Posts Tagged ‘hindu’

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Suffering In Silence Behind The Smile

March 26, 2012

Her smile is radiant, her posture positive and her voice is warm and friendly. A true professional at her job, she always has a kind word for customers, even those who think that wait staff are little more than an invisible underclass in Bali.

“How are you, Ari?” I ask her – not her real name, but it will do for the purposes of this narrative. “Good, good”, she says brightly, but the tiny tear glistening in the corner of her eye belies the words. Despite the drops I have just seen her instil at the back of the restaurant, her eyes remain red from recent weeping. I nod, and don’t pursue the obvious question. I already know the answer through our fragmentary conversations over the last six months. Bit by painful bit, her story has emerged, a jigsaw of interlocking disappointments that I have discovered is painfully common in Bali, especially for daughters.

Ari is a young woman who doesn’t usually complain, having one of those blessed personalities which are geared towards helping others, always putting a positive spin on events, and calmly accepting what the universe dishes out. There is not a trace of Pollyanna-like artificial cheer – what she has is utterly natural. What unfortunately, is also natural, is that some people can’t help but take advantage of pleasant dispositions like hers.

The well-spring of her sadness stems from the very people who are supposed to preserve her emotional well-being – her own family. She began work over four years ago. As in all Balinese families, all members are expected to contribute to the house-hold expenses, and she has done so unstintingly for all this time. That’s the tradition here – those who can, contribute. Those who can’t – through ill-health, age or misfortune – are supported by those who have been more lucky in the wealth-creation lottery of life.

But in her family, the checks and balances of this social survival system have collapsed into something toxic. Her father, a sturdy and healthy man, works when he feels like it, which is apparently not very much at all. The little money he makes evaporates before it reaches any bank accounts which might conceivably be used to pay for family expenses. Her mother doesn’t work. Her sister works, but has a school-aged son with all the attendant extra expenses that bedevil parents of students in Bali’s broken, ostensibly ‘free’ education system. Of the money supposedly sent by Indonesia’s central government to provide ‘free’ education, only 20% actually makes it to the schools. The rest disappears in the country’s vortex of corruption – meaning that parents either pay for everything, or their child is summarily expelled.

The family has two motorbikes – both bought on credit in Ari’s name – and she has somehow become responsible for both monthly payments. She can not therefore afford a bike of her own, so she either walks to work or cadges lifts from her friends. Her sister’s son, after approaching the father for help with purchasing compulsory text books (which his mother could not afford) was told, “Go away. I have no money. Ask Ari – she works.”

The demands on her for money are incessant. She has almost nothing of her own, and every rupiah she earns goes to support the endless needs of her financially dysfunctional family. She works double shifts to fulfil her ‘duty’ as the resident cash cow, and is slowly unravelling – a deeply saddening thing to see.

The final indignity that drove a wedge between her and her family occurred a few months ago. After a particularly harrowing month at work, where her boss made it worse by reducing everyone’s salary, she finally scraped together enough for the monthly payment on the family’s two bikes, and gave it to her father to pay. A week later, she received a call from the bank. “Where’s the money? Why did you only pay half this month?” Shocked, she confronted the father. He just shrugged. “I needed the money”, he said. She hit the roof and told him that she could not continue  like this. She asked him what he thought would happen when she eventually leaves the family home to get married.

His response was one which no daughter should hear. “You are not to get married. Your place is here, supporting your family.” And with exquisite cruelty, he didn’t stop there. “I will not pay for your wedding. If you desert us, you will pay for it yourself.” Of course, he has now screwed her credit rating to such an extent that she couldn’t now get a loan from the bank if she tried. Forget a wedding loan, or a bike of her own – she couldn’t even buy a Blackberry for herself on credit now.

