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“I love them,” dangdut superstar Rhoma Irama said of Jakarta gubernatorial hopefuls, Surakarta Mayor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his running mate, former East Belitung regent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, affectionately known as Ahok. This, after publicly preaching against voting for non-Muslim leaders lest we incur wrath from above.
Rhoma is probably the most well known of his kind, ulema who aren’t shy or scared of declaring their support for certain candidates by denouncing others.
Ahead of the second-round election slated for Sept. 20, the Surakarta born-and-bred Jokowi is discredited for lacking Betawi roots, while Ahok is fiercely under attack for being Chinese and a Christian.
It’s as if being from a minority is a sin.
Make no mistake. I’m not part of the Jokowi-Ahok campaign team. I don’t even have the right to vote in Jakarta. But as part of a minority group, I’m growing more and more wary of where the current political and social tides are taking this nation.
This is the kind of backwater issue that is keeping Indonesia from moving ahead with its democratic and development agenda. Instead of measuring the nation’s resilience against global competitiveness, we’re reduced to a state of stagnant backwardness, masked in conservative interpretation of a religion.
Back in school, in the early 1990s, I was taught to memorize the meaning of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, a Majapahit-era phrase inscribed under the national symbol of Garuda Pancasila, even mentioned in the 1945 Constitution, resonating in the belief of “unity in diversity”.
My generation believed and lived in multiethnic harmony. We poked fun at someone’s language or accent, but never one’s faith. We called each other names, but never with prejudice.
Today’s Indonesia is far from such innocence.
These days we get tangled up in differentiating between conservatism and radicalism. Heightened religiosity means excessive displays of religion, at times accompanied by circumscribed interpretation that belittles anyone “different”.
It is a move against the moderates and the secularists, those who have the numbers but lack visibility. Religious-based organizations, acting more like hate groups, grow in confidence as they continue to evade the law and feed stories to the ratings-hungry media. Faith thus becomes a tool of force, used to create such polarizations as “you’re either with us or against us”.
Our founding fathers, being proud of their rich cultural heritage and having fought bloody battles, dreamed of building a great nation. Our modern leaders laid the foundation. The 1998 reformists cracked open doors otherwise shut down.
Democracy dawned in this part of the world way before it did in the Middle East, unleashing more freedom than anything we had ever seen before.
In the past eight years economic growth has accelerated beyond expectation, resulting in a much wider and stronger middle class. It’s only natural to expect that where we are today should be better than where we ever were.
However, reality shows otherwise. Cases like the GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia churches are left as unfinished business, time bombs ticking. Liberal Muslims shout for equal attention to the plight of the Ahmadiyah community.
Mainstream politicians tiptoe away from the issue of religious persecution for its lack of popular support. Short of mainstream media attention, discussions among concerned parties take place on social media, in the desperate hope of boosting awareness.
Complacency on the part of legal enforcers has given way to conspiracy theories. Respect and trust thus become rare commodities, replaced by suspicions and accusations. In the absence of legal certainty, the right to equality and justice before the law becomes more like a farfetched dream.
True, democracy gives way to differences in opinion, but does not give in to inequality before the law. Certainly this is not the democracy Indonesians of all ethnicities and religions fought for.
It should not be about the majority controlling the minority. This nation should belong to all citizens, regardless of their backgrounds. If we cannot agree on this, then something is definitely wrong.
It is a crisis of misunderstanding, noted the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid long ago as he championed the idea of democracy and pluralism.
Adding to the muddy water is the failure on the part of “governments, people of other faiths and the majority of well-intentioned Muslims to resist, isolate and discredit this dangerous ideology” (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2005).
His thoughts, relevant then and even more so now, were aimed at illuminating “the hearts and minds of humanity, and offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged”.
Today, our children bear witness to acts of intolerance. Some, along with their parents, become victims of persecution, while those on the other side grow up listening to hateful speech. Graphic footage of violence is spread on the Internet for easy perusal. Reports of religious persecution are on the rise, almost too frequent for a country once proud of its rich heritage.
When US President Barack Obama visited Indonesia in November 2010, he praised the country in which he spent part of his childhood for the “spirit of tolerance that is written into your constitution, symbolized in your mosques and churches and temples, and embodied in your people”.
This Independence Day, let us search for that spirit again.
The writer, formerly a journalist with VOA, SCTV and Metro TV, is a Jakarta-based writer.