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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

I have seen the future, and it’s murder…

Loonies, and teabags, and prayers…oh my!

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Since it is now true that most people in North America use the Internet as their primary source of news, I’ve been trying to take the pulse of the Internet surfing public. To that end, I’ve been following news commentary on Internet news providers like Yahoo; I’ve even posted a couple of comments on a sampling of news stories to get a sense of the level of news discussion in which the general public engages. I’m here to tell you that if I have seen the face of the future, we’re in for a rough ride.

A few weeks of using the most popular Internet portals for daily news and commentary is a sobering experience. In the first place, the editors at Yahoo, to use the most popular source as an example, don’t seem to draw a distinction between news and commentary; click on a headline and your chances of opening an opinion piece by one of Yahoo’s bloggers is about the same as getting a Canadian Press, or Reuters, or other newswire piece. I have no idea how Yahoo chooses who is to be one of their contract bloggers, but they certainly have strong opinions, with, it seems to me, a right leaning predisposition. This is fair enough, of course; unless of course it is run without clearly acknowledging that the opinions expressed are personal views and not news reporting. Imagine if my opinions in the posts on this site were run without being distinguished from news! Even I would object to an unbalanced, partisan op-ed – like most of my pieces – being run under a news headline on the news section of a news site.

I won’t even bother going on about the preponderance of celebrity gossip, gotcha photos of “celebrities” I have never heard of since I don’t watch reality shows, and intensive analysis of the wardrobe choices of virtually anyone who has ever had a picture taken. There is no need to click on those headlines, and to maintain one’s self respect, one simply doesn’t.

I’m not even going to spend time bemoaning the wretched quality of the reporting and writing of the actual news they run between their lists of “10 things Men Hate About Women” and “12 Foods That Will Reduce Stress”. Let us just say that the content of the news logs is supermarket tabloid level and the form is barely literate.

But for a glimpse into the heart of darkness that seems to be at the centre of the Internet surfing experience, you need to follow one of the interactive threads provided for readers’ commentary after each piece. Now that can be truly frightening. A casual or even a serious look into these threads reveals a subculture dominated by vicious, hate-spewing, intolerant, uneducated, right wing bigots. If you want to challenge this observation, just pick a Yahoo News story on any high profile issue. Make a mild comment that suggests tolerance, or compassion, or human decency, then sit back and watch the replies come flooding in.

Is it just me, or does this guy look like Reagan?

I read a piece on Hilary Clinton’s release from the hospital after she was treated for the blood clot she incurred when she recently fell; I commented that I was happy she had recovered and hoped that she was in renewed good health. The very first comment that was posted was a carefully thought out discussion opener. I quote it verbatim: <<Pagun, your a scrotum sucking Liberal %$#@*& who needs to be frickin shot. You and every other *&^%@#$ dont understand freedom or democracy!!!>> (No, my interlocutor wasn’t sparing my sensibilities with that collection of symbols…Yahoo apparently runs an algorithm that censors unacceptable words. Perhaps to avoid racist comments it won’t let you post the word “white”. This led me to read one of my own posts after it was cleansed and I found that I had referred to the President’s dwelling as the @#$% House).

Apart from the clear stupidity in the response to my somewhat innocuous comment, there is a worrisome undercurrent that runs through the Internet news forums. The right wing violent rage is palpable and it manifests itself in outbursts of venom at the slightest hint that someone may hold a differing point of view on even the least contentious issue. For the right wing, it seems, it’s not enough to disagree with Hilary’s politics; it’s not enough to resent her bitterly; it’s not even enough to despise her; they have to wish violent death upon anyone who even treats her with a modicum of courtesy.

Imagine the fun if you comment favourably about the @#$% House’s proposals for gun controls. Since I post comments using my “Pagun” handle, it’s fairly easy for even the none-too-bright trailer trash to find this website; one mild comment supportive of the need to reign in the gun violence in the US and I was inundated with death threats apparently intended to persuade me that they were from responsible gun owners. I know they were responsible gun owners because they told me so, and then promised to use their assault weapons to <<*&^%#$  shoot (my) mother&^%$*  Liberal  &^%$  off and teach (me) about being a real man>> since I am <<a frickin fudgepacking %$#& hole>>.

