An artsy and inspiring dullness: my take on an event that I forgot existed

I am talking about the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Para Games. If you think I was being cold-hearted for temporarily forgetting about its existence, what do you think of the people who did know or remember about it and yet still think it is a waste of time and space?

Anyway, first thing first…

It was bloody boring! Starting from the parade of nations, which began not long after the countdown, the pacing entered a lethargic snail mode. Of course, one could easily blame it on the wheelchair-using athletes who inevitably made the marches slower. But, look closer and you would see they were not at fault here (and blaming them straight away is a bit ableist, isn’t it? You prick…)

The atmosphere of the parade of nations was… well… non-existent. The lighting was lackluster. The background music consisted mostly of foreign-language pops which, while I appreciate for their internationalism, contributed nothing but being background noises. The set for that particular segment was sparsely designed. The spectatorship itself suffered from low attendance which resulting in muted cheers. After the parade ended, the snail mode lingered till the end.

The transitions between segments were not smooth at all. Sometimes, they consisted of silent moments that lasted more than five seconds! I was already turned bored by the parades and the poor continuations surely increased the boredom!

Even how the segments were executed also felt sluggish. The one where the Indonesian president was entrusted to be an archer ended feel anti-climatic; the unhurried emotional build-up quickly turned into stalling. Waiting for the leader to prepare himself was unbearable. I am not sure if it was the lack of rehearsal or, again, the lack of immersive atmosphere.

I usually don’t mind the heavy use of pre-recorded footage just like what they did in the 2012 London Olympics, as long as they perfectly compliment the live presentation. But here, it felt like it was produced to compensate the lifelessness of the live presentation. As a result, its presence became a sign of laziness and I became annoyed as well.

The ceremony’s conclusion was also not satisfactory. I do love the concept of gathering all of the previous performers for one last act to sing a song together. But, after the song ended, why did they just stand there like confused ducks? Why did they have to wait for the Indonesian president to (slowly) exit the venue?

Okay, I have to admit it something: I did not watch it to the actual last seconds of the broadcast which means I don’t know how the ceremony actually ended; I had to stop watching due to the second-hand embarrassment. But, even after a brief viewing, one could tell the organisers did not think things through.

Actually, the entire event clearly showed unpreparedness on their behalf! It was either they were not given enough time to design and rehearse the performances and not given enough funding or they didn’t take their duty seriously because it was just an event for disabled people. Personally, I believe it is the former and I will get into that later. While the flaws were a bit too overwhelming, the strengths were also too exceptional to ignore.

Literally the first thing I noticed about the show was its artistry. I dare to say that, excluding the parade of nations, every segment was quite artistic. The show preferred to utilised restrained yet thematically-appropriate colour palettes for each segment instead of the rainbow-like yet unrefined and uninspiring ones. Even though I don’t find the background music that impressive, it still complimented the visual presentation, bringing a pleasing aesthetic into being. It is a contrast to the more entertaining yet tackier opening ceremony of the Asian Games.

Obviously, it is all about the creative directors. The Asian Games committee assigned Wishnutama, a corporate media executive, as the creative director. His specialty is producing entertainment for entertainment’s sake, artistry was not a concern of his. Unsurprisingly, the end result was a presentation which only strength was adoration from the masses.

The Asian Para Games committee, on the other hand, assigned Jay Subiyakto. Apart from having a degree in architecture, he also has experiences designing stages and directing music videos for pop musicians (he created the first Indonesian music video accepted by MTV Asia), organising photography exhibitions, creating concepts for commercials and being the artistic directors of three theatrical productions. While he seems to prioritise beauty over amusement, he is still concerned about the latter. The end result is an artistic yet relatively accessible presentation.

Earlier on, I blamed the show’s unbearable pacing on the inadequate rehearsals and/or funding, not on the organisers not taking their duty seriously. I am inclined to believe that because the ceremony’s message has actual thematic depth, not whitewashed sentimentality of the Asian Games one. Let me start with the officials.

I never thought the lot of them would be genuinely charming. But, that’s the case with the ones who appeared the ceremony. For one, they were not hesitant to sway their hips to the upbeat music when the Indonesian delegates entered the stadium. They refused to be stuck-up. And I haven’t talked about their speeches yet.

