Rio Helmi, 10 February 2011
Democracy is a term whose precise meaning is elusive, especially so in developing nations. For leaders more worried about superficial legitimacy than actually taking on the task of improving the lot of their people, ‘democracy’ revolves around elections and how to get through them intact. It has become something of an industry standard; when others dispute results and methods, one can always refute these protests simply with “Hey, we held free elections”. Somehow human rights end up secondary on the display shelf.
Naturally, not only do elections supposedly legitimize regimes in their own countries, but they also legitimize other more powerful democracies (the “West”) dealing with these regimes towards their own ends. These are marriages of convenience between parties that come to an understanding mostly without really understanding the other party, something of an agreement between thieves. Human rights issues are just minor thorns, burrs caught on the trousers of powerful men striding across new fields to be plowed.
One may claim that 20th and 21st Century intelligence gathering serves to properly brief their respective governments, but intel blunders amongst super powers are legendary, whether as a result of compromise or incompetence (Think “weapons of mass destruction” farce). It is rare that actual members of foreign administrations venture deep into the psyche’s of their counterparts, it’s an area left to academics and eccentric expats from whom only sound bites are heard.
It is politically incorrect for well educated people to have biases against race and religion, but many still carry the coding of centuries of such bias in their cultural DNA. There is scarcely a ‘modern’ western nation now where one does not find sizeable and growing neo-fascist movements, and concern about migrants..
On the other side of the moat things are hardly better. The first encounters between most countries with western powers were filled with attitudes of vast superiority, suspicion, miscommunication, betrayal, and often widespread blood shed. So no matter how absurd it might seem to us, it is not too difficult to stir up suspicion and hatred again – terms like Great Satan sounds ridiculously tinny to many of us, but to embittered, disempowered people it resonates.
I’m sure this all sounds simplistic, but it is a 1-100,000 scale map of the heart of an old world that is gradually dying: a product of centuries of violence and invasions (e.g. Alexander the Great, Jingghis Khan, Chinese imperial despotism, the Turks beating on the gateways of Bavaria, the Inquisition, the persecution of Jews and Moors in Europe, European colonialism, slavery, the two World Wars, Stalin, Vietnam – in no way an exhaustive list).
Some how the anachronistic zeitgeist of the first seven decades of the 20th Century is still lurking in the hallways of power of even the most ‘advanced’ nations, despite decades of political evolution since the 70s when Kissinger embarked on his détente with the USSR and Nixon landed in Peking. It took decades before the world media could even bring itself to write the name properly as Beijing. Some even created a myth that the PRC had changed the name in the 80s, when all they were doing was correcting the Latin script spelling. A small but telling example. But look at it from the other end: imagine if Egyptians or Indonesians would refer to Obama’s birthplace as the “Isles of Sandwich”?
To segue Obama into all this, his current stilted position on Mubarak, his VP’s dealing with Egyptian VP Suleiman, a known military iron fist, the US administrations reiterated praise for the “restraint of the Egyptian military” whilst Egyptian military police continue to ‘disappear’ protestors – all of this is a sign that traces of this outdated, poisonous zeitgeist is still flowing through the ventilation shafts of Washington DC.
Even the fact that that the verb ‘to disappear’ has become transitive in colloquial language is a sad indication of language reflecting the non evolution of US power policy, arrested by 9/11. Somehow the increased mobility and tech connectivity we have seen in the last decades hasn’t led to more understanding, it is simply translated as more opportunity for the materially and politically ambitious. Obama, I was happy when you were elected, and the speech in Cairo was great. But you are seriously losing traction on ‘change’ here.
What we are seeing in Tunisia and Egypt is beginning of a movement that may still be brutally suppressed but not stopped. It is the new world that is coming. Islamic fundamentalism grew out of colonial meddling. But now many Islamists are getting a sense of something new in the offing. The Muslim Brotherhood is not Hezbollah, far from it. The Tunisian Islamists want to work with others, they are not the Somali fanatics that Ayaan Hisri Ali ran from. And the intellectuals are cautiously engaging with them. They all know that they could be rewriting the ground rules.
This is a civil movement started by a new, younger generation: intellectuals, professionals, and now older workers. They are inspiring others to join. And many of the older generation are galvanized by them. This was especially the case when an emotional TV interview with an Egyptian Google executive, Wael Ghonim whose was released after 12 days of captivity, was broadcast, blindsiding Mubarak’s administration.
In Indonesia a similar thing happened 13 years ago – it was the students who took the initiative, we all followed. But the reform on the government’s side has stagnated. Yet the civil movement is evolving as we speak, perhaps not in an organized formal manner, but people are more informed and engaged. If the older leaders can’t open their hearts then they shouldn’t lead. To lead is to inspire, to inspire your people to work their hearts out for their country and for the world. Leaders that think of their people as cattle to use an electric prod on belong in Gulags.