Unsurprisingly, she left the family home the next day, and is now living with a relative. Although estranged from her father, she still feels duty bound to keep supporting her family, despite barely being able to support herself with what’s left. And her sister, fully aware of the situation in which Ari is trapped, is still using emotional blackmail to extort money. “You must give me 1.8 million for my son’s test at school! He will be thrown out if you don’t! Please, please, only you can help …”

No wonder Ari comes to work with the occasional tear in her eye. Knowing her story, I am enraged at a patriarchal system that allows the nominal ‘head’ of the family to treat his daughter like an indentured slave. I am incensed at the man himself for letting his greed and laziness nearly destroy his own flesh and blood. I look with despair at people like her sister, who are so artless as to believe that someone else has the responsibility to fix problems arising from their own inability to manage money.

And I look with wonder at Ari herself, a woman who, despite an occasional, but totally understandable tear or two, still manages to smile and stay proud, positive, strong and independent.  I couldn’t do that. Under the same circumstances, I would have turned into a screaming homicidal lunatic, trashed the entire house, burned the father’s armchair, taken both motorbikes and thundered off into the sunset. And to hell with my dysfunctional excuse for a family.

I saw one of those ‘inspirational’ quotes today – the ones that normally drive me spare with their facile, saccharin-filled self-evident pap. But for once, this one both resonated with the core of this story and helped me to understand what motivates Ari to keep smiling. It said:

Just because I laugh a lot
doesn’t mean my life is easy.
Just because I have a smile on my face every day
doesn’t mean that something is not bothering me.
I just choose to move on, and not dwell
on all the negatives in my life.
Every moment gives me the chance to renew anew.
I choose to do that.

Ari embodies the sentiments in that little bit of doggerel. I just don’t know how she does it. But I have a boundless admiration for the innate strength of character that lets her do it. And I am beginning to realise that in Bali, it is a necessary quality needed for survival.

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Some Post-Nyepi Reflections

March 25, 2012

Another Nyepi has come and gone.  It was a time of quiet darkness, the freedom from the incessant chaos of traffic and people on the streets providing a balm for jaded souls. A Day of Silence, introspection and respect. Except, of course, for those who seem to be exempt from respecting the strictures that this day imposes on the rest of us.

Like the local lads in Buleleng who rampaged through the streets of the silent Nyepi night on motorbikes, attacking rival communities, hurling insults and missiles, and co-opting reinforcements to swell the numbers of those engaged in this desecration.

Like the police and paramilitaries who responded to this affray not with mediation, counselling and diplomacy, but with gunfire. Gunfire on Nyepi Day, no less!

Like some Balinese children and teenagers, caught up in self-righteous vigilante hubris – and believing that they have the same rights as adult Pecalang – rampaging noisily down streets, hammering loudly on doors and demanding that lights be doused.

Like the Pecalang who believed that young children under their supervision, should be permitted to play in the otherwise empty streets while their charges socialised, chatted and played cards.

Like some insensitive bules who perhaps thought that they had been quiet for long enough by 11 pm on Friday night, and were therefore justified in letting the sound of their loud, drunken arguments escape their villas and pollute the still night.

Like the few errant mosques, whose clerics arrogantly permitted amplified sounds to sully the silence despite all prior polite requests for quiet – and despite Bali’s already generous concessions which allowed Muslims to walk to mosques in the name of religious tolerance.

Like surfers and visitors to Medewi, who freely used the streets and beaches all day.

Like some restaurants in the same area, which were open for business on the Day of Silence.

And like a few non-Balinese households, who believed that their brightly-lit, noisy houses were as exempt from silence, darkness and respect for local customs as those of their compatriots in other parts of the archipelago.

Visitors, tourists, expats and most Indonesian non-Hindus have, in the main, always shown respect for Nyepi, observing its restrictions with good grace. But now, with breaches and exemptions on the increase, some people are starting to question whether the Balinese take it all that seriously themselves. And if they don’t, why are the rest of us bothering?

I think that the spiritual currency of this special day is being slowly devalued – and that makes me sad.


RELATED POST: One Day, Will We Commemorate Nyepi Day With A Minute’s Silence?


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One Day, Will We Commemorate Nyepi Day With A Minute’s Silence?