Raja Sapta Oktohari, the organising committee chairman, and Majid Rashed, the Asian Paralympic Committee president, made genuinely uplifting speeches. While there was pandering, it was more inhibited compared to the one at Asian Games ceremony (I still cannot forgive Erick Thohir for his whitewashing of Indonesia’s social issues). But, between the two figures, I have to give Rashed a bigger praise.

His speech pointed out one ugly fact: Asia is still far from perfect when it comes to empowerment of disabled people. The splash of reality is something that we must commend. But, I never expected that to make the entirety feels heartwarming. Maybe, just maybe, the combination of positivity and harsh realism culminates in a sense of hope; contrary to popular belief, absolute positivity would give the complete opposite effect, for the less gullible people at least. And Rashed’s speech was not even the best part of the show.

At one segment, they erected giant 3D letters that formed the word ‘DISABILITY’. My initial reaction was ‘WTF?’; that seemed like giving a giant middle finger to every disabled person by reminding them of their unwanted physical limitation. But, the subsequent so-called ‘archery’ by the president showed how I was angered too soon.

When he went down from his VIP seat, he was greeted by a wheelchair-using girl who bestowed him a wooden box which, when opened, uncovered illuminated 3D letters that formed the word ‘ABILITY’, omitting the ‘DIS’ altogether.

The thematic depth climaxed after the president (supposedly) shot his arrow to the giant screen. Immediately, the giant ‘DIS’ letters crumbled while the ‘ABILITY’ ones stood strong and turned illuminated as well, reiterating the wooden box’s message, accentuating it as the spirit of the event.

I don’t know about how disabled people feel about this. But, as a person whose so-called ‘disabilities’ only extend to two speech impediments (stuttering and cluttering), I find that sincerely inspirational! It reminds us how not letting our minds to be utterly controlled by our bodily imperfection would give us accomplishment comparable to or even higher than other people’s.

Of course, some of you may perceive it as an example of idealism triumphing over realism… and I have to disagree. For me, believing that disabled people cannot be as masterly as their so-called more physically ‘abled’ counterparts is not grounded in reality.

For one, when a person has a ‘disability’, it does not afflict his/her entire corporeal being! He/she still have other functioning body parts! A defect does make life harder. But, to say that it is enough to make a person entirely incapable is surely an exaggeration on your part, isn’t it?
Either that or, despite your lack of physical handicap, you still feel insecure about yourself and, just like many insecure individuals out there, you lash out at the socially more marginalised groups like the ‘disabled’ people by propagandising ableist make-believe.

I know, I know. It sounds like I am arguing with non-existent people. But, judging by the comments I have read online and the fact that most places in the world are still not catered to disabled people, you can’t argue that ableism is not a thing. This is why I have to salute the organisers for their seemingly sincere concern of humans who are different from them. At least, such empathy can still exist in Indonesia.

I use the word ‘seemingly’ because I am making an assumption here. Realistically, I don’t know if the organisers had their hearts in the right place. But, they sure have won my heart.

Also, I may change my mind about the message. I may end up finding it flatulent or sentimental. Of course, this possibility does not change the fact it is still better than the one of Asian Games opening ceremony… with its shameless whitewashing of reality.

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Confidence and arrogance, what are the differences?

*puts on a mask*

To define the two, let me tell my life stories:

As obligated by law, Indonesian students had to pass the government-issued national exams if they want to obtain middle and high school diplomas. Fail just one test and you would enjoy the privilege of graduating a year later. It did not matter if you pass the other government-issued tests or the ones made by your school (which were also compulsory). Fail one and you repeat.

Unsurprisingly, my classmates in middle and high school planned to cheat, encouraged by their teachers and possibly parents. I was academically poor and I was also one of those who chose the honest path. As a result, I was accused of being sanctimonious and arrogant. I successfully passed them without cheating. While the insults stopped, there were no praises for me.

Because of a glitch in the matrix, I was successfully accepted to one of the top universities in the country. To my disappointment, the seniors seemed insecure about their own intelligence. Instead of actually showcasing it, they chose to boast about how smart they were by irrelevantly invoking the high status of their destined alma mater. I complained about it to my family and they said those seniors were being confident, not arrogant. Eventually, I dropped out and the glitch was fixed.