Hand in hand with this extreme intolerance is an inclination to politicise virtually everything. A woman stabbed her husband and two children to death; the first response in the midst of the that tragedy and the overlapping mourning of the children who died in the Sandy Hook school massacre? <<Now Obammy’s gonna want to take away knives from law obiding citizen’s>>

Something I am learning is that there are two categories of people, according to the audience who chooses to engage in public news analysis on the Internet. If you say anything vaguely positive about environmental efforts you cannot escape your categorisation as: a gay, hippy, Marxist, unemployed, welfare sucking, intellectual, abortion pushing, gun-hating, deluded, atheistic, anarchist. And on the other side, if you are a fiscal conservative, you find it necessary to espouse unfettered civilian access to weapons of war, killing the poor, rejecting all science, Christian fundamentalism, life beginning at conception, eating the whales, drill and frack in Banff, pave the forests, torture prisoners, invade every annoying country, and arm teachers. No middle ground; compromise is failure; shout the others down and deny their right, not just to an opinion, but to live.

My journey through the muck of the lowest common denominator on the web was profoundly depressing. I know there is more out there; I also look at genuine sites with actual news and therefore actual discussion, and I am sometimes refreshed by the thoughtful comments and I’m occasionally inspired by the insights found there. What is depressing is that such reasonable discussion is hard to find whereas the easily accessed surface stuff would embarrass Jerry Springer. This seems to me to be a perfect example of what I used to call The Pagun principle when I taught critical thinking to first year university classes: Ninety percent of everything is crap. 

And, judging by the level of stupidity of the content of the Internet news and those who weigh in on it, that principle needs to include people. Yes, as Leonard Cohen put it, I have seen the future and it is murder.

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Stupid is as stupid does.

Religions aren’t all the same

Patrick Guntensperger

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA –There is a substantial group of people out there who reads from of this collection of essays and criticisms regularly; I have an even larger number of people each day who read my pieces for the first time. For those of you whose notice it may have escaped…I am a liberal.

I’ll go farther than that; in many ways I can fairly be described as a socialist. I stop short of communism, although I have a great deal of sympathy for much of Marx’s economic writing; I just don’t have his faith in the historic inevitability of the class struggle as he sees it, and history seems to have borne out my view. Nevertheless, I believe strongly in the strength and character of the human individual and therefore I believe in society’s perfectibility, and that the only way we will achieve that is through concerted and coordinated effort, shared struggle and contribution and rational distribution of the fruits of those labours. I believe that together we can achieve far more than we can as individuals, and human constructs such as governments are the best tools to achieve shared human goals. That’s why civilised countries have roads, harbours, airports, police forces, city councils, universities, universal health care systems, universal education systems, fire departments, national parks, seniors’ drop-in centres, and playgrounds. 

But this piece isn’t about the social benefits of actions created and supported financially by communities…it’s about religion; I bring politics up first just to forestall my being pigeonholed into a political category because of my views; I am going to offend many people with what I say, and I genuinely hope it enrages some…as long as they actually think about some of my propositions.

To begin with, let me make it clear that I abhor all religions. Every single one of them. I hold the Abrahamic religions in the greatest contempt simply because they are the most familiar to me, and because they are the source of so much of the suffering, brutality, hatred, and violence in the world today, and have been through the last two thousand years. Meanwhile their parent religions accounted for all the Biblical mayhem, cruelty and bloodshed. But all religions are stupid. And if an idea can be described as evil…religion itself is evil.

Having said all that, and undoubtedly having pissed a few people off already (I expect that, people are very protective of their core, self-defining beliefs, particularly so when they are indefensible) I take the biggest risk when I say this: Although all religions are stupid and dangerous…all religions are not the same. They can be differentiated, of course, but it is clear that one religion in particular at the moment is infinitely worse for the present and possibly the future than the others.Imagine!