March 18, 2012

Nyepi Day – the “Day of Silence” – marks the Balinese New Year. It is both a cultural imperative and an iconic event of powerful significance, and it literally stops all activity on the island for one full day of the year. The airport and all transportation hubs are closed and everyone is confined indoors. Working is not permitted. No-one, except for the black-clad pecalang, the traditional keepers of village order, is permitted on the streets. Apart from emergency vehicles, no traffic is allowed.

Silence rules the day. Noise, TV and music is strongly discouraged. No fires can be lit, and at night, lights – if used at all – must be kept low and not be visible from outside a residence. Entertainment and bodily pleasures are prohibited, as is  travelling. Some communities may fast, others may ban talking altogether, while still others may even disconnect the electricity supply to whole villages.

The twenty four hour period is dedicated to introspection and reflection, and the day’s restrictions are designed to eliminate all barriers to achieving that aim. Mythologically, it is a time when evil spirits emerge from the sea to fly over the island, looking for signs of human activity that might provide a receptacle for their evil. With no lights, no noise and no activity to be seen, there is nothing to pique their interest and encourage them to linger. In this way Bali remains free of the forces of darkness for another year.

Although primarily a Balinese Hindu occasion, non-Hindu residents of Bali have always honoured the tradition as well. Perhaps not to the same extent as the Balinese in terms of fasting, not watching TV and engaging in reflective practice, but they have always arranged their activities to avoid being out in the streets, and in keeping residential noise and light emissions to undetectable levels. Tourists get more leeway, as long as they confine themselves to activities within hotel grounds. Even so, no-one has traditionally been allowed on the streets or beaches, with alert pecalang keeping a careful lookout for transgressors who may be counselled, disciplined or fined.

Some of my foreign acquaintances, both tourists and residents,  choose to leave Bali during Nyepi, or to check into a hotel with spacious grounds to give themselves a little more personal freedom. I can understand this, especially if they have kids.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep them quiet for 24 hours without the stimulation of activities, the soporific effect of TV, or the comfort of air-conditioning.

However for me, Nyepi is a highlight. It always has been during the time I have been living in Bali. I enjoy the quiet, the lack of chaos and the sense of complete spiritual peace that descends on the place. I don’t mind being sequestered in my villa for a day and a night. I welcome the time for thinking, for reading and for reflection. I don’t see the restrictions as an impost, I see them as an opportunity. My great fortune is that I cannot remember ever having been bored, and this stands me in good stead on Nyepi Day. A rich internal world is truly a blessing.

Government authorities here generally use sanctions to encourage the observance of the day’s restrictions for everyone, even to the extent of sometimes going too far to ensure this. This year, their call for cable TV providers to shut down all transmission for 24 hours was well-meant, but not particularly well thought-out. It’s not just Bali’s Hindus that would be affected by such a shut-down – it would also be the  patrons of hotels, which are already allowed to provide some reprieve from Nyepi restrictions  for foreigners. After all, surely devout Hindus can simply choose not to watch cable TV?

So given the purported strength of the Bali government’s conviction about the sanctity of Nyepi Day, why are we starting to see an erosion of restrictions? Why is a day that is central to Balinese core cultural beliefs being gradually changed to accommodate special interests? Already reports are coming in that, despite beaches always having been off-limits on this day, an exception is now being made for surfers, who will not have to abide by Nyepi restrictions, on Bali’s far west coast.

Now, in the interests of “religious harmony” – or maybe pressure from elsewhere in the archipelago – Bali’s Governor has announced that Muslims will be permitted to use the streets to attend Friday prayers. Mosques have been “requested” not to use amplified calls to prayer, or amplified sermons on the day. However, it seems that no actual prohibition has been put in place to ensure silence in the surrounding community. Interestingly, there appears to be no corresponding relaxation of Nyepi restrictions for members of any other religious faiths to attend services.

I spoke to a Muslim acquaintance about this, because I was curious as to why it was necessary to physically attend a place of worship on the one day of the year where such attendance might conflict with a different set of religious and cultural imperatives, especially in a Hindu-majority region. His response was one of disbelief. “But we must go to prayers”, he said, “this is our religion.” I assured him that I understood, and gently pointed out that, for the Balinese, Nyepi Day and its attendant prohibitions concerning silence – and not using the streets – were also an integral part of their religion and culture.

