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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Living with Differences in Indonesia: Promises and Challenges

Indonesia is a pluralistic archipelago nation-state in Southeast Asia.  Though it is well-known as the biggest Muslim population in the world but Indonesia is not an Islamic state as one can see around Middle Eastern countries. Islamic adherents are the majority who lives side by side with other religions such as Catholic, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and many indigenous religions. There are hundreds amount of indigenous people in Indonesia who still preserves their traditional ways of life, and more than hundreds local languages and dialects. Nevertheless Indonesian people generally are binding by bahasa Indonesia as the only national language which is mastered by mostly of the people in every socio-cultural stratum and regions.

Living in Indonesia in essence is living within colorful socio-cultural background of various communities. Differences are the Indonesian social identity so that none Indonesian can evade it. Differences are our (as Indonesian) destiny and grace as well as our reality. Revealing differences as Indonesian destiny and reality has nothing to do with romanticizing pluralism in the country but rather attempting to internalize the differences after for many years it was condemned socially and politically. Since the Proclamation of Independence of Indonesia 17 August 1945, Sukarno and Hatta (both then were first president and vice president of Republic of Indonesia) as well as other founding fathers before them had endeavored to articulate Indonesian identity. Historically speaking, they all basically fully aware that the ‘imagined’ Indonesian society should be regarded as multicultural society. Far before the proclamation of independence 1945, the Youth Vow in 28 October 1928 was the great momentum when Indonesian youth groups from various ethnic backdrops (Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Ambon, etc.) gathered to declare their vow as ‘one’ identity of Indonesia (one nation, one language, one homeland).

Nevertheless, differences are not always comprehended as ‘blessing’ since for centuries the Archipelago (then, Indonesia) underwent colonialism by European countries. Particularly under the Dutch rule, the Nusantara people had been divided by the politic of separation to weakened the colonized. The Dutch implemented an ‘apartheid’ policy in which the colonized people divided socially by virtue of their ethnic and religious identities, also economic interests (for Chinese). Since then afterward the differences has been becoming stumbling block in socio-cultural and inter-religious relationship among the grass-root people. That is the reason when I asserted that the Indonesian Youth Vow 1928 was the great momentum to deconstruct ‘primordial colonized mentality’ and reconstructing new identity of ‘imagined’ Indonesia. The Youth Vow 1928 and the Proclamation of Independence 1945 can be seen as monumental events by which the differences as stumbling block were transformed into the powerful ability of freedom and equality.  

The regime change from Sukarno to Suharto brought about radical changes on the ruling perspective toward the reality of differences. Under his administrative, President Suharto imposed certain policy by which people were prohibited to speak publicly about SARA.[1] The government recognized the differences but unwilling wisely to manage it as the social capital of Indonesian society. Rather, the government restrained any discourse entails the SARA issue that suspected will trigger social conflict.[2] The differences are taboo. During 32 years of his regime, Suharto and the cronies succeeded to construct ‘inferior mentality’ that paralyzed people consciousness to perceive differences as an integral part of their common identity. Post-Suharto Indonesia then inherited the residue of such cognitive dissonance deal with the differences and wrestling to live in differences until today. The regime had been changing but still the ‘inferior mentality’ existed in social consciousness facing the differences.

The blatantly example can be taken from my hometown, Ambon. Soon after Suharto was toppled down from his presidency in 1998, social conflict erupted in Ambon and spread vastly into surrounding islands. The harmonious interreligious relationship that for centuries had been bonded Malukan indigenous people through local tradition pela and gandong suddenly changed into interreligious horrific enmity for almost four years. Thousands death, hundred thousand wounded and had permanent defects, hundreds of internally displaced people, children became orphans, parents lost their beloved children, not to mention about psychological traumatic for two next generations of Malukan people.

On the basis of such reality, I strongly convince that the differences in Indonesia cannot be treated merely as academic discourses but should be evolved in many practical ways of life. The notion and practice of the way we all understand and responding the differences in our daily life should be empowered as social character of people everywhere. At that point of view I think that the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life must be comprehended as the strategic design for widening social networking globally among those who have concern for strengthening our society deal with our differences reality. This event also encourage all of us whose differences to encounter one another as equal partners who are coming from different backgrounds. This is, therefore, my explanation about why we need talk as well as exercise our understanding about the role and importance of differences among us. I have a dream that differences are being our common purpose for the better world albeit simultaneously I realize that we cannot gain the promises without overcoming our challenges.

Yogyakarta, 7 March 2012

[1] SARA is abbreviation of Suku-Agama-Ras-Antargolongan (Ethnicity-Religion-Race-Intergroup).
[2] During his administrative, President Suharto implemented ‘security approach’ to restrict any protest movements to governmental policies and assuring the progress of national development.

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One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces