Last weekend, a good friend of mine attended a conference in Puncak, the hill resort outside Jakarta.How was it?
, I asked, thinking of a weekend away from the haze and noise pollution.Not very good
, she told me. It was about nationalism and about how we should work together for the good of the nation. I wanted to say something, but thought I'd better not.Hey, it's good to speak up, even if it sometimes gets you into trouble
, I told her, trying not to think of some of the things I wish I hadn't said.Ah, but I'm a double minority,
she said, being both Chinese and Christian. And the lecturers wouldn't have understood.
It being the 61st anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence, communities throughout Indonesia get together today to slide up greasy poles, go dunking for krupuks, ride decorated bajaj and run relay races, all for miniscule monetary reward. Today is when it's worth having a rethink about what it means to be a citizen of this country of diversity.
The ever-optimistic Jakarta Post
has this (slightly edited) editorial.Houses of worship are an important topic of discussion for many people, as the recent debate over them showed. The impression was that people put more importance on the buildings themselves than on practicing the good deeds taught inside them.
After 61 years as a free nation we are still fighting over rudimentary matters of religion.
Reality is following close on the heels of the debate. In Jakarta, some housing developments are being tailored to a particular religious group, an upsetting trend. Already our schools are strongly divided along religious lines. Wealthy schools in the cities further divide the rich students from the poor.
Our penchant for symbolism and intellectual banality has never waned. Ceremonies play an important part in our lives, while statements in bad taste by certain segments of the elite are rampant.
A recent study by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) finds that people are less tolerant of a neighbor with a different faith, simply because of the religious difference. We are fond of surface values, of appearances rather than substance. It is a sign that an attitude of "holier than thou" and "us versus them" prevails.
The institute also finds that the Muslim majority disapproves of efforts by minority groups to defend their rights by, for example, holding rallies. LSI rightly states that this hinders democracy.
Our gender bias is equally disturbing. According to the survey, we tend to resent homosexuals and transvestites even more than people of different faiths.
The greatest enmity, according to the study, is focused on those formerly imprisoned as communists. This is a disturbing reminder that the mystery of the 1965 putsch, blamed on the communists, has yet to be unraveled. Thousands of communist detainees, jailed for years in the late 1960s under inhumane conditions and often without trial, are now free. Yet they still face discrimination.
The recent Ahmadiyah case reminds us that foes can be found even within one religion. Ahmadiyah members, regarded as heretics by mainstream Muslims, are being beaten and evicted. Thousands live as refugees in their own country. Some are applying for asylum overseas.
This low tolerance toward our compatriots reflects our failure to create a nation where people can live peacefully. It is tragic and deeply saddening that seeking differences among us appears to be almost second nature, even at the cost of weakening ourselves.
We divide ourselves not only along lines of political ideology, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and region of origin, but also by kampong or village of origin and by the universities we attend.
People seem to have excessive energy for finding differences, for dividing and weakening themselves, eroding social trust until it almost disappears. We seem to lack the urge to seek a common ground where synergy can take place.
The many religions people practice, the hundreds of ethnic groups, the rich culture and languages adorning our nation appear to be more of a liability than an asset. This has to change, once and for all, because it subverts the character of our country and would have seemed like a nightmare to our founding fathers when they envisioned this nation 61 years ago.