“You don’t understand”, he said. “It is our religion and we must pray. For Bali people, it doesn’t matter. It is just a ceremony.” He’s right; I don’t understand. Not being an adherent of any faith, I guess I hold the mistaken belief that a person’s communication with their god occurs in their heart, and not necessarily in a specific geographical location.

And before people start moaning and shrieking that I am picking on a specific religion, relax.  My point is not about religion, it is about Nyepi Day and its observance in Balinese culture. It is a precious and rare event, the importance of which should not be eroded by surfers, or prayer-attendees, or anyone else who decides that their personal wishes should trump the observance of this day.

What’s next? I fear that as more vocal groups start demanding that they be allowed to go where they want, and do what they want on Nyepi Day, its significance will continue to erode in the same way that Bali’s cultural landscape is already eroding. What will be left of this day in ten years? Just another public holiday with a mandatory one minute’s silence to commemorate the ghost of Nyepi?

I hope not. I really hope not.


FOLLOW UP POST: Post-Nyepi Reflections – where it all went wrong


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Tradisi – Women Working Without Weeping

January 30, 2012

My young breakfast waitress comes over to the table. It’s only 9:30 am, but her face already shows more than the normal strain of  the breakfast rush. Her eyes are underlined by dark semi-circles and she looks drawn and weary. Actually, she looks exhausted.

“Big party last night?” asks yours truly, Mr. Sensitive, before remembering that she is a traditional Balinese girl. Parties, at least those of the type familiar to most of us Westerners,  are just not her scene. I’d also forgotten that the staff at that restaurant normally do an afternoon shift ending at 11pm, followed the next day with a morning shift starting at 7 am. That sort of load is gruelling under normal circumstances, but for a Balinese woman, it is even more taxing at this time of the year.

“Oh no! No party!” she says, scandalised. “After work, I have many things to get ready for Galungan.” This, of course, is one of the big ceremonial occasions of the Balinese religious and cultural calendar. She tells me that she did not finish all her Galungan duties until late and finally went to sleep at 3:30 am – only to get up two hours later to start her work day.

I am stunned. “But you have a job, and you finish so late at night …”
“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “I am a Balinese girl; this is what I have to do, even if I have a job.”

It is no surprise that there is a great deal of preparation for the many ceremonies in Bali, but I had always been under the impression that all members of familial and community groups shared the load – men and women alike. Apparently this is not so. Balinese women, by long-standing conservative tradition, appear to undertake the bulk of the responsibility for preserving and safeguarding Balinese Hinduism, including a central role in all rituals and ceremonies.

Despite men being the visible administrators and spokesmen for Balinese religion, they play little part in the religious education of their children. This is a role reserved for women, who pass the torch of essential rituals on to the next generation. Of course, women are the home-makers too. In most cases they are responsible for provision and preparation of food and in fact, for all the home comforts expected by the members of extended family groups. Most money matters are handled by women as well, as is the children’s education, payment of school fees and hand-crafting of the daily ceremonial offerings. Tradition demands not only that women passively accept what life dishes out in Bali, but that they take pride in their contribution without questioning it. Should an outsider suggest that exploitation is taking place, he is met with expressions of shock and disbelief – from women as well as men.

What is difficult to fathom is that, as women assume more and more important roles in the Balinese economy with their participation in the workforce, their demanding traditional roles have not changed at all. The time-consuming home-making, religious and ritualistic duties have not diminished one iota. It is considered perfectly normal for women such as my exhausted waitress to work two back-to-back shifts and spend the intervening ‘rest’ period doing her ceremonial ‘duties’. Feminism has not yet made inroads into Bali life.