For all of the sheer, blind, stupidity of Judaism and Christianity, Islam outweighs the other Abrahamic religions in its current state of gullibility, stupidity, bigotry, misogyny, arrogance, brutality, self-righteousness, violence, ignorance, and anti-humanism.

If I ever doubt the perfectibility of humankind, that doubt arises directly from my observation of the stupidity, the mindless, absurd, uncritical, intellectually vacuous, and self-contradictory way in which the pinnacle of evolution…humankind…fritters away much of its existence and destroys the promise of an enlightened society – by talking, and worse, listening to an imaginary psychopathic friend who encourages bigotry, intolerance, violence, and hatred.

But the most pernicious of these delusions is the Islamic delusion.

Islam (and to a lesser extent, all other members of religions), listen carefully… I have the right to criticise, insult, or make fun of anyone or anything I want. I can burn any book I own, I can use its pages for toilet paper, or to draw pictures of the people it mentions having sex with fanciful animals in the margins. I can make up songs, shoot movies or draw cartoons of any religion or its members or founders; and I may do those things without apologising to you or anyone else. That is my right as a free human being. You, on the other hand DO NOT have the right to kill me, threaten me, kill others who look like me, who come from the same country or culture as me or anyone else. I didn’t sign onto your insultingly stupid belief system, and I don’t subscribe to your idiocy, and I am most certainly not bound by its moronic bylaws. So back off; get over it, and go back to praying, if that’s what amuses you. Or alternatively, grow up.

It is true that to insult a deeply held belief of another’s is rude. That is, it is bad manners and it is thoughtless if done gratuitously, with a simple intention of insulting. That is culture-baiting. To disagree is not. To refuse to obey the religious rules of a religion not your own is not. To refuse to be bullied out of a secular worldview is not heresy. To discuss rationally the irrationality of a religion is not a sin against god, it isn’t blasphemy, or a crime against nature; it might be risky, but it’s not even bad manners, per se. For people to mob the streets, kill diplomats, rage against an entire culture, or fly passenger planes into office buildings because of a perceived slight is not civilised, not holy, and not deserving of the slightest concession other than retribution. Moreover it is unlikely to reap anything but more hatred and violence and a very focused effort to wipe that religion and its adherents off the face of the earth.

While I would love to see an end to all religion, I certainly don’t want to see the genocide of one, even one particularly noxious religion; but violence begets violence and that is the rallying point of the outrage junkies that are the visible representatives of Islam. 

Islam is a religion of violence. Yes, it is changing; it is changing for the worse. For over a thousand years Islam was a religion of tolerance, philosophy and science; it eclipsed anything the West (held back by its own idiotic Christian sect) had to offer…it was the pinnacle of education, reason, and esthetics, looked up to as the very embodiment of civilisation. But “fundamental” Islam has taken over, driven by power hungry political leaders who misuse the religion and have driven it back to the Iron Age in an effort to foment hatred of the West; all for the political advantage of a few. Now the religion is violent, hate-filled and ultimately moribund. It is dangerously fanatical and it is forcing a confrontation with a technologically and intellectually superior society that could ultimately end in the demise of what is called Islam today. The West is intellectually superior, because despite the efforts of the half-witted fundamental” Christians, there is still a spirit of independence and free thought.

A society that (even vestigially) honours independent thought will always prevail over one that discourages dissent. When dissent is discouraged with brutal violence, that culture is doomed. Unless Islam changes and changes soon, it is doomed.

But is up to the people of Islam to begin to think for themselves, if the people were to decide to resist the idiots in charge who tell them to take vengeance on the West because of a moron who privately produced a twelfth rate Islam-baiting little YouTube video, that would be step in the right direction. If nothing else, it would disarm the idiots who make those vile videos.

To them, Islamic protestors are like particularly stupid little kittens…all one has to do is dangle a bit of string with some paper tied to the end and the dumb gullible, animal behaves predictably. Islam has become that predictable, and to certain dipshits in the west, that endlessly amusing. But the game is only fun because it so clearly reveals the underlying cruelty and mindlessness of the kitten.