Initially, I was opposed to such mentality because I thought it mistook confidence and arrogance for each other. Then, years later, I experienced something we call ‘growing up’.

I realised I was indeed arrogant for thinking I could pass the tests honestly. My mistake was using logical probability to determine my chance of succeeding. I should had listened to the populist consensus: no students, especially the low-achieving ones, will never able to pass the exams honestly!

I was also wrong to say those seniors were not confident. If one actually thinks about it, them seeing themselves as high and mighty despite the lack of evidences requires confidence! It is no longer a secret that our intelligence is not defined by the universities we attend. Yet, those seniors had their sense of self-worth easily spiked up by their mere attendance! There is something special about people who take pride in a figment of their imagination!

Arrogance is not defined by how unrealistic one’s expectation of oneself is; it is defined by the shared opinion of the collective one is a part of. One’s actual capability will always be irrelevant in the discourse. The collectively-held dogma is and will always be more important the truths!

Me passing the exams was a major faux pas because I successfully shattered the high standing of a collective conviction and therefore violating the delicate collective ego! Humans are social animals. It is literally our destiny to strip ourselves of individuality, it is literally our destiny to embrace the bandwagon fallacy in our everyday lives! I was arrogant to think I could escape such fate.

Arrogance is also defined by one’s acknowledgement of one’s own strengths. Even the most implicit acknowledgement is of poor taste. It strongly insinuates how one sees oneself as higher than the rest of humanity! It is literally a misguided form of elitism!

Confidence is not about saluting one’s existing strengths; it is all about doing so for the ones that never exist! Besides being arrogant, celebration of the tangibles is also redundant; why would anyone make a big deal out of things we have been surrounded by throughout our entire lives?

The celebration of the imaginary, on the other hand, is goddamn impressive! It cannot be fulfilled without the presence of our own delusions and delusions are hard to obtain! Just imagine the efforts we need in order to sincerely believe things that contradict reality! Reach that state and we are literally on a mental level unachievable by most of mankind! So, my desire to destroy my seniors’ self-worth was mean-spirited.

So, please! Don’t mix up arrogance and confidence with each other! You will cause a lot of harm by doing so!

*takes off the mask*

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2018 Asian Games opening ceremony… a big pile of meh and WTF

Yup, among the bedazzled Indonesians, I am of the ones who is not entirely impressed by it. Let’s be real here: it still has glaring problems here and there. Now, where should I start?

Ah yes, the mediocre artistic merit.

The fake mountains that almost subjugated the rest of the stage obviously copied the turfed hills of the London Olympics ceremony.

The Ratoh Jaroe dancing (often mistaken as Saman) obviously copied the Beijing Olympics drummers. The dancers were in a rectangular formation, just like drummers were. They wore colour-changing costumes which allowed them to create coloured patterns without moving places, just like the drummers with their illuminated individual drums, which allowed them to form giant Chinese numerals and perform the countdown.

The anthology of folk songs and traditional dances, while successfully depicted Indonesian diversity, is something that has been done many times before! It has become a go-to method of introducing the country’s cultural richness to the world.

While the cauldron looked nothing like the one in London, the general atmosphere when it was set on fire was similar. The fireworks, the lighting, the song. Even though it may be coincidental, I cannot help thinking this was also a copy.

I am not sure what is wrong with most of the dancing. They felt lackluster. Maybe it was the choreography. Maybe it was the dancers who didn’t spend much time practicing. Either way, the dancing failed to emanate the intended moods.

The event’s original songs are not impressive. Unlike many old-school Indonesian pop songs, they do not have an impact on my soul (pardon my pretentiousness). Heck, even the one composed and written by Guruh Soekarno Putra, one of my most favourite songwriters ever, felt like just another of those mawkishly-written ‘inspirational’ pop songs that will bring nausea to every single Indonesian who are not brainless enough to easily fall for immodest sentimentality.

Because of the ordinariness, the ceremony does not have the thought-provoking disposition of the Athen Olympics nor does it possess the emotional climaxes of the London and Rio ones. It does not have a lasting impact on me.