And what are the husbands, fathers, brothers and male cousins of these working women doing? Well, in all fairness, some are working at jobs too, but at least they get to relax after finishing work. Many get to relax during their jobs too, if the countless sleeping taxi drivers clustered around warungs and shacks in peak periods is any indication. But I see huge numbers of layabout men engaged in nothing more strenuous than smoking and gossiping  in those endless male bonding rituals on street corners and outside Bali’s ubiquitous Mini-Marts. How many of them will be assisting their female family members with their traditional ‘women’s duties’ after work? Oh wait, they can’t – it’s prevented by ‘tradition’ – and there’s probably a good cock-fight or game of pool to shoot anyway.

So I ask my waitress, “Do the men do anything to prepare for Galungan?” “Oh yes”, she says quickly, “They make the penjors, and … well, they make the penjors.” She explains that the penjor – a tall, curved bamboo pole heavily decorated with coconut leaves – needs construction skills which are only possessed by the men. “So do the men help with any other preparations for ceremonies?” I ask.

She visibly struggles with her feelings, and says with a mixture of pride and regret, “No, not really. We are women, it is what we have to do …” There is an unspoken ‘but’ at the end of her sentence. I can see she is torn between her acceptance of tradition and the questions that inevitably arise as her society wrestles with looming modernity. She is starting to think about gender roles, about imbalances, and about fairness.

She stays silent for a minute, but what I hear is the first subterranean creaking of a seismic shift in one woman’s awareness. Then, out of the blue, she says, “Do you believe in re-incarnation?” I tell her that I don’t.

“Well, I do”, she says pensively, and pauses again. “I think, next time, I want to come back as a man.”

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For Balinese, Soon There May Be No Time Left For Work

January 9, 2012

Anyone who has visited Bali is struck by the number of ceremonies performed every day. From the thrice-daily canang sari – small baskets of rice, flowers and incense offered to the gods in gratitude for the richness of life, to full-scale temple ceremonies, weddings and cremations. It is an inescapable part of Balinese culture, woven into the very fabric of society, and of Bali life itself.

Those who live in Bali – and who employ Balinese staff – will also know that these essential rituals take priority over almost all other day-to-day activities, including work. Some house staff and employees have developed enough of a work ethic to give their employers at least some notice of forthcoming absences. However, many don’t, either not showing up for work at all, or calling two minutes before the work day starts with the catch-all excuse, “Sorry, family ceremony today.” Or, “Can not work today, grandmother cremation …”

Sometimes it’s even true. But even if one possesses the gullibility of a brand-new tourist and the compassion of Mother Teresa, it’s still hard to remain a bastion of understanding when a ‘bereaved’ staff member’s mother has supposedly died for the third time since they started working for you.

But discounting the inevitable opportunistic days off, the legitimate ceremonies which place constant demands on the Balinese are frequent, time-consuming and expensive. A recent report from Al Jazeera claimed that Balinese were now spending one third of their income on ceremonies. In a video clip about this trend, Bali’s Governor Made Mangku Pastika expressed concern about the financial load on families who were already close to the minimum wage.

As reported in The Jakarta Post, Pastika went even further in an address to a Balinese Hindu organisation on Christmas Day, claiming that, unlike some other religions whose actions concentrated on “helping the poor, improving education and providing healthcare to the disadvantaged”, Balinese Hindus spent most of their energy on the ritualistic elements of their religion. He is reported to have said that they were so fixated on offerings to the gods and to natural forces that they were neglecting their fellow human beings.

Strong words. Without entering into a debate about the expression of any particular religion, it is clear that these ceremonies do take up a lot of participants’ time and money, and that they do tend to take priority over mundane aspects such as work. The impact on family finances, on their workplace’s profitability, and therefore on the broader Bali economy are undeniable.

Given Governor Pastika’s views, it was somewhat of a shock to read in the paper that he has just signed off on eighteen new religious holidays for Bali. These new local holidays are “to allow Hindus to perform their various religious activities,” according to I Ketut Teneng, a spokesman for the provincial government. These are in addition to the thirteen existing regional holidays and the five official joint leave days. So the Bali workforce now has 36 official days off – twice that existed previously. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are many additional ceremonies that are not on the official calendar, but equally important. Many Balinese homes feature a small temple – and each temple has an Odalan ceremony which is held on the anniversary of its consecration. An ‘anniversary’ in Bali is not necessarily held annually. The Wuku calendar system here may well mean a celebration occurs every 210 days. In addition, local villages and community areas have their own temples as well, and obligations exist to honour festivals for these too. Depending on the size and importance of the temple, each festival can continue for between one and eleven days.