They go for it every time.

 

Hmm, tough call.

And Islam requires prayer FIVE times a day!

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Criticism of pop culture by threats of violence

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.

Pagun

 

Rule by mob

Patrick Guntensperger

Jakarta, Indonesia

 

Maybe they just shouldn't buy tickets?

A reasoned expression of one's taste in pop music (Herald/Sun, Aus)

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,

Check out my 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).

 

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Mohammed: get the picture? or “Show me the Prophet!”

A picture is worth…

Patrick Guntensperger

Jakarta, Indonesia

 

Islam is a religion of peace; the sword is for circumcisions only

Although the world is chock full of news of genuine significance, the front pages of Jakarta newspapers are preoccupied with a real crisis. It seems that an elementary school in Solo, Central Java has a book in its library called “Interesting Stories of the Prophet’s Childhood”. That’s not the crisis; the crisis is that if you look very hard you could find an illustration that is intended to depict Muhammed’s mother holding the Prophet as a baby. The crude drawing has the baby deliberately blurred and it is impossible to make out anything other than the rather poorly drawn general outline of a swaddled newborn in the arms of a woman who is dressed much like the Virgin Mary is usually depicted, except that her veil is brown rather than the traditional blue.

 The horror, the horror! Islamic fundamentalists are up in arms over this blasphemy and bloodshed is demanded by the truly devout. This, after all, constitutes a depiction of the Prophet, something prohibited under Islamic tradition. Heads will surely roll. Department of education functionaries, the school principal, librarian, and everyone else remotely connected to this obscenity is running for cover, passing the buck, shifting the blame, and otherwise behaving as though something is seriously wrong. Let us not forget that this is a country in which elementary schools’ entire budgets have been embezzled, resulting in roof collapses which killed dozens of students, and those responsible were merely censured. They were not even required to return the money they stole, and even kept their positions.

 A little history is perhaps in order here. The reason that depictions of the Prophet are haram in most traditions comes from the Christian schism known as iconoclasm. During the days of the Byzantine Empire, the Christian church nearly tore itself apart as one segment felt that the veneration of icons was a contravention of the 3rd Commandment delivered by Moses, the injunction to have no graven images or likenesses, while the other segment worshipped relics (bones of saints, pieces of the cross, scraps of fabric alleged to have been touched by Jesus, etc.) and icons. Icons took many forms, but whether they were paintings, sculptures, mosaics, bass reliefs, or hammered metal, the iconoclasts (lit. “image breakers”) did their level best to destroy them. The power and authority of the iconoclasts versus the image worshippers swung back and forth for centuries with the pendulum finally favouring the worshippers of graven images (fortunately, or much of our Renaissance artwork wouldn’t exist).

 While this internecine battle raged, a new warrior religion (contrary, I’m sorry to say, to the claims that Islam is a religion of peace) was growing at an astonishing pace and conquering much of the Middle East; the leaders wanted to preclude this kind of doctrinal debate and determined that, in an effort to prevent the deification of Mohammed as the result of people creating and worshipping his image, they would prohibit the depiction of the Prophet. The idea was to avoid venerating him as anything greater than the last prophet before the arrival of the Messiah. Above all, Mohammed was not to be worshipped; hence the prohibition.

 Islam today has turned this on its head. They have made a god of Mohammed; a god of such sanctity that people are killed for drawing his likeness, much in the same way that the ancient Hebrews saw it as sacrilegious to speak the name of their god. This is the exact reversal of the reason for the original prohibition. Those who are offended by the likeness in the schoolbook are, according to true Islamic doctrine, far guiltier than those whom they accuse of creating graven images. They have contravened the 2nd of Moses’ commandments. They have placed a god before the Mosaic god. But they have gone further; they are guilty of creating a god. Only a god, which Mohammed most definitely was not, need be revered to the point of such a furor over his depiction in a schoolbook. Only a god is so utterly apart from and above humanity that his image is unfit for human eyes. If Mohammed was anything, he was human.