Okay, okay! I know how unfair it is to compare an opening ceremony of a continental multi-sporting event to ones of global calibre. It would be fair to compare it with the other Asian Games ceremonies. But, I am too lazy to watch them. So, I am resorting to an uneven comparison which is a lot easier. But, I do have more easily vindicated criticisms about the event’s ideological substance, which I find detrimental for our own good.

It openly promoted patriotism through the pretentious voice-over narration, which no one bothered to translate to English, despite its original purpose is to promote cosmopolitanism and the opening ceremony is meant to be an introduction to the host country and making guests feel at home! But, believing in one’s country’s non-existing perfection is more important, it seems.

Speaking about that…

I hate the speeches of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah (or 4As for short), the president of Olympic Council of Asia, and Erick Thohir, the organising committee chairman. Al-Sabah pandered to the Indonesian audience by praising about their so-called suaveness and saying how much he loved them… repeatedly… in Indonesian. It was cringeworthy to hear. But, it was relatively harmless. Thohir’s, on the other hand, was quite dangerous.

He prided himself as a citizen of a country with the largest Muslim population that still manages to retain its interreligious peace. Yes, religiously, Indonesia fares way better than countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bangladesh and Maldives. But, only toads living under coconut shells believe our interreligious life is in pristine condition.

Literally days after the ceremony, a Buddhist woman was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for complaining about loud calls to prayer (which, believe it or not, many Indonesian Muslims also complain about) while Buddhist temple vandalisers were sentenced for three months! We let Aceh implement its own provincial Sharia! We only officially recognise six religions, none of them indigenous! Ahmadi Muslims are treated worst than adherents of indigenous beliefs! Oh, and Ahok is still in jail for non-existing blasphemy!

Peace, my ass! The ceremony’s poor aesthetics may be tolerable. But, his speech really ruins the event’s moral integrity for me.

Of course, I should not be surprised by this. Preceding the traditional cultures anthology was a so-called re-enactment of Indonesia’s early history. Accompanied by that tastelessly nationalistic narration, it showcased how Indonesia is a peaceful and pluralistic nation and has always been since the dawn of time. It is pretty much historical negationism.

Now, going back to how unfair I am for comparing it with ones of bigger calibres. If I can completely ignore the denialism, I would see the show as a big pile of guilty pleasure!

Those cheesy pop songs have appropriately upbeat arrangement and cheerful lyrics. Even the introverted and cynical creature in me was invigorated by their sounds and I actually wished I was there!

As much as I find the anthology a major cliche, I also can’t help myself from loving it! There is something about the parade of my country’s diversity that makes the Indonesian in me warm and fuzzy inside. Besides, it is indeed the easiest way to showcase our cultures; I can’t think of any other effective approaches.

I also love how they booked Joey Alexander! It was a short performance. But, his sublimity as a Jazz pianist bestows the spectacle with a dash of elegance! I believe Jazz can be as exquisite as classical music… or even more so. The Jazzy rendition of Angin Mamiri and Gending Sriwijaya, two folk songs from two culturally distinct provinces, is a refreshing deviation from the usual utilisation of classical-sounding, pop-ish and/or ethnic music.

Actually, it was not the only display of elegance. I almost forgot to mention the moonlight dance (I name it myself, don’t remember its actual name), which preceded Joey’s appearance. While a foreign friend of mine rightly said it looked picturesque, I would love to add another adjective: ethereal.

The fake full moon made the segment feels unworldly. It was supposed to symbolise worldliness, but it didn’t. It made the overall show slightly more extramundane. If they substitute the conventional orchestral soundtrack with something more ambient like New Age music or something more daringly postmodern like Minimal music, I can guarantee the immersion would intensify. Of course, it would be too creative for the viewers; we Indonesians hate anything too creative.

In spite of my criticism, I also have to commend the Ratoh Jaroe dancing. Not only it was the only dance number that I enjoyed, it also fired up the audience’s spirit just like those pop songs did. The colour-changing costumes, which impressively did not involve any electronics, also contributed to the liveliness.

Right from the beginning, the show made great and triumphant efforts to protect itself from the lethargic virus, unlike those shitty ceremonies of the 2012 National Sports Week and the 2013 Islamic Solidarity Games. While not as dull as the two, the 2011 Southeast Asian games one also failed to stir up my spirit.

