9 October 2010

Indonesia, the angry nation?

Jakarta Globe - October 6, 2010

Tasa Nugraza Barley -- Like any Indonesian, Endah Puspita, 27, was taught 
growing up that she lived in a nation of friendly and polite people.

Recent events, however, have made her question if this reputation still 
held true. "I'm extremely sad to see all these violent conflicts happening 
in this country," said Endah, who works as a project administrator for a 
multinational company in Jakarta.

She is not alone. More and more Indonesians are starting to become 
apprehensive about the prevalence of violent events in the news every day.

Gracia Cassandra, a public relations practitioner in Jakarta, feels the 
situation has gotten much worse. "I'm so angry with the current condition," 
she said, adding that many contentious issues need to be solved.

The numerous conflicts -- seen as mostly stemming from religious and ethnic 
intolerance and a lack of respect for law enforcement -- have led many to 
question whether the national motto, "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika" ("Unity in 
Diversity"), is still something that Indonesians can be proud of.

Recent incidents have not supported the famous motto. In August, hard-line 
Islamic groups were suspected to be behind a series of attacks on the Batak 
Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi.

In late September, clashes erupted in Tarakan, East Kalimantan, between the 
ethnic groups Dayak Tidung and Bugis. At least five people died as a 
result. And in Hamparan Perak subdistrict outside Medan, an attack on a 
police outpost left three officers dead.

There were more conflicts last week. First was a brawl involving two gangs 
armed with firearms and machetes outside a South Jakarta court. Three 
people died and dozens more were injured, with property ending up 
vandalized along Jalan Ampera Raya.

In addition, the Ahmadiyah -- a minority Islamic sect deemed deviant by 
many mainstream Muslims -- also fell victim when their mosque in Bogor and 
some of their houses in the area were burned down.

Some experts have weighed in on the recent spate of events. Mohammad Kemal 
Dermawan, a sociologist and criminologist from the University of Indonesia, 
said the significant increase in violent acts can turn into an alarming 
social problem.

He said things started to change after the Reform Era. "Under Suharto's 
regime, people couldn't mess around," he said.

People have started to express their dissatisfaction in more harmful ways, 
however, mostly because they don't trust law enforcers. Fostering peace 
means giving the public "a fast and just method of dispute settlement," 
which they are not able to currently get.

Rather than endlessly wait, they choose to settle their disputes through 
violent means instead. Kemal said the government must do more by finding 
the root causes of problems and fixing them.

For Andi Ardillah Pratiwi, a psychologist from the University of Indonesia, 
these recent incidents are pure acts of aggression.

And Andi said the seeming readiness to use violence as a tool presents a 
real cause for concern. She said she finds the current atmosphere 
frustrating because "there are actually many win-win solutions that people 
can always use."

Andi said none of these incidents would have occurred if people were more 
tolerant of each other's differences and set aside their prejudices. She 
added that many of these prejudices were often proven to be based in 
ignorance, but they were all too capable of stirring violence.

There may be many reasons for the current spike in violent disorder, and 
these reasons vary from chronic poverty to inaction from the government, 
depending on who one asks.

Gracia said poverty and lack of education may be why many people have 
become intolerant of others. "When people are uneducated and poor, they are 
easily provoked and manipulated," she said.

She said the government is blinded by the spirit of democracy and that it 
must be able to differentiate between the expression of opinion and the act 
of oppressing other people's rights and freedom. "Now we see radical groups 
violating other groups' freedom while the government just remains silent. 
This is very wrong," she said.

Though she confesses to not know much about politics, Endah said she still 
can't understand why the government doesn't strictly punish troublemakers. 
"The government should do better than this."

Oky Marzuki, a government employee, said the current education system 
doesn't provide the early moral, mental and cultural development needed to 
foster a sense of tolerance.

He believes violent TV programming is to blame for the current mood of 
unrest. "The government must do something about this, otherwise our young 
generation will be more violent," he said.

Andi agreed that poverty could easily trigger conflict. "Poverty can make 
someone or some groups very frustrated," she said.

Based on the 2010 census, about 31.2 million of the 230 million Indonesians 
still live below the poverty line. They earn less than Rp 167,000 ($19) 
each month.

According to Andi, this wide gap between the reality that Indonesians are 
currently experiencing and what they are hoping for can easily ignite anger 
in stressful situations.

But Kemal does not agree that poverty is a key condition. "It might be a 
contributing factor, I think, but it's not the only one," he said, adding 
that poverty does not necessarily result in violence.

According to Kemal, the government must make sure that "the country's 
ideology, such as Pancasila," must be thoroughly disseminated in society. 
At the same time, officials have to rebuild their reputations and regain 
the public's trust.

Andi thinks education is key to helping shape how people think. She said 
Indonesian children should be taught that tolerance is a virtue. "They 
should not only be taught theories, but also actual implementation," she 

Parents should teach their children about tolerance at home in creative 
ways, she said, and children should learn about conflict resolution early 

The rash of conflicts are a bad reflection on government officials, she 
said. "Instead of giving good examples to our young generation, our 
officials have consistently shown bad examples."

Andi pointed out how lawmakers regularly fall into furious conflict with 
each other. "If our officials keep fighting with each other, how can they 
expect the people not to fight?"

Obviously, the issue runs deep and solutions to the matter are complex. 
However, there is an Indonesian saying that goes, "Guru kencing berdiri, 
murid kencing berlari" ("Students will look up to whatever their teachers 

The government, if they lead by example, will be able to effect a good 
start, but ultimately, the burden for creating a tolerant and peaceful 
society rests on the shoulders of all Indonesians.

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