 It is becoming apparent that the Islamic fundamentalists here in Indonesia and elsewhere in the Islamic world have become outrage junkies. It is time to add common sense, moderation, and tolerance to the anger that characterises the hard-liners’ worldview…Mohammed, the man, would approve.

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Yet more attempts to infringe on personal freedoms

There oughta be a law…
Patrick Guntensperger
Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Saturday, November-05-11
A quick look at the headlines in a Jakarta daily suggests a disconcerting trend in Indonesian politics. In just one day in a single paper, two of the headlines open stories concerning the proposed introduction of sweeping and questionable legislation. The first is a proposal that legislation be introduced to restrict the number of credit cards individuals should be allowed to have. The second proposal is that stricter controls on polls and poll-taking be introduced, as the result of complaints from political parties that the results published are biased in favour of the parties who commissioned them.
Indonesia
As Indonesia is a country that has been governed by a series of more or less draconian dictatorships for its entire history until just 1997, the propensity for the introduction of new laws, particularly intrusive or restrictive ones, is somewhat disconcerting. One would have thought that the natural response the people of a country would have to the shucking of political shackles would be an inclination to libertarianism; one would have expected the people of Indonesia, after the fall of Soeharto, to embrace a form of self government that eschews anything but the most patently necessary and indispensible laws. From the 1600s, when Indonesia was governed by a corporation, The Dutch East India Company, through the Japanese occupation of World War II, to the era of CIA supported, home-grown puppet-dictators, there has never been a lack of laws, rules, regulations, and fiats in the world’s largest archipelago. Is the inclination to legislate everything a matter of habit?
It isn’t easy to take Indonesia’s parliament or its members very seriously. Poll after poll shows that institution to be among the least trusted and the most corrupt in this, one of the world’s most corrupt countries; when they take a paternalistic attitude or pretend to the moral high ground, it is positively cringe-worthy.
While it is certainly true that credit card abuse can bring untold woes upon the cardholder, for this particular group of profligate kleptocrats to propose to protect their constituents from their own lack of fiscal sophistication is stomach turning. It ranks as sheer hypocrisy right up there with the Indonesian government censoring films about Indonesia’s history in an effort “not to confuse” the citizens. The patronising view that the people are not to be trusted with their own finances leads one to question whether those people ought to have been trusted with a vote that elected this parliament. Perhaps rather than expending energy on dreaming up legislation that does little more than cement the rigid class distinctions in this country by declaring common people unfit to handle credit, unlike their wealthier betters, parliament ought to consider legislation restricting the out of control banking industry at the root of the problem here in Indonesia.
At least the terms should be clear
In Indonesia, it seems that anyone with access to a few million dollars and a desire to cleanse that lucre opens a bank. Those banks soon close, owing depositors a ton of money and the principals are nowhere to be found. While they are still open,the banks collect on consumer credit debts by employing thugs who, with impunity and the full knowledge of even the reputable banks, beat up those who are alleged to owe money. Collection tactics range from physical intimidation, to death threats, home invasions, and assaults. It is impossible even to get an accurate accounting of what is claimed by the banks, and all too often, the only choice a customer has is to pay the thugs – who have been known to follow the customer’s children to school as an intimidation technique – whatever they demand.
Surely these practices are far more worthy of the attention of our legislators than attempts to limit the accessibility of credit to an emerging middle class. Perhaps parliament might consider looking into the establishment of a genuine and reliable consumer credit bureau; this would have a far more salubrious effecton the credit climate in this country than all their draconian, knee-jerk proposed legislation to control the middle class. It is typically and evidentlya case of a few who have managed to breach the walls and bury their snouts in the public trough they found there and are now determined to pull up the drawbridge behind them to maintain exclusivity for their privilege.
Shooting the messenger
Just how much energy should one expend on pointing out the silliness of the legislators’ pique at poll results they don’t find sufficiently flattering? Pointing out the obvious, that this is a painfully obvious case of shooting the messenger should be sufficient, but let’s do the exercise anyway.
Published poll resultsare as valuable as the reputation of the pollsters. Just because somebody says “90% of Indonesians prefer a dictatorship (or communism, or Megawati, or pistachio ice cream)” doesn’t make it so. It doesn’t mean a damn thing, unless the statement is backed by a reputation. If one is to place one’s reliance on a poll, it is wise to check details like the wording of the question, the number of respondents, the demographics of the respondents, etc. etc. A short cut is to rely on a polling company whose reputation for honesty, objectivity and thoroughness has already been established. In Indonesia this can be tricky.
Warning to consumers
During the last Indonesian national election I worked with an international watchdog agency that monitored the election for fairness and adherence to international standards of democracy. This agency commissioned several polls in several cities prior to  the elections. I personally sat in a cafe and watched while hired pollsters, rather than actually going out and presenting the questionnaire to the public, filled them in themselves over tea. It was too hot, I was told, actually to go from door to door; in any case I was assured they knew what the people would say, actually asking them would be redundant. All the laws that parliament will ever pass won’t change that attitude.
On the other hand,there are companies like Nielson and Gallup that are reliable; they publish their methodologies, sample sizes, wording of questions, demographics, and other parameters. If one takes the trouble to check these out, the polls will have a higher utility.
The flip side of the equation is that, of course, phony polls are commissioned. Of course phony results are published. It’s called lying. And lying is what campaigning politicians do. Lying can’t be stopped, and in any case, it’s a matter of freedom of expression. And the last thing Indonesia (or any other country) needs is yet another restriction on freedom of expression. As George Orwell wrote, If liberty means anything at all, it means theright to tell people what they don’t want to hear”. Let the people decide if they buy the poll results. Let the honest and professional pollsters rise to the top. 