While I can be pretentious, I am not pretentious enough to completely hate escapist fun. Sometimes, entertainment is just all about entertainment. Sometimes, the absence of artistry is tolerable.

But, again, the immorality of Thohir’s speech still bugs me. I don’t think there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying anything that comes from a human rights-violating nation. But, if that something tries to legitimise the violation or, in this case, denies its existence, every well-informed person with a functioning moral compass would have a hard time enjoying it.

I am disappointed how I haven’t found a single article or video that condemns Thohir’s speech. Maybe, I just haven’t found one yet. Maybe, as a nation, we are seriously in denial about our past and our current state of being.

Knowing my people, it is probably the latter.

Correction: I stated that Joey Alexander performed his rendition of Angin Mamiri and Gending Sriwijaya. It is incorrect. He only performed Gending Sriwijaya. Angin Mamiri was, in fact, the soundtrack for the preceding moonlight dance.

I don’t know why I bothered making this correction, considering my lack of significant readership.

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How to be inspirational: the Indonesian way

*puts on a mask*

Well, it is a lot easier than it sounds.

The easiest way to be inspirational is to express how much you treasure old school values. Act like they are already forgotten, even though they are not. You don’t even have to practice what you preach. Just preach and people will listen to you fervently. Everybody can do this.

What if you want to elevate it to a higher level?

You don’t have to think anything new! All you have to do is to repackage those obsolete wisdom with a new lexicon and metaphors. Nobody will even bother to read between the lines. The surface is everything for them.

To intensify your messages, exploit your audience’s religiosity. If you involve their Gods and use a more scriptural language, they would feel more compelled to take you seriously as it has become a matter of heaven and hell!

Oh, and keep nuances out of your messages. Humans prefer to believe everything in life can be easily put into boxes. They hate to think life as an intricate and vague entity. Be a simpleton and treat your audience as simpletons as well!

Once you have a decently-sized devotees, you will have enough apprentices in your grasp. This is the time when you organise seminars…. and set the prices.

Making your devotees and potential-devotees pay for your services is good for you; it gives them the impression you are a teacher who is willing to teach! Offering free services insinuates you don’t care about quality. Keep that in mind: money equals quality!

In your paid services, there are two things you must include: anecdotes and emotional manipulations.

I initially wanted to say you must treat your anecdotes as absolute truths, more reliable than scientific data. But, subsequently, I was aware of its redundancy. Anyone who cares enough to listen the first place will devour anything you say. They will revere your words as ones of truth, more truthful than the ones of actual scientists and intellectuals.

Make them emotional. Play soppy music, show soppy imagery on the projection screen, dim the lighting, anything to enhance the manipulation. But, the most important thing is to make them see themselves as pieces of shit!

You can do so by making them recall their own past ‘sins’. What counts as sins? Disobedience against conceited authority figures, refusal to do religious rituals which you never found rewarding, having the humane desire of touching another human’s tinky-winky with your own. You know, outdated moral problems. Once the tears start gushing like water out of the poorly-maintained Situ Gintung dam, you have conquered your audience.

Does it matter if they have sincerely changed for the better after leaving your seminars? No, it doesn’t. What matters is they act like they have changed for the better. How much boasting they have made determines the level of your success. The higher, the better.

Obviously, you will get your own haters. But, worry not. Launching scathing attacks against them is unnecessary. Your followers will do the job for you.

They will condemn your haters for being too unenlightened to cherish the transcedental heart of your sermons. Too hedonistic, too materialistic, too atheistic, too selfish, any empty insults imaginable.

Oh, and even though I doubt you can use them to create your own cult, I am sure they can make great stepping stones.

*takes off the mask*

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Ringkasan sudut pandang umat Muslim Indonesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending my bias for English… walaupun masih hidup berdwibahasa

Not long ago, The Jakarta Globe published an article about Indonesian writers who publish their works in English. It asked its readers if English-language literature can still be considered as Indonesian. In the comment section, as an Indonesian who writes his blogs in English, I obviously answered yes. I believe the nationality of literary works should also depend on the heritage and the people they are depicting, not just on the languages being utilised.