In relation to Egypt, here in Indonesia we have something of a different but related situation. The anachronistic zeitgeist here is the wisps of a mindset that has its roots back in the first decades days of the Republic, during which several attempts to create Islamic states failed – but it has been cunningly reinfused as movement against immorality.
This is what fuels the fundamentalist mobs such as FPI who have brutally harassed bars, attacked “non-believers”, burned churches, even killed Ahmadis on camera. And of course there are the more infamous bombers, whose spiritual leader, linked to Al Qaeda, is set for trial next week – Abu Bakar Ba’asyir calmly told reporters Thursday that “The Prophet was like me”. If he wasn’t such an old fox one would suspect he was delusional. But he is definitely holding on firmly to another world vision for which it is clear that there is detailed game plan. A clear and present plan.
Our President has dragged his heels for years. It is clear that these mobs have transgressed the constitution. He has finally decided to be more firm with the mobs (so far mostly in words). Their answer: “We will ‘Ben Ali’ you SBY”. Yet these thugs, who dote on all things Arabic, have no clue that Tunisia was not an Islamist movement, nor that things are changing drastically. They too are stuck in a defunct time zone. Many of us have turned a blind eye to the outrages they have perpetrated. And our leaders have become so deaf, engrossed in their own political survival that it has taken a long-growing clamor for them to finally hear. But whether they will respond adequately is not yet clear. If they don’t, we will all suffer.
What we all, whether super-power or just a power in our own backyard, need to remember is that the world situation is constantly evolving, we are constantly creating it. Others react to what we do, as a result opinions and attitudes are formed much, much faster now. Time to be brave: embrace the future.
Ternyata bangsa Indonesia masih saja lebih terpatok pada mitos-mitos kesaktian gaib ketimbang pada kenyataan. Contohnya, kini kita begitu sibuk mengkultuskan Mbah Maridjan, sampai-sampai jadi bahan laporan CNN. Padahal gara-gara beliau tidak mau turun gunung tak sedikit orang lain tewas, termasuk wartawan dan dokter yang jadi korban ketika berusaha membujuknya turun gunung. Contoh lain, kita ramai-ramai membuat isyu bahwa bencana ini adalah kutukan terhadap SBY – seolah kalau jadi presiden bisa menghentikan gerakan lempengan geologis.
Kalau kita perhatikan contoh pertama tadi, sepertinya meskipun sudah berada pada abad ke-21 dengan segala ilmu pengetahuan yang canggih, kita tetap terobsesi dengan ‘orang pinter’ yang bisa mengatur segala dengan kekuatan gaib. Sudah rutin kalau bikin acara harus setor dulu ke pawang hujan. Walaupun belum pernah terbukti bisa (dan juga belum pernah terbukti tidak bisa) banyak pelaku yang panen duit dengan bisnis ‘atur alam’. Apa perlu kita bikin lomba pawang? Atau mungkin sistem perizinan pawang? Yang terkahir ini pasti bisa jadi posisi ‘basah’, bayangkan nanti bahkan bisa ada “Menteri Perpawangan”.
Jujur kata, orang-orang seperti pawang dan ‘juru kunci’ punya makna dan fungsi yang penting dalam masyarakat tradisional. Mereka mengingatkan kita agar menghormati alam sebagai sumber kehidupan kita, agar kita bertindak lebih bijak terhadap alam. Mereka sebenarnya mediator, bukanlah diktator.
Lewat sejarah lisan, umpamanya, para rato di Sumba bisa tahu tanda-tanda dan waktu yang baik untuk bercocok tanam, pemali-pemali yang berdampak langsung pada survival suku masing-masing. Atau para Pekaseh subak di Bali pun bisa mengatur musi tanam seantero wilayah subak sesuai dengan musim dan pembagian air dengan patokan siklus odalan-odalan di pura dan dugul subak.
Manusia Indonesia modern memang paradoks, berpendidikan namun tidak berpikir panjang tentang apa yang mereka lakukan terhadap alam, seenaknya merusak demi kepentingan sendiri. Di lain kesempatan, manusia yang sama percaya dan terkesima dengan segala yang berbau klenik.