While the philosophy of radical libertarianism is incoherent, there needs to be a far stronger reason for impeding the rights of the people than simple paternalistic inclinations or to protect the privileged from hearing what displeases them.

…enditem…

Without free speech democracy is just a buzzword

Freedom of expression in Indonesia
January 09 2010
Patrick Guntensperger
Jakarta
Over the last few months, freedom of expression – of speech, of opinion, of publishing the written word, of sending electronic messages – has become a contentious issue here in Indonesia. In this country that has repeatedly called out for greater democratic government, the entrenched forces continue to fight a rearguard action against democratic reform by enacting restrictive legislation, prosecuting violations, and jailing people for speaking, writing, reporting, and even Tweeting in ways that are disapproved of.
Although Indonesia has espoused freedom and democracy after popular discontent escalated to a groundswell movement that forced the ouster of Indonesians the long-time and astonishingly corrupt and deeply brutal dictator Souharto over a decade ago, it seems that the largely Soeharto-established government apparatchiks didn’t get the memo. Among the more pernicious elements of the Soeharto legacy is a bloated and utterly incompetent bureaucracy; moreover there is still in Indonesia a bureaucratic machine, the members of which are utterly corrupt and operate from the paradigm that the people of the country are there to support them with bribes and tokens of respect and gratitude.
There is no sense in Indonesia that government employees are public servants; on the contrary, the view held by the bureaucrats – and to some extent the people themselves out of habit – is that the public is there to beg favours from their betters and to show proper deference and preferably a bribe when they are deigned to be recognised by the their social and economic superiors. The people in Indonesia still see themselves and are seen by government employees as existing at the government’s pleasure and for the purpose of ensuring that the government insiders are kept in as luxurious circumstances as their rank dictates.
One example of this prevailing paradigm is the issue of freedom of expression which has rankled a numbed people and groups in Indonesia. Over the last year we have seen a woman arrested, charged, incarcerated, and forced to pay a fine of some 26 thousand dollars (US) for the crime of having complained about shoddy service she received at the hands of Omni International Hospital in Tangerang. She was charged under the recently enacted and controversial Electronic Information Transfer Act; the act provides for jail sentences for those who transmit electronically any message that might be deemed defamatory. She texted her friends about the poor treatment she had received, and the hospital, in a burst of PR brilliance, took aim at their collective foot and had her charged with a criminal offense.
The hospital’s aim was true; the bullet struck its foot squarely. Rallies in support of Prita, the subject of the furor and the dangerous villain who sent the text in question, benefited from popular support which raised several times the money needed to pay of her court costs and the fine The money is now likely to be allocated to a special fund earmarked for similar cases. Although popular outcry forced the judges to ensure that she was found not guilty in the criminal court system, Omni Hospitals is pursuing the civil defamation suit.
