entire Roman Catholics collective, it would still be an informal group of people. Contrary to popular belief, religious people -including Roman Catholics- can be rebellious. There are ordinary Roman Catholics who openly detest the church’s views; even high-ranking church officials can be deemed heretical by fellow believers. From my personal lens as a Muslim, some contemporary Roman Catholics seem to have mutual and very lax relationships with their priests; I wish Muslims share the same thing with our clerics.

Oh and anti-religious sentiment is also a good topic for another time.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: distasteful, menacing and poignant (a late film review)

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A note for those who haven’t watched and want to: I am not going to spoil the plot. But, I am going to describe the film’s general atmospheres which may or may not be detailed. If that’s enough of a spoiler for you, please click away.

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I was conflicted about watching GOTG 2 because, you know, it’s a sequel. Disappointment was what I expected and disappointment was what I got.

First of all, the off-colour humour. Personally, I CAN enjoy it. I’ve even have told far more obscene (and frankly abusive) jokes to my friends. They are also a very useful outlet to vent my anger and frustration. But, unlike the screenwriter (or the producer who probably pressured him), I know the time and place to express them.

The first volume was as comedic as this one. But, the difference is its humour was very clean; violence is the most blatantly adult aspect of the film. Not to mention that Guardians of the Galaxy is marketed solely as action, adventure and sci-fi franchise, NOT risque comedies. As a result, the lewdness is a very unpleasant, in-your-face surprise. The disappointment doesn’t stop there.

Sentimentality. I love it when entertainment works include emotions that humanise the characters. But, I hate it when their portrayals are too skin-deep and sugary, pandering to shallow individuals who can’t see pass the pretence. For me, this practice encourage insincerity and actually invalidates genuine human emotions. Depth and intricacy are needed to add realism and soundness to the emotions. But, despite the distastefulness, it’s not all disappointment with this film.

Apart from the crude ones, there are also cleaner and more refined jokes we encountered in the previous one. Their wholesome nature gives them a much more universal appeal and relatively uncontroversial in any genres of films. The inclusion of the lewd one, however, is both unnecessary and detrimental, both in aesthetic and practical sense. Without the franchise’s trademark humour, I would hate this installment a lot more. But, admittedly, it can also be more superior in other aspects.

Menace. In pop culture, this film included, it usually starts with the introduction of something too good to be true. If something seems that way, it must be perceived as a red flag. There are also a few hints of the alleged ominousness, noticeable to both the audience and the characters. We know something’s off and yet, we don’t know what that is. In the story’s culmination, the truth is revealed…and boy, menacing it is.

The revelation is deeply unnerving for me. Admittedly, not everyone shares my idea of threat to the psyche; what disturbs me in the arts and entertainment may be nothing for you. But, whether you agree with me or not, it is undeniably an unforeseen dimension that conveys darkly ethereal spirit. This element makes a pop film like this more appealing to me.

An infatuation with the sinister force seems odd or even grotesque. But, personally, I find the attraction justifiable. In the arts and entertainment, its is meant to remind us of its existence in our life. When it comes to the notoriously-vivid arthouse films, the audience is ‘forced’ to experience the vile ‘face to face’. Savour the foul taste, no sugar allowed. A bit different case with pop films.

In many cases, they are nothing but sugar overloads. Every inch of the film reel is caramelised by corporate demands. But, once in a while, hints of pungency sip through the sweetness. Overall, the taste is still sweet. But, the subtle foulness cannot be ignored entirely. In the end, you have to admit there are other layers to the taste.

Depth, created by the stack of layers. Without any ‘undesirable’ ones, pop films would be only surface-deep. There’s nothing to offer other than what can be seen with the naked eyes. The pungency gives us a reason to explore beyond what they can see. In light-hearted comedies, it can be a surprise.

The abundance of humour prevent us from expecting the polar opposite. So, its presence (when noticed) juxtaposes with the merry atmosphere we have immersed ourselves into. It is a deep, hidden well of nasty-flavoured yet drinkable fluid, surrounded by vast sugary fields. If you haven’t discovered it, you really don’t know anything about your surrounding environment. In some films, including GOTG 2, the well is not that hard to find.

