Shattering events in a country don’t seem to stay in the mind for long. People watch, aghast, as world-changing circumstances unfold all over the globe. But inevitably, after a short period of engagement, they get bored and wander off to have a cup of tea and a good lie down. An epidemic of Attention-Deficit Disorder washes over whole nations – and the events, no matter how momentous, fade from the collective memory.
The inability of many to register the world’s turning-points in anything other than short-term memory means that opportunities to recognise history in the making are passed over, and the chance of learning from these is lost. Even Arnold Toynbee must have forgotten that in 1919 when he famously paraphrased George Santayana’s 1905 words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and presented them as his own.
At a local establishment last week, three TVs were showing motorcycle racing, rugby and a documentary on Hiroshima. The assembled patrons’ attention was evenly divided between the two sports. The scenes from Japan went unnoticed. When the thirty-something sports fan beside me finally glanced at the documentary channel, I asked him: “What do you think of that?” He looked at the rubble and melted bodies for a second and said, “Ah, I don’t like horror movies.” I replied that it was real and that we were watching actual atomic warfare and its consequences. He dismissed me with “Mate, I don’t like that First World War stuff either.” I don’t think history has taught him much.
And it wasn’t that long ago that we all watched vision from media cameras attached to bombs in their horrifying trajectories of death. Gripping at first, it soon became just another high-tech middle-eastern war; another night’s entertainment on the tube. And after a week, it was back to the soaps and sinetrons, banal crime shows and Big Brother. We apparently preferred Reality Shows to reality. Memories fade, events become irrelevant to our day-to-day lives. Secure in our non-caring, non-engaged stupor, we ignore what is actually happening and become part of the silent majority that just lets bad things keep happening.
And so it is with Indonesia today. This wonderful country, populated with vast numbers of friendly, tolerant people, is losing its identity, its culture and even its reputation in the world. It once prided itself on being a secular democracy protected by constitutional guarantees of religious tolerance and guided by the principles of Pancasila. Now, dragged down by the twin dead-weights of religious fundamentalism and endemic corruption, Indonesia is sliding into an abyss of graft and Middle Ages theocracy. Its economy is being shaken by the astonishing hubris of scandal-prone political ‘elites’ motivated by greed and self-interest, and foreign investor confidence is being rattled by the jingoistic demands of inexperienced and incompetent ministers.
A small minority of Islamic zealots, tacitly supported by some police of dubious morality, continue to attack adherents of other faiths, including Muslims belonging to sects other than their own. They persecute those of the Ahmadiyah faith, branding them heretics, despite a peaceful Ahmadiyah presence in Indonesia for decades before the arrival of Arab-influenced Wahhabi fundamentalists in this country. A biased judiciary hands out 5-month sentences to murderers of Ahmadis, while giving their victims twice that for ‘inciting the crime’. They’ve probably forgotten, or maybe don’t even know that an Ahmadi wrote the Indonesian National anthem. Incredibly, in direct contravention of the constitution, a ministerial decree has even been passed which prohibits Ahmadi activities. Elsewhere, low-level officials even defy Supreme Court orders to stop their harassment of Christians, keeping places of worship closed by force and herding worshippers away as if they were animals.
At many pesantren – Islamic boarding schools – Saudi and Pakistani-trained clerics continue their jihadist indoctrination of Indonesia’s youth under the guise of religious education. Illegal vigilante groups, such as the FPI, continue to oppose anything except a strict interpretation of Wahhabi Islam, creating fear and unrest in the communities that they, and their sponsors, relentlessly target. Even iconic Wayang theatre figures, for centuries a part of the culture of Java, have been targeted as heretical by fundamentalists determined to destroy the rich traditions of Indonesia and replace them with an Arabic culture. Meanwhile, on religious issues, the silent majority stays silent.
They also say nothing about their government, where the corruption blatantly exhibited by many politicians and government officials passes completely under their radar. Blatantly biased judgements by corrupt elements of the courts don’t attract more than a mutter of protest either. Religious bias – in favour of one flavour of Islam – elicits no opposition for fear of being denounced as a ‘bad Muslim’. Lowering of educational standards, decay of infrastructure and lack of community improvements caused by embezzlement and theft produces a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders.
About 70 million Indonesians don’t vote at all, so they don’t even use their voices for dissent. By embracing GOLPUT – the Indonesian way of expressing disenchantment with the political process by choosing not to vote – or by just being apathetic, they leave the field clear for political parties to continue to hold ‘gift-giving rallies’ in return for votes, thereby creating toxic, self-serving elites who end up doing whatever they want. If this is democracy, I don’t recognise it. Isn’t it better to stand up, speak up and be counted? What a waste of opportunities to change the process for the better!
And what of the ‘moderate Muslims’ In Indonesia – those who do not embrace the retrograde views of the increasingly powerful fundamentalist factions? Do they really see Wahhabi demands as relevant to a modern Indonesia? Do they want a nation that can take its place on the world stage, or a controlling theocracy, masquerading as a pseudo-democracy, that is incapable of separating Church from State? Do they really want the creeping implementation of Shariah Law to continue with the continuing enactment of more stealthy, unconstitutional by-laws?
The changes occurring in Indonesia now are not a series of dramatic events that polarise people’s views and have them openly rebelling. They are instead symptoms of an insidious, creeping malaise that, while it may disturb the silent majority of Indonesians, does not seem to marshal enough concern or engagement to incite open rebellion. It should, because they are a threat to the very fabric of Indonesia itself. But to act against a threat, people must first perceive it as a threat. Maybe that has not yet happened because of the slow and stealthy nature of the changes.
Indonesia is at the cross-roads. Apart from Bali, where religion is still the domain of the spirit and not a political weapon, where religious tolerance is the norm, and where Pancasila is observed in practice rather than as a polemic, Indonesia’s silent majority needs to rise up and speak with one voice. It needs to tell its politicians, public servants and religious leaders that it has had enough of incompetence, cronyism, corruption and religious bigotry. It needs to re-visit those lessons of history that chronicle the submerging of peaceful and tolerant cultures by foreign ones which are dominating, violent and crave control.
Unless of course, the silent majority agrees with the death of integrity in politics, supports a savage rise in religious intolerance and looks forward to the imposition of an Arabian culture. In which case, keep saying and doing nothing. Your wishes will be granted.