This one was recently run in a Southeast Asian Magazine (not in Indonesia). The magazine received the usual threats, although for a change, no one wrote anything other than positive criticism directly to me. Go figure.
Let’s see if that changes with this posting.
Rule by mob
For a week or so, the Jakarta dailies have been running stories on the mobs and threats of mobs that vow to disrupt or prevent the scheduled Jakarta stop on American pop star, Lady Gaga’s Asian tour. Even more recently we have started to see the performer’s fans gather to protest the protests. But lest we focus exclusively on the ire or the support that Lady Gaga’s performance has raised here in Jakarta, let us also note that a group of Christians in the Philippines also raised their objections to the performance in the form of a rather well-dressed, chanting, and fist-waving mob of about 30 young people who shouted their views then went home.
Islamic groups here in Jakarta seem to take a harder line. More than one individual has vowed to die before he permits Lady Gaga to spread her “satanic message,
while the group’s spokesmen have vowed to prevent her, violently, one presumes, from disembarking at the airport. This is all pretty silly (as, frankly, is Ms Gaga’s shtick, but that’s neither here nor there), but it is indicative of a few things that are worth considering.
In the first place, when a militant member of an Islamic group vows to die in an effort to accomplish what he sees as a religiously inspired aim, it might be worth considering that he is deranged enough to do it. One of my friends was killed, more than one maimed, and I was just turning the corner to attend the same breakfast meeting when the bomb at the JW Marriott Hotel detonated. I have a tendency to believe religious fanatics when they claim the title.
That said, it also brings up the question of Indonesia’s progress in its tortuous march toward democracy and inclusion among the developed nations of the world. It was, to a large extent, the courage and passion of Indonesian students that was the catalyst for the final deposition of Soeharto, ending the reign of the dictator some historians have described as the single most corrupt head of state in the history of the world. The world has a clear history of regime change and social change spearheaded by youth movements…look at the US involvement in Vietnam, the Sandinistas, even the more gradual environmental revolution…the list goes on. The views of organised and mobilised students are not to be ignored. What condemns Indonesia to remain among the ranks of the developing nations, nose forever pressed up against the window, looking in, is the endemic immaturity and systemic childishness of the issues that raises all the passion.
While student protests, even revolutions, of the past that command our respect focussed on human rights, the reversal of governmental evils like routine systematic murder, mass torture of dissidents, nationally sponsored genocide, and widespread trampling of human rights, these students have their knickers in a knot because a singer dresses funny. These children and their equally childish adult leaders have a fundamentally flawed idea of what constitutes a mature and respectful society.
They have confused democracy with mob rule; the idea that opposing ideas or even tastes can be shouted down by those who don’t share them is as anti-democratic a notion as the idea of a religious caliphate for earthly governance. Maturity in citizenship, as well as governance, consists of disparate and even opposing worldviews coexisting without violence or even rancour; it can be done, it has been done, and it is done every day every day in countries all over the world. As a single historical example, the people of literally dozens of religions, countries, societies, and cultures kept their identities and lived in security and peace within the Roman Empire as Roman citizens for hundreds of years. When Rome was a republic, and even for centuries after it became a dictatorship during and after Augustus, Romans’ respect for one another despite cultural differences was virtually absolute. It was a mature society.
Anyone who has ever dealt with a three-year old knows that one of the hardest concepts to pass along is that (to quote the classics) “You can’t always get what you want”. That child is only truly prepared to be out in public when that lesson has been absorbed; when we can be reasonably sure that if the infant sees something it wants but can’t have, it won’t throw a tantrum. These latest public tantrums suggest that the lesson hasn’t taken hold in Indonesia. The same thing happened when Japanese porn star Maria Ozawa was to come a few years ago and I wrote a similar column…not much has changed except that Maria’s career got an enormous boost.
But if we haven’t yet accepted the notion that tolerance and therefore maturity in Indonesia is still a pipe-dream, one need only look the Jakarta Globe’s front page story on May 20:
“Five Jakarta Governor Candidates Guarantee Religious Freedom:
Five pairs of gubernatorial and vice-gubernatorial candidates promised on Saturday that if elected, they would not ban the construction of houses of worship, so long as all legal requirements were met.
Lenny Tristia Tambun | 1:28 PM May 20, 2012”
So the next governor will actually uphold the law. That such election promises even need to be made gives us a sense of just how far this country has progressed.
(Patrick Guntensperger is a journalist and has taught journalism in Toronto and Jakarta; he divides his time between Indonesia and Canada’s west coast. You can read more of his views at: pagunview.com).