In this film, the sinister force is visually expressed, making it physically visible to the audience. Admittedly, the imagery is really not that scary. But, for me, it is more than enough to represent darkness. Just looking at it, we know that we are dealing with a malicious being. Not only the well is present, its content overflow to the surface, forcing everyone to face it. The film’s depth does not stop at the ‘taste’. It also extends to the human psyche.

Yes, I did complain about the gooey sentimentality. But, actual psychological depth is still abundant here and it comes in several forms. The soundtrack, for example. Like the previous installment, this one features pop oldies.

I do prefer them over the newer ones. But, having them as soundtracks in contemporary films activates my warm inner self. It makes me nostalgic of the colourful past that I didn’t experience myself; I haven’t figured out how and why this oddity comes into being. Anyway, this is not all about me.

The featured songs also happen to be the main character’s personal favourites. Along with his walkman, they are the only entities that emotionally link him with his childhood on earth. There’s more to this infamously rebellious man-child. But, his past is neither surprising nor mysterious. Overall, not a complex individual. The other characters, however, are relatively so when compared to him.

Crude, lawless, evil. You may think those traits are innate to the characters, that they absolutely define them. When you think you know them well, they unfold previously-unknown facets of themselves; we become surprised and start seeing them in different (albeit slightly) lights. In the end, we find it hard to synopsise them as individuals, knowing how deceptive their facades are. Again, not that different from the previous installment. But, again, there is one aspect of both films in which the successor aces out its predecessors: death.

The first film has a somewhat mature treatment of death. But, being a pop film it is, the portrayal is almost completely trivial. In the second film, the trivialisation also occur…to some minor characters. When it comes to the other ones, their death is glaringly horrifying and inhumane; they are murdered simply because their murderers think, ‘why not?’. In that short yet graphic moment, the film had its joy wiped out.

Those murdered characters aren’t really characters. Their names aren’t mentioned and they’ve got nothing to offer for the plot’s development. We are not emotionally attached to them. But, they are human enough to make ourselves affected by their death. If the attachment is there, we would be made teary-eyed…and that happens when one of the important characters die.

It’s incredible how a film with bouts of mawkishness can also possess emotional profundity. That one character’s death is not laced with sappy dialogues and background music. In fact, the subsequent funeral scene is not that reliant on dialogues. The atmosphere is expressed more through the characters’ body languages, camera angles and, unsurprisingly, an oldie pop song as the background music.

Neither the melody nor the lyrics manifest any embodiment of heartache. But, the latter wonderfully allude to the bonding between one of the main characters and the departed one. The song exudes familial warmth. For some, its inclusion can seem odd for this particular moment. But, I think this works really well.

A simple yet deep song about family, unassuming bodily languages, not a single flowery word being uttered. This moment conveys heartfelt grief…along with tinges of nostalgic joy and hope for the incoming future. There is no self-conceited emotionality, there is only wholesome and warm tenderness.

Tenderness. The film’s best feature and one reason why it still manages to win me over.

Believers as queer allies

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Believers can be ones. Yes, you read that right. In fact, you need them. As homophobia is often religious, it makes perfect sense.

Non-believers may understand the soul of religious communities. But, believers can reach out to it. They can transform it to a kinder one and hence, kinder believers. Self-accepting LGBT believers in particular can aid closeted fellow believers and encourage religious homophobes to humanise their fellow human beings.

Of course, you may think religiosity is inherently homophobic and I’m just an apologist. Of course, everyone has their own thoughts. But, I want you to admit three things:

First, you’re already lost. You fight for LGBT rights against religious bigots. Then, you find believers who share your cause! They can help encouraging change in the bigots’ hearts. But, you blow it by refusing their alliance. You cripple your own activism.

Second, you support the bigots. You’re theologically in tune with them. In fact, you also support the notion that they are the truest of all believers. The strengthening of their existence isn’t the fault of progressive believers. It’s yours.

Third, you were never a right activist in the first place. You only care about non-religious queers. More anti-religious, the better. No matter how much they are hated by the religious communities, they will always have strong supports. Lucky them.

The religious ones? After the hatred from their fellow believers, a support would be more than morally delightful. Theological agreement optional. But, being heartless you are, you regurgitate almost equally inhumane animosity to their faces. Upgrading their misery and isolation with such innate virtuosity. You must be so proud.

My advise? Stop calling yourself an LGBT right activist. Instead, call yourself a loving person for some …and a heartless enemy for the rest. Unleash your true gangrene self. Don’t be shy! Honesty and self-acceptance, they are good for your soul.

Well, I’m not sure if they are. It takes a lot more to heal yours, if you actually have one. But, at least, you’re no longer a fraudulent angel. You won’t double-cross anyone with that deceitfully sweet mask of yours.

Life under the crescent-bearing Garuda

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*puts on my personal lenses*

I was born and raised in Indonesia, a predominantly-Muslim country which also has the biggest Muslim population on earth. It has been hailed as a progressive Muslim. I beg the differ. First, the government only acknowledges six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Native religions? Sikhism? Judaism? Our government is not secular -and kind- enough to recognise them. Too bad. Oh and Islam is the golden child.

There are publicly-funded Islamic universities; you won’t find non-Islamic religious ones funded by taxpayers. Formal events have brief Islamic prayers. Broadcasters air Islamic calls for prayer. Mosques can get away with their loudspeaker abuses. TV stations re-schedule their shows every Ramadhan. There are quite a few Islamic political parties. All presidents have always been Muslims. The ministry of religious affairs has always been dominated by Muslims. Of course, favouriting Islam makes us vulnerable to hardcore Islamic conservatism.

More Indonesians think women should wear hijab. Islamism is getting popular. Increasing religious bigotry and homophobia. Increasing anti-Semitism. Islamic moral police grow like fungi in wet seasons. Some universities are accused of letting extremists brainwashing students. More Indonesians think Islamic identity is inherently Arabic. Aceh has provincial Sharia. There are ISIS supporters. So much for being a progressive Muslim country, eh? Progressive haven it is not. So, it is right to call it an extremist one, right? Right? No, it is not.

Indonesia is admittedly heading the path towards extremism. But, it has yet to reach the destination. With female modesty, for example. Some workplaces ban hijab. Few female TV personalities wear hijab. Hijab is not enforced in some Islamic schools. Hijab is still seen as a backwarded cultural practice, not a religious one. Some hijabis are trend-followers, not devout believers. Okay, then. Hijab is not widely-accepted. How about atrocities against religious and sexual minorities?

Religious discrimination and homophobia are indeed rising. The former can be really violent at times. But, at the same time, the situation is not as horrific as claimed. We still have religious pluralism. Mind you that we still recognise other religions. Some regions are still predominantly-Christian and Bali is still predominantly-Hindu. In predominantly-Muslim ones, there are many non-Islamic places of worship and educational institutes; some Muslim parents send their kids to Christian schools. Non-Muslims have held high-ranking government positions. Indeed, all of our presidents have been Muslims. But then, all of them are also of Javanese descents; Javanisation is also an issue here. Our homophobia and anti-Semitism were born out of cultural conservatism; only now Islamic radicalism is a major factor. We were already homophobic and racist even when we were much more secular.

Secular. Yes, Indonesians can be secular, even some of the most devouted ones. From 2000 to 2004, I attended two Islamic schools. Despite the compulsory prayers and all-Muslim student body, the atmosphere was very secular; students openly enjoyed hedonistic entertainment and not all girls wore hijab. Our entertainment in general is very secular. Islamic one exists as a niche market. Islamic political parties flopped at the previous national election. Every time a netizen demands state Sharia, others would remind him/her (sometimes brutally) that Indonesia is a multi-religious country and has always been. The moral police here is like Westboro Baptist Church: widely-known and widely-hated. We still appreciate our Hindu and Buddhist heritages, like Garuda, our national symbol. Out of 34 provinces, only Aceh is Sharia-plagued. No, Aceh does not represent the entire country. Okay, I need to stop.