And that’s not all. There are about a dozen life and death rites to be performed for every individual during their allotted span on earth, some of which start even before birth. Some rituals are relatively quick, but others, like the Three Month Ceremony, which marks the the occasion when a baby touches the ground for the first time, can be protracted affairs with many celebrants. Puberty rites and tooth filings are still carried out by some castes, and of course weddings and funerals involve lengthy celebrations. Then, every 35 days, there may be ‘honour days’ for things made of metal, fruit trees, domestic animals, shadow puppets, dance paraphernalia and literature.

In total, ‘non-working’ days in Bali now probably number close to two months of the year, if not more. I am starting to wonder if the Bali economy can afford it. While it is easy for politicians to double the number of official holidays with the stroke of a pen, the question of how employers will be affected seems to have been ignored.

If you are a foreigner with staff, either domestic or business, the answer is simple. You will, as always, be expected to pay normal wages despite another 18 days’ loss of productivity. After all, who in their right mind would refuse to allow time off for Balinese religious and cultural imperatives? The problem is, some of the expat rumblings I have heard suggest that the simplest solution is to dispense with the services of Balinese altogether and employ locals from elsewhere in the archipelago. This, naturally, would not be good for Bali, but it could well be be a logical consequence of arbitrarily doubling the number of holidays.

Then, of course, there is the local employer reaction, which tends to be a lot more pragmatic. One Balinese restaurant owner, when asked how the new holidays would affect his business, was quite blunt. “It’s bullshit,” he said. “My staff aren’t getting them. I can’t afford it.”

There you go. It will be interesting how this one plays out.

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Lombokschwitz, Indonesia’s Ahmadi Shame

November 16, 2011

The rising tide of religious intolerance continues unchecked in the great ‘secular democracy’ of Indonesia. Diani Budiarto, the Mayor of Bogor, only sixty kilometres from Jakarta, thumbs his nose at the government, the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the essence of Pancasila itself by continuing to victimise members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church. “No church should be on a street named after a Muslim”, he said. Scholars are apparently still poring over the 114 Suras in the Qur’an to find any which might support his bigoted stance.

Elsewhere in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi, Christian churches are burned, parishioners attacked and anyone who does not adhere slavishly to Islamic orthodoxy is marginalised. The police stand by and watch. The President, his hands tied by fundamentalist coalition partners, does nothing, thereby condoning the attacks.

In Cikeusik, West Java, 17 year old Dani bin Misra was released from jail to a hero’s welcome. He had received only a three month sentence for the violent murder of Roni Pasaroni, a member of the Ahmadiya sect, during a vicious siege of their home. Their house was torched by a fanatically screaming mob, two of its occupants being set upon as they tried to escape, then clubbed and slashed to death. In a stunning example of Indonesian jurisprudence, one of the survivors was sentenced to six months jail “for provoking the attack”, simply by being in the house. The police stood by and watched. The President called for the perpetrators to be caught and punished, but as is usual in Indonesian courts, the pressure from hard-liners ensured that prosecutors didn’t even bother to call eye-witnesses.

Hard-line Muslims don’t approve of the peaceful Ahmadis. Oblivious the the irony of her words, one resident of Cikeusik said, “We had to clean our village. This is no place for the followers of a cult.” The FPI, a fundamentalist band of uneducated thugs for hire, don’t approve of the Ahmadis either. In fact, they don’t seem to approve of anything that deviates from the ideology being forced upon Indonesians by the fundamentalists’ Arabic masters.

The FPI operates with impunity because the police let them. “As a part of society, the FPI is our partner … in a positive way”, said National Police spokesman Senior Commander Boy Rafli Amar. What else can he say? His boss, Chief of the Indonesian National Police General Timur Pradopo is reported to be a foundation member of the FPI. And despite knowing this, the President still appointed him to his position. What does that tell you about SBY’s commitment to tolerance?