It seems like a relatively harmless statement, right? Well, me being me, I followed it with a more provocative one.

I also described the Indonesian language, describing it as a lifeless, unyielding language with overtly-simplistic grammar, skin-deep vocabulary and clinginess on loanwords whose only purpose is to express pretentiousness, vulgarity and anger, unlike English with its richness and versatility which eases people’s efforts to express themselves. That’s how much I love my mother tongue. Of course, people weren’t happy with me and typical internet squabbles ensued.

Days after the arguments ended, I realised that I made errors in my reasoning. First of all, I implied that language was inherently sterile and rigid; I was trying to represent my opinions as objective facts. I am constantly guilty of this sin.

Second, every language in the world, even ones that have endured strict purism, has loan words! As someone who spends his free time on Wikipedia reading articles about languages, I should have realised that my ‘loan words argument’ is indefensible! If I remember correctly, I think one commenter called out this ignorance of mine. But, this is where I stop with the self-criticisms.

I still stand with my hatred of the simplistic grammar. Yes, English grammar is erratic. But, it is still quite detailed with its grammatical tenses and cases, lowering the chances of unintentional ambiguity. In Indonesian, if you want to make your sentences to be more specific, you have to elongate them by adding more words… and I hate that! But, what infuriates me about the squabble is my opponents’ false assumptions about me.

They argued that my distaste of Indonesian was motivated by hatred my own heritage. Yeah, no.

The older I get, the more I actually appreciate it. I love the unique ingredient and flavour combinations of Indonesian dishes; even ones of foreign origins taste uniquely Indonesian. I love our rich history, showing the drastic human changes the archipelago has endured. I love how we still retain our Hindu heritage, despite being predominantly-Muslim. I love musicians who make actual efforts to fuse traditional Indonesian sounds with western ones. I love the ethnic and cultural diversities; growing up with them, I often feel sorry for every person who sees diversity as a disease. Heck, to make it random, I even find myself enjoying performances of traditional Indonesian dances, despite never having any inclinations to dance!

So, when someone says I am a self-hating Indonesian because I bitch on my mother tongue, I call bullshit on that. In fact, my ability to see flaws in something I love indicates how my appreciation is still within reason and not motivated by blind love.

Oh, and speaking about blind love, one of my opponents, who constantly insulted me, explicitly said that anyone who dared to bad mouth his beloved language deserve nothing but ridicule and harassment; he considered my condemnation of the language as a personal attack against him. Not only he never bothered to hide his irrationality, he was deeply proud of it! Mentally, he is not unlike those religious fundamentalists. I am glad that my love of heritage is not plagued by such mindlessness.

The second thing they assumed about me was my Indonesian comprehension, guessing that mine was poor, which explains my inability to see beauty in the language and express myself with it. Yeah, again, no.

Long before I found comfort in English, I used to have no problems writing in Indonesian. But, as I get older and actually become more fluent in my native tongue, I find myself feeling more restrained writing in it and feeling more at ease doing so in the foreign one, even though I still could barely understand its basic grammar.

In fact, to this day, my Indonesian is still better than my English! I am more likely to open up the dictionary when reading English texts than I am while reading Indonesian ones. I have written two Indonesian-language blogs and it took me only a day or two to finish each, compared that with my English-language ones which can take weeks to finish. Until last year, I didn’t know that ‘sheep’ was both singular and plural, didn’t know how to spell ‘privilege’ and I still don’t know how to spell ‘prostelize’! I use online bots to proofread my blogs!

Also, unlike many Indonesians I have met, I know how to say words like ‘download’, ‘upload’, ‘online’, ‘offline’, ‘computer mouse’, ‘link’, ‘server’, ‘edit’ and ‘orange’ in Indonesian*. I prefer the word ‘penelitian’ over ‘riset’**. I also know how to use ‘di’ properly; as a suffix, it should never be separated from the root words while as a preposition, it should remain a separate word***! Even Indonesians with university education still get this basic grammar wrong!

So, the idea that my preference of English has anything to do my language comprehension is also bullshit. Also, unlike my opponents, I proved my fluency as I made one rather long reply in Indonesian! But, they are too blind to see it, too simple-minded to acknowledge that distaste does not always mean lack of fluency.

