Friday, December 15, 2006

Indonesia - Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Indonesia is an immense contradiction. When it comes to multi-religiosity... it has the largest Muslim population in the world, but it is also a staunchly secular country as well.

The religious movement is strong and not averse to pressing its version of conservatism, piety and morality on 'non-aligned' Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They demonstrate with earnest (and not little violence) on issues like the sale of men's magazines, the US in the Middle East; or even against something rather more trivial like the appearance (in a bathing suit), of their country's representative to an international beauty pageant. Religious education supplants the national curriculum in many areas and the wanton interpretation of god's will by mortal men are widespread and commonplace.

But yet, the government is stubbornly secular, refusing to compromise the strict separation of state and mosque. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the secular Constitution, Pancasila and courts of law are supreme. There is no sanctioned shariah court (except recently in the troubled province of Aceh). Freedom of religion is zealously preserved. Muslims and non-Muslims are free to inter-marry without any legal requirement on either party to convert.

For a long while, this contradiction did not extend to multi racialism. But now, Indonesia is set to play its curious game when it comes to race and ethnicity as well.

A golden age for Indonesian Chinese
By Thomas Fuller

"The situation of the Chinese has never been as good as today," said Benny Setiono, head of the Chinese Indonesian Association... "We feel more free, more equal."

One of the main reasons for the optimism is a fundamental change in Indonesian law: the country has redefined what it means to be a "native."

A citizenship law passed this year proclaims that an indigenous Indonesian is someone who was born here to Indonesian citizens...

Other laws have erased the preferential treatment for "pribumi," or indigenous groups, in bank lending and the awarding of government contracts...

The horrors of the anti-Chinese violence in 1998 were the prime impetus for the legal overhaul. But Indonesians also realized that espousing the concept of a "native" could be explosive for everyone, not just the Chinese.

"The question of who was here first became very dangerous,"...

"The logic has been manipulated by many politicians."...
Indonesia has long suppressed any expression of the culture, language and overt ethnic influence by its share of the overseas Chinese diaspora in it's midst. There are no Chinese schools, no Chinese TV programmes, no public celebration of Chinese New Year, no overt displays of Chinese culture nor literature, no Chinese words, signs, posters etc, not even the use of Chinese names by it's ethnic Chinese citizens.

In 1998, there were vicious attacks on the Indonesian Chinese community by non-Chinese Indonesians while the military looked on. (According to some accounts, the [renegade?] military did much of the slaughter and rape). Like many others in Malaysia and Singapore, I received pictures and first hand accounts of the gruesome events over the internet, and since then have met up with former university mates who fled the violence. I have found no cause to doubt the veracity of their testimony. Therefore, I too share the view that Indonesia has much to apologise for and much to be sorry about.

So, when I read that Indonesia had removed the distinction of 'native' or 'pribumi' by race, and had chosen to define it by citizenship, it took me some time to reconcile my feelings. How could a society so overwhelmingly hostile to it's Chinese minority, be so absolutely generous (by Malaysian standards) at the same time?

It seems to me like Indonesia tends to wander at both extremes when it tries to deal with its Chinese minority. It is guilty of nothing less than attempted genocide and yet, it seeks to instil racial equality and respect in it purest, most sincere form.

If Indonesia is burning the candle at both ends, hoping to one day reach eventual unity in the middle... Malaysia in contrast, steadfastly persists in burning up the middle, setting a gradual but steady course for both ends to separate and break off.

Honestly, I don't know which country has the better game plan.

Do I want the relative peace and stability of Malaysia - at the cost of Ketuanan Melayu / bumiputra / Malay Agenda, NEP and the overshadowing of the Constitution by Islamisation?

Or do I want the ideal of absolute equality of race and religion, but at a cost of sporadic breakouts of ethnic cleansing?

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