More recently, a young soap opera actress and TV hostess named Luna Maya was reported to the police for criminal behaviour in that she apparently breached the same law. In this case she Twittered something to the effect that Indonesia’s notoriously aggressive and unreliable “infotainment journalists” – read paparazzi – were “lower than prostitutes”. This was greeted with near universal approval, if not outright concurrence by pretty much anybody who has watched their pack mentality in action. Everybody that is, except the Indonesian Journalists Association. It was that bastion of freedom of speech that lodged a complaint with the police alleging that its members had been defamed and that the dangerous criminal responsible ought to be arrested. While that controversy unravels, we ought not forget that there are literally dozens of cases of people’s fair comment being stifled by the law.
Todung Mulia Lubis, the Indonesian lawyer and human rights activist, told me that there are some 26 separate provisions within the Indonesian criminal Code that allow for incarceration for an act of expression. Indonesia has no shortage of laws; in fact laws are routinely passed with the lawmakers openly admitting that they are there to appease vocal minorities, but we are not to worry, because the laws will neither be enforced nor complied with.
In the aftermath of the enactment of Indonesia’s wide sweeping anti-pornography law, when I asked Andi Malarenging, at the time the presidential spokesman for domestic affairs, about the possible impact on art and Indonesian traditional dance, acknowledged that there was room, given the language of the law, for clamping down on these things, but there was nothing to worry about, as the law would never be applied to those things. For Andi, a law that one can simply ignore but whose existence appeases hard-line religious zealots is a good law.
Of course within a week, a provincial governor on Java shut down and banned performances of the traditional jaipong because he found them “provocative”.
Since then, banning books in Indonesia for political content has become routine. Not wishing to “confuse” Indonesians with alternative views and interpretations of history, the military has waded in and banned several books that paint the TNI in a bad light; this has led to a pissing contest with the Attorney General’s office who insists that under the constitution it is the only body with authority to ban literature.
As well there was a minor tempest at the production of a feature film called Balibo. This film, produced in Australia, starring and co-produced by America actor Anthony LaPaglia recounts the story of the deaths of five Australian television journalists during the invasion prior to Indonesia’s occupation of what is now Timor Leste. The Indonesian official position after a cursory “investigation” is that the young journalists were caught in a crossfire and were unfortunate and unintended collateral damage. The film, thoroughly researched, with the stories of some 8,000 witnesses used to reconstruct the events, tells how the journalists were deliberately targeted and murdered in cold blood by TNI soldier at the orders of senior officers.
Balibo, of course, was not permitted to be screened at the Jakarta International film Festival and was not granted a permit for any public screenings. The censor once again determined that the film could “confuse” Indonesians. Despite this, the Alliance of Independent Journalists held a public screening and The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club made an open secret of the fact that they could probably help interested people find a good copy of the film, having been in contact with the producers who gave them permission to distribute the picture, even through unconventional underground channels. Anybody who’s interested in what is a very good movie in its own right may feel free to contact via my blog; I can probably fix you up with an authorized copy. 