Let’s go back to my mistake I mentioned. Besides shamelessly presenting subjectivity as objectivity, I also forgot that I still can enjoy the beauty conveyed through my native tongue.

There are no shortages of time when I listen to Indonesian oldies and indie songs and think, ‘damn, those are beautiful lyrics!’. People like Guruh Soekarnoputra, Eros Djarot and Titiek Puspa made me realise that songwriters are also poets! As a student, I often had to analyse excerpts of literary works that, judging from the richness despite the small number of words, were clearly written by accomplished writers.

Besides foods and music, Indonesian language is one tool I utilise to get in touch with my roots. Using it makes me feel closer to them, unlike English which seems to widen the distance. This is why I refuse to let go of my native tongue…

And still, I cannot manifest my inner self through it.

No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I expand my vocabulary, my native tongue always fails to satisfy my intellectual and emotional needs; my Indonesian writings always end up rigid, sterile and skin-deep. In spite of the cultural detachment, English embodies my thoughts and feelings with greater perceptiveness by seizing their more abstract and indistinct peculiarities. It also allows me to be more playful and light-heartedly sarcastic (even though contemptuous sarcasms are more pleasing to spurt out) and minimises my likelihood of sounding pretentious.

How did this come into being? Well, I am confident it has something to do with my identity. I do have Indonesian citizenship. But, personally, I identify both as a highly westernised Indonesian and a global citizen. This weird concoction of selfhood requires a somewhat culturally inclusive language to manifest itself through letters. Between Bahasa Indonesia and English, guess who wins?

Adding to my already-unconvincing anecdote, I also happen to know Indonesians who speak English better than they speak Indonesian and yet they still find their own native tongue more pleasing to make use of. Knowing them, those people definitely don’t share my cultural identity crisis!

Someone (I forgot who) told me that a language is just a communication tool. Emphasise on the word ‘just’. Focus on what the tool can do, not on what category it belongs to. Yes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But, what we choose to convey our deepest thoughts and feelings is none of other people’s business! Unless we are dealing with snowflakes, our trivial personal choices do not and will never harmfully impact humans with whom we share the world!

My plan is to keep writing in English and, to lesser extent, Indonesian, to learn at least one regional Indonesian language and one more foreign language. But, if I am more idealistic, I would love to learn six regional languages and six foreign ones, not including classical languages like Kawi and Latin and more obscure ones like Gaelic and Ainu which have been intriguing me for years! Oh, and I would love to write children’s books in Indonesian under a pseudonym; seriously, I would love to write calm-paced and imaginative children’s stories that contain assertive yet non-preachy messages about the importance of curiosity, reason and tolerance.

But, realistically, I will probably stay bilingual, will never be fluent in any of those classical or obscure languages and probably will never write a single book.

Oh, well. One can dream!

 

 

 

*’Unduh’, ‘unggah’, ‘daring (dalam jaringan)’, ‘luring (luar jaringan)’, ‘tetikus’, ‘tautan’, ‘peladen’, ‘sunting’ and ‘jingga’, respectively.

**Both words mean ‘research’.

*** ‘Di Jakarta’ and ‘di rumah’ mean ‘at Jakarta’ and ‘at home’, respectively. ‘dibuka’ and ‘dimakan’ mean ‘(being) opened’ and ‘eaten’, respectively.

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Sentenced to stupidity

I graduated from senior high school almost eight years ago. At that time (assuming nothing’s changed much), senior high schools in Indonesia were given two pathways by their second year: social sciences (IPS) path and natural sciences (IPA) one. Social sciences students could only study social students at university level. The same applied to natural sciences students, right? Nope.

After high school, IPA students could choose any disciplines they wanted. They were always higher on the formal strata than their social sciences counterparts. The former were always seen as rugged intellectuals who love and were capable of learning everything. The latter were always seen as imbeciles with non-existent ability and love of learning. People had their academic standing degradingly died down and choices unjustly limited, all because what they preferred to study in senior high.

Never mind the pro-caste mentality. This tendency also reinforces falsehood among ourselves. There is no evidence that formally studying natural sciences instantly make us smarter. If truth be told, I have encountered many IPA graduates who are nothing but imbeciles who suffer from severe cases of scientific illiteracy.