Tetapi sebelum kita ramai-ramai mengupayakan arus balik masyarakat modern kembali berkiblat kepada para pawang, dukun, dan sebagainya, sebaiknya kita ingat bahwa sistem-sistem tradisional tidak semua sempurna. Tidak sedikit juga dari warisan kepercayaan yang bodoh pula, bahkan tidak sedikit yang berpeluang untuk disalahgunakan. Pada kasus Mbah Maridjan saja, yang sosoknya terkenal “bersih” dalam pengabdiannya, ada ‘daerah kelabu’: mau saja membintangi iklan Extra Joss, meskipun hasil dibagikan ke masyarakat desanya. Mungkin bagi Mbah Maridjan tujuannya jernih, murni untuk membantu warga desanya. Namun perlu juga kita pertanyakan mengapa pihak Extra Joss melihat bahwa yang gaib itupun bisa jadi komoditas, atau minimal dikaitkan dengan sales?
Kenapa begitu sulit kita memakai akal sehat? Perlu sekali kita memilah antara kepekaan terhadap alam dan sikap ‘sok ngatur’ alam. Para “juru kunci” bertugas mengkomunikasikan pada masyarakat apa yang mereka hayati tentang alam sekitar. Tapi kita malah berusaha membalikkan arah komunikasi dengan mencoba menyuruh alam menuruti kehendak kita. Lewat jasa para pawang, hujan disuruh berhenti, lahar dari letusan gunung berapi diharapkan berbelok. Kalau sang pawang “berhasil” dibilang sakti, kalau “gagal” dibilang “kurang sakti”. Tak jauh beda dengan dagelan.
Yakin atau tidak pada mereka, ada atau tidak ada pawang, juru kunci dan sebagainya, toh bencana alam tetap akan terjadi dan tetap berpotensi mengakibatkan korban. Waktu Merapi meletus zaman dulu, apa tidak mungkin juru kuncinya lebih “sakti” lagi dibanding Mbah Maridjan? Dan ternyata tetap saja meletus.
Alam bergerak dengan kekuatannya sendiri. Bukan rahasia lagi kalau melawan kekuatan-kekuatan itu ada konsekuensinya. Anak kecil pun tahu bila dia melempar batu keatas (di bumi ini) sudah barang pasti batu itu akan jatuh.
Tapi kita tetap merasa segala sesuatu yang terjadi di alam itu adalah akibat perbuatan kita. Mungkin ini runut juga dengan keyakinan bahwa kita bisa atur
Alam dengan berbagai upacara, tapi kalau ada orang melakukan kesalahan menurut kerpercayaan kita, maka dia akan kena bencana. Dari pandangan itu loncatan ke pemikiran berikutnya mudah: yaitu bahwa bila seseorang bertindak salah terhadap diri atau suku kita, alam akan membalasnya. Bahwa ‘kesalahan’ tersebut pasti merupakan suatu penilaian yang sangat subjektif rupanya tidak mengganggu hati nurani!
Jangankan masyarakat biasa, pada tahun 2010 bahkan ada menteri kabinet dan anggota DPR yang belum sadar bahwa terjadinya bencana-bencana alam bukan berarti kutukan karena pelanggaran moral, melainkan sesuatu yg ‘alami’.
Yang terkutuk adalah cara kita menghadapinya: para geolog sudah memberi peringatan tsunami, kurang ditanggapi oleh aparat setempat. Kita menggundulkan hutan lalu bengong kalau kena banjir lumpur. Ketika bencana terjadi, kita kurang siap; bantuan terlambat, lagipula tidak effektif. Kita hidup diatas pertemuan lempengan geologis yang termasuk paling labil di bumi namun tidak peka akan kekuatan alam; malah kita mencoba mengaturnya dengan gaib. Kita sudah kehilangan jalan tengah antara dua ekstrim: di satu pihak menelan mentah setiap tahayul yang muncul, di lain pihak membuang segala kebijaksanaan dan pengetahuan yang kita warisi dari leluhur sendiri.
Rio Helmi, Bali
The recent Ubud Writer’s and Reader’s Festival is responsible for infecting me with an annoying earbug I haven’t been able to shake out of my head for a week. This post so far has been written in three airports and on as many flights.This year’s theme, Indonesia’s national slogan “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, which is usually translated into something like “unity in diversity”, is supposedly an acknowledgement of pluralism in a country with more than 300 distinct languages (no, not dialects, languages). Unsurprisingly, this vast archipelago spread over one-eighth of the world’s girth comes with a smorgasbord of cultures as well, rendering all attempts to describe “a traditional Indonesian culture” into an elaborate farce.