But all of these violations of religious freedoms, all of this intolerance, violence and bigotry don’t really impact Bali, do they?. We can all relax in paradise, because these insanities perpetrated in the name of religion are a long way away in West Java, North Sumatra and Sulawesi, right?

Wrong.

Just 35 kilometres away lies Lombok, touted as “The New Bali” and a fledgling tourist destination. Lombok, which is predominately Muslim, also is home to a population of Ahmadiya – Muslims who have so offended fundamentalists by their belief in a variant of mainstream Islam that they are not even permitted to call themselves Muslims. This peaceful sect, who have been in Indonesia since 1925, has grown in numbers worldwide by 400% in the last ten years. In Lombok, their numbers have been savagely reduced by violent persecution by the local population. Their homes have been destroyed, their land and possessions stolen. Forcible conversions to the “true Islam” have decimated their numbers. Those who have asserted their right to freedom of worship have been hounded into a ghetto in Mataram.

The run-down Transito shelter in Mataram is now home to 140 Ahmadis, crammed into a shelter where sanitation is non-existent and where the government has cut off electricity three years ago. The government has banned them from returning to their homes and has refused to register them as residents of Lombok. Because they are not residents, their food aid was cut off last year, and they are denied the free gas stoves supposedly distributed by the government to all citizens. They are the forgotten people of Lombok. Presumably, everyone is waiting for them to die off in poverty and squalor so that the problem will go away.

What motivated the Lombok population to begin to destroy their own neighbours? Well for a start, maybe the 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) against the Ahmadis started the ball rolling. The government, which had every chance to reinforce the propaganda that Indonesia is a secular nation by nipping this in the bud, dropped the ball and did nothing until 2008. At which time, inexplicably, a Ministerial Decree ratified the unconstitutional religious decree by making it law. Since then, fuel has been poured on the fire by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali’s call for an complete ban on Ahmadiyah. To the uneducated and the poor, the message is clear. The Ahmadis are fair game.

The latest lame attempt at controlling religious thought comes from the government’s current draft Religious Harmony Bill. This masterpiece of bad drafting requires the consideration of “the local community’s wisdom” prior to the construction of a place of worship. Wisdom? It also wants to specifically regulate how people should spread their faith, celebrate religious holidays, construct places of worship, hold funerals and organize religious education. Have any of these intellectual giants considered the impact of a national law like that on a place like Bali? Unbelievable. Sounds like a law to promote intolerance, not eliminate it.

And once intolerance takes root, it’s hard to eradicate it. In Lombok, it’s not just the Ahmadis that are targets now. Ask any expat unfortunate enough to have a villa with Hindu iconography as part of the design. Ask them about the vandalism. Ask expats who have been brazen enough to politely request their village chiefs for the volume to be turned down on the 4.30am to dawn hyper-amplified call to prayer. Oh wait, you can’t ask them – they’re now in jail.

And ask poor, deaf,  Sadarudin, a harmless disabled Ahmadi resident of the Lombokschwitz concentration camp, who was the target of an attempted beheading by an intolerant coward with a machete. Ask him what he thinks about the politics of religious intolerance in Indonesia. Ask him what he thinks about pancasila, and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of choice of worship. Ask him what he thinks of the President of a  ‘secular democracy’ who allows his country to slide into a fundamentalist theocratic regime while his pious, hypocritical elites grow fat on graft.

Oh wait, you can’t – he’s fighting for his life in a Mataram hospital and can’t talk to anybody. Shame, Lombok. Shame, Indonesia.

— ooo —

UPDATE:
15 November 2011: FPI, MUI and FKUB harass Ahmadis in Bekasi, just East of Jakarta

RELATED POSTIndonesia’s Silent Majority Silent While Country Is Hijacked [10 October, 2011]

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Indonesia’s Silent Majority Silent While Country Is Hijacked

October 10, 2011

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.