There is no shortage of cases where those geniuses make horrendous fallacies. They are proud of their intellectual defect; the zealous protection of beliefs and traditions is worth the annihilation of reason and rejection of knowledge. Biology, physics and chemistry could not save them from such idiocy.

Oh, and they are not even scholarly in the disciplines they always brag about! Instead of being scientifically profound, they wholeheartedly embrace long-disproven pseudosciences. They also think natural sciences are absolutely precise with its wisdom, stagnant and ever-conclusive. The more I properly study them, the more I realise that they can be very intricate and even grey at times. They are not something to be taught solely through soundbites.

I should also tell you that I am an IPS graduate. I chose this path solely because I used to hate natural sciences… or so I thought. Years after graduating, I realised I hated the educational system, not the disciplines. I am an internet addict and a large chunk of my time online is spent on reading online articles and watching documentaries about natural sciences. I study them because I want to learn. Some people study because they want to be ‘smarter’.

Of course, when they think about being ‘smart’, they think of obtainment of high grades, memorisation of formulas and extremely categorical information and absolute obedience of authority figures, including teachers. Never mind lateral thinking. Even the more ‘traditional’ critical thinking is not seen as essential for intelligence. This is what you get when your education is all about rote learning and worshipping the establishment. But, not everyone has the desire to be smarter. Some only fancy the appearance of it.

For them, image is everything and substance is nothing. Any efforts to gain pristine image are halal, no matter how dishonest they are. In this case, that effort is choosing the IPA pathway. Add that with high grades, the most gullible creatures would never know about your true anti-intellectual selves. A splendid persona is worth the deceit. This is what you get when your education is all about embracing undeserved prestige.

Admittedly, I am a horrible student. Even saying that I am average is an overstatement. Laziness, low grades, constant clashes with teachers (even when they were right) and the fact that it took me eight years to get a bachelor’s degree. Only idiots think I am worthy of a scholarship.

But, at the same time, I also love ‘learning’. Not to be confused with ‘studying’, though. The latter is what one does in formal education while the former can be done everywhere at any time. For me, both are mutually exclusive and are not related to each other in any way.

In spite of my hatred of studying, I still find myself morbidly curious. Not only I constantly ponder about how life works, I also read a lot about it; I even read papers published by actual peer-reviewed journals (assuming I can get hold of them without draining my pocket). Then, not satisfied with rote learning alone, I also make my own half-baked conclusions using the knowledge I have.

They are half-baked because, with the arrival of more knowledge, they will be replaced with better ones. I encourage myself to be open to the prospect of being proven wrong, no matter how ‘hurtful’ it can be. I have experienced that many times in the past and I will certainly experience it again in the future.

When it comes my interests, they are quite extensive. Primarily, I am into languages, foods, culture, arts, politics, history and media. In spite of their mostly intangible nature, we owe ourselves to them. Alongside their practical benefits, they are also affirmers of our identities as human beings. Our relationships with them show our human essence, both on individual and societal levels. But, as luring as they get, I am not drawn only to the intangible.

Even though they are not as strong, my interests also extend to natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology, geography and astronomy, and applied sciences like medicine (can’t explain this). I am intrigued by the workings of our tangible world, how it can be utilised for our survival as a species and how our understanding of it affects the way we see ourselves as earthlings. With the right outlooks, one can gain wisdom from the tangible and the intangible.

As you can read from my writing, I am still heavily flawed. I am pretentious, self-righteous and I also cannot help myself from rushing to conclusions. But, every time I encounter any of those Indonesians who ‘love’ natural sciences for shamelessly superficial reasons, I always feel better about myself. At least I am actually learning. At least my sense of wonder is sincere.

No, I am not saying there are no intelligent IPA graduates with heartfelt inquisitiveness. They do exist. But, they find learning more appealing than boasting. Boasting is a sign of insecurity, not self-assurance. Besides, how can you learn anything if you spend too much embracing vanity?

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A brief description of the outlooks of Indonesian Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity and a shared identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life under the crescent-bearing Garuda

istiqlal

*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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