I admit that Indonesia is a wrecked ship that needs massive renovation inside out. Government’s permissiveness of radical Islam, centuries-old racism and homophobia, corruption, horrendous education, endangered heritages, fragile economy, anti-intellectualism, I can go on all day! But, likening Indonesia to Saudi Arabia is just delusional. You cannot cherry pick information that pleasure your prejudice g-spot and pretend you are in touch in reality.

I admit that we don’t know everything about our own countries. But, that doesn’t mean foreigners can make shits up. A foreigner who has never been to Indonesia claimed he knew everything about it; when I said “everything”, I meant only the bad ones. Where did he get his info? His cherry-picking of carefully-selected news articles and his Indonesian friends of dubious existence. He swallowed their words easily like an obedient child. I refuted his friends’ claims and he accused me of blindness. But, I should not be angered by him and his likes. Their intellectual dishonesty drastically lower their position in the rank of creatures and their brains usage.

Update: this article was written last year, long before Ahok’s blasphemy case started. Now that he is wrongfully convicted, Indonesia is heading even closer to religious darkness. But still, Indonesia is still far from being Saudi Arabia. Pakistan, maybe. But, not Saudi Arabia. Again, the Muslim world is diverse.

Another update: Recently, there was a news about the opening of the first Catholic state university in Indonesia. The first Catholic state university, NOT the first non-Islamic religious one. A quick google search showed me that there are a handful of Protestant, Buddhist and Hindu higher education institutes in the country. Even though the ministry of religious affairs is still annoying dominated by Muslims, it seems I really underestimated the religious section of Indonesian government.

 

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The night (and human stories)

free-city-night-vector
City night

I used to hate the night. Every time it came, we had to retreat inside. Grown-ups said it was for our protection.

They claimed the night releases the worst creatures, supernatural and not, to roam the streets. You know, the kind of creatures that abduct children…because reasons. Once abducted, the chances were you would disappear forever. Children, always one of the easiest targets.

Well, the adults’ words were not completely alarmist. People do get terribly harmed at night. But, the real stories I’ve heard mostly involve adult victims. Even then, many more took place during daytime.

Don’t let the sunshine fools you. It conceals the underlying menace that also prosper under the sun. The daytime is as dangerous as the nighttime. Actually, no. It’s a lot more dangerous.

It’s the time where we let ourselves unguarded. Bright colours, upbeat sounds and vibrant human activities. With those around us, what could have gone wrong? Well, everything that parents fear will happen to their children.

Almost every real-life horror story (at least, the ones I’ve personally heard), including the ones that involve young children, happened under the sun’s cheerful watch. That’s why sunlight is the only reason why I love daytime. Very trivial, unlike the reason why I love the night.

(That’s a warning for my incoming pretentiousness, btw. Maybe I should make more such warnings in the future).

One night, me and my family were heading back home late at night. The streets of Jakarta were uncharacteristically calm. Usually, such physicality would evoke either of these feelings from me: boredom and fear.

The boredom ensued when I was inside any vehicles. I looked through the windows and thought how boring it was to be a creature of the night. Unless you live in a sleepless city, lifelessness would be your only friend. But, exit the metal cocoons and everything changed.

Fear emerged and gained control. I felt I was in constant peril. I could get ambushed by anyone or anything. The shadows of urban edifices were their perfect hiding spots. Tried to be more alert…and ended up paranoid instead. But, on that night, I had a brand new sentiment: curiosity.

The calmness unveiled fragments of urban life that I previously failed to notice, thanks to all of those rush hours’ havoc. Yes, I just blamed my mental oblivion on my surrounding. That’s cute. If I tried a wee bit more, I would have made this discovery much earlier. So, what did I discover?

The ‘lifeless’ night is very much alive. Unlike the day, it is a lot more discreet in its self-expression. Want the urban goodies? Don’t expect them to hand over themselves to you. Put on some more efforts. Explorers, you have to be. You can start by open your literal eyes wider.