During this international gathering there were some fine examples of diversity. For example ancient Pali and Sanskrit scholar of Buddhism, the highly academic Professor Richard Gombrich (non-plussed at being invited to a literary festival!) sat down with Bali’s defacto poet laureate cum playwright Cok Sawitri and Inayah Wahid (the youngest daughter of late President “Gus Dur’”). Gombrich, scholastic but eloquently loqacious, interpreting the actual words of the slogan, put forth the view that we needn’t bother being so obsessed with unity, why not simply allow diversity? He certainly got diversity. Cok Sawitri, in her usual dramatic fashion, insisted in commenting in high Balinese and ancient Kawi, leaving Gombrich a bit high and dry as he speaks neither, and the moderator with the additional headache of translating. Meanwhile Inayah hadn’t even shown up yet. When she did, she somewhat breathlessly started off with telling us she really didn’t have much to say. But one thing she did say (prompted by a question) was a little gem: “My father always said that pluralism is not just tolerating others who are different. It is standing up for them when their rights are trampled”.
At another session a very humorous Israeli writer cracked that at every international festival he attends they always put him in a panel next to a Palestinian writer “and hope for some sparks”. Both he and the Palestinian burst out laughing. I am sure they both know about stereotyping and what it feels like to be forced into a mold.
But the question for us in Indonesia is why is such a simple message – unity in diversity – is so difficult to convey to a certain set of people who insist on terrorizing anything that doesn’t look like their idea of the culture of a deserted piece of the Middle East, despite the fact that they are locally born and bred? The trend is growing and, fatally, is allowed to grow by a hamstrung government wallowing in its own issues of bad governance. Our brand new chief of police even made a statement to the effect that militant Muslim groups could help “maintain security”. I suppose it’s not that surprising from a man who shrugged off his role in the bloody suppression of the Trisakti students with: “I was following orders”.
Of course everyone has heard of the rampant corruption, but most outsiders simply assume that it is just an endemic problem concerning individuals within the ranks of the civil service etc.. It’s true there is that, but behind that is something quite a bit more sinister.
What some people still don’t realize or wish to acknowledge is the importance of huge amounts of New Order corruption-sourced funds that were never successfully recuperated after the fall of Soeharto some 12 years and 3 Presidents ago. That money, secured by his cronies and extended family, now represents re-entrenched political forces in their own right, consisting of blocks of economic might ensuring a shadowy immunity. The current regime (or shall we just say leader) doesn’t seem to have the stomach needed to face down this silent, seemingly iron-clad bastion of rampant nepotism, much less recuperate the billions of dollars which rightfully belongs to the republic. Even just the interest earned on those misappropriated funds would fund the housing of many of Jakarta’s abject poor.
I digress with some purpose. How, in a fractured political situation like this, are we to deal with social issues now threatening to rip this country apart? The pervasive perception of the president is that he is much more concerned with his own well-being than the country’s overall functionality – a fatal flaw in a region where the standard of leadership determines a countries moral compass. If the President, now secure in the early years of his second term, won’t step up to the plate and take on the ‘holy’ hooligans (and their hidden backers) by the horns, unity in diversity will remain just a tired slogan.
It is not enough to know what is right and wrong, one needs to take a stand, both in heart and action. As the late moral philosopher Philippa Foot argued, reason can help you recognize the right thing to do, but it doesn’t necessarily motivate you to do it.
However ineffective he was as a president, Gus Dur’s view of pluralism is unassailable: if you believe in it, then defend it. We need to dare, we need to reach out. Otherwise, don’t complain if the only ones who dare and who reach out are the misguided maniacs. Most of the fanatic footsoldiers who fight in the name of a twisted version of religion aren’t even aware that they too are pawns, manipulated by both those who seriously have lost all moral fibre and those whose hubris makes them think they can switch maniacs on and off.
Personally I still believe that the majority of Indonesians are tolerant and kind, living in a country that whose nature is rich and forgiving. As one foreign film maker put it in the title of his documentary on Indonesia: Wet Earth and Warm People. It’s just that it takes a real outrage for them to speak out. That is something that needs to change. The moderates need to find their voice, and they need to use it. The real Muslim majority, not the Afghanistan alumni, needs to be heard. The rest of the nation needs to be heard. Hoping that a self involved, weak leadership complemented by a puerile parliament will take the initiative is fantasizing.
We need be midwives at the birth of a truly civic society. It’s trite, but it’s true that there is no running away from the past – it has to be confronted for us to go forward. To do that we also need to let in a younger generation who understand that they are free to be who they are yet not afraid to embrace what is different. A generation that understands that unity is not dictated homogeneity.
One very heartening sign at Ubud Writer’s Festival was the presence of a group of teenage high school students from Jakarta who on their own initiative organized a bus to bring to Bali just for the occasion, somehow managing to coerce one of their teachers into chaperoning them. They did as much as they could, dancing with Savunese weavers, listening and talking to their literary idols, attending discussion after discussion. As my old journalistic mentor, Tides Katoppo, remarked when we heard their story: “Now I believe there’s still hope!”