From inside the car, I could occasionally see other vehicles. I even saw pedestrians walking either alone or in small groups. Even at its sleepiest, cities still have people roaming around. As I’m typing this, I realised something.

Even if I was the only living creature around, asserting the supposed lifelessness is a distortion of reality. My mere presence is a sign of life! I forgot that I was a living creature all this time. Me as the only one is not lifelessness. It’s so obvious, it hurts.

On that night of realisation, me and my family were coming back from a concert. We were deeply allured because it was a live performance. Our minds were more aesthetically charged. What we felt was so abstract and impossible to describe simplistically. We were metaphysically vibrant and had grand things to offer.

Assume the same thing from every night commuter/traveler. Besides concerts and the likes, they all have reasons to be out that late. They may be night shifts workers. Not all of us know how it feels to be one and they can share their experiences.

Those people may have things bugging their minds. Late night strolling present them the time, space and atmosphere to obtain the mental remedies. Obviously, we should respect their privacy. But, they have rich personal lives of their own. This is just the humans on the street.

One can still find eateries serving hungry customers at this hour. I don’t know about you. But, they are invisible to me during rush hours, drowned among the sea of moving metals, over-stressed anthropoids and an assortment of health hazards.

In Indonesia, those eateries tend to be greasy spoons, serving some of my favourite foods. It’s preposterous how I failed to locate good foods from miles away. They are not hidden, anyway. But, some things, to some extent are always so.

We presume the vibrant night life only occur recreational venues. Admittedly, some do have restricted access. But, their presence are still very public and their night life are still within our grasps. Some public places aren’t so during the night.

They are always closed after dark. But, we often forget about the employees who work overtime for various reasons. Reasons like the need for extra cash, more time to improve their works, deep love for their occupations…or compensating their lonesome personal lives and needing an excuse to avoid their homes, more godforsaken than abandoned cemeteries.

Anyway…

Overtime working process isn’t public. But, most of us can relate. We have experienced working beyond the regular hours. Even students with barren résumés can relate to an extend. If that and nocturnal recreational venues are partially reachable, there is one area where access is even more restricted: private homes.

One boring, ultra-conformist person alone can tell many unique stories, let alone a house with a myriad of differing occupants. After work and study, they passed on much of the storytelling energy to their homes, where they have a tiny, invitation-only audience.

A sprinkling of those exclusive tales can be retold to acquaintances or even strangers. But, one essential requirement is ought to be fulfilled: their retelling should not violate the personal lives of any living characters involved. Whether the deceased ones must be ‘respected’ or the stories must have social merit, I’m still wrangling about.

Most of them fail to fulfill the principal requirement. Therefore, they should always be perpetually buried. Unless you’re among the pivotal characters, you do not deserve the uncut and raw unveiling. Those stories are as intimate as private sex tapes. Yes, I dare to make that analogy.

In the end, we should acknowledge the constant spiritedness of our surrounding. Easier said than done. It’s very easy for us to enter the ‘boredom’ realm. But, if we just try to get to know our fellow beings on a deeper level, we would have a better understanding of the world. I love to point out the obvious.

(Yes, yes. I did mention about respecting privacy. What I am trying to say is we should have a disciplined sense of curiosity. Slack a bit and it’ll become nosiness. With the self-discipline, you can satisfy your curiosity honourably. No excuse to be a papparazzo. Again, I love pointing out the obvious.)

Also, we should enhance our regard for the night-time. Not only it provides us daily interludes, it removes almost every single distraction from the daytime. It presents us the chance to unearth anything we usually take for granted. It also compels us to grasp the idea that serenity is not lifelessness.

God, I almost forgot. Surely, not everyone is a social butterfly. I know because I am not one. How do people like me get interesting human stories? Well, we interact with lifeless objects.

They do not think or feel. But, at some moments in their life, they have interactions with humans. What the humans do to or with the objects make interesting stories. They can be inspiring, revolting or unemotional, just like the ones we got from the actual humans themselves. One can still achieve human connections from solitude. Human understanding is not and should not exclusive to extroverts.