As 2010 gets started, there is serious concern that freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the general entitlement of Indonesians to be permitted to see and judge alternative and unapproved versions of history and not exclusively governmental approved ideas has become increasingly curtailed. Human rights in Indonesia in this area has begun to retreat in a retrograde action to the days of Soeharto, with the unreconstructed forces holding sway over the open exchange and discussion of historical and intellectual ideas.
So while some advances have been made toward democratic government, the old paradigm of the government forces controlling that which Indonesian see, and are free to discuss and think about has actually gone backwards. Unless a concerted effort on the part of the grassroots and the organisations acting as watchdogs over this pillar of democracy take a strong stance against the incremental erosion of Indonesian’s right to freedom of the press, democracy in Indonesia is little more than an empty label and the country’s human rights are suspect at best, and non-existent at worst.
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Enough!

Freedom of expression under assault
Patrick Guntensperger
Over the last week there has been considerable ink expended and much bandwidth occupied with the dissemination of opinions on the controversy surrounding actress Luna Maya’s Twitter post, in which she disparaged the paparazzi, and on how the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), had the police charge her with defamation and violating the Electronic Transaction and Information Law. There have been letters and emails of support for Luna, howls of outrage that people calling themselves journalists would use those laws, and a general trashing of celebrity gossip news.
Enough ink and bandwidth for the government to take notice.
On Saturday, one cabinet minister saw the controversy as sufficiently serious to require him to meet with the president at his Cikeas residence to discuss the situation. Was this a Coordinating Minister who wanted to discuss the ominous direction in which Indonesia is heading with respect to legislation restricting freedom of speech? Was this a minister concerned with the right of the people of Indonesia to express themselves freely and to hear opinions and ideas from all quarters without legal sanction? On the contrary. It was Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali who wanted to discuss banning “infotainment” broadcasting in Indonesia.
Perhaps the minister had interpreted the support for Luna and the disparagement of celebrity gossipmongers as an indication that the time was right to strike in support of Nahdlatul Ulama’s agenda. As far back as 2006, the NU had declared this type of programming haram, with little discernable effect on the viewing habits of the faithful. The minister is quoted as saying after his meeting with SBY, “I personally agree with NU’s stance that infotainment programs that delve into people’s private lives must be discontinued.”
If that was what spurred the minister into action, it is likely that he misread the tea leaves. Despite the widespread support for Luna Maya, and despite the fact that many genuine journalists agree with her assessment of gossipmongers posing as journalists, and despite even the general contempt in which thinking people hold that kind of programming, there is little likelihood of widespread support for yet another ban on a form of expression.
The minister ought to have considered two salient points. In the first place, celebrity gossip programming ranks with sinetrons as being among Indonesia’s preferred viewing. There won’t be much support for a new ban among that majority of Indonesians.
Secondly, those of us who have supported Luna Maya, castigated infotainment, and disparaged the Indonesian Journalists Association in print are not inclined to support his suggested censorship. The underlying theme to the groundswell was resentment at anyone intruding on the people’s right to express themselves and to hear what others have to say. The last thing anyone was looking for was a further restriction, even on the gutter press. In fact, some of us who took the PWI to task are likely to rally to the defence of the PWI’s members, if there should be any movement toward banning their broadcasts. We won’t watch their drivel, but we recognise their right to speak to the people.
Anyone who believes in the concept of free speech knows that the freedom has to apply to the speech of the narrow minded, the contemptible, the feeble-minded, and those with whom we disagree. That includes celebrity gossipmongers. Those who objected to the assault on Luna Maya’s freedoms were not calling out for a similar assault to be launched on her attackers. Indonesia does not need more restrictions; it needs fewer.

 

Moreover, it needs to decriminalise slander, libel, defamation, and any other verbal or representative communication. Criminal court is no place for trying these kinds of accusations; these belong in civil court along with other torts. If a person or company believes that harm has been done in print or broadcast, let them sue and make their case. (Or Tweet about it and get it out of their systems).
Reasonable legislation covering these kinds of communications can be drafted without having to re-invent the wheel. A good starting point for legislation to protect people from the excesses routinely practiced by the gossip press would be to impose the three part test that other democracies employ to determine whether the plaintiff has a case or not: The complaint must demonstrate that the offensive communication 1) caused damage, 2) was intended maliciously, and 3) was false. Each of those is a necessary condition and together they are sufficient for a finding in favour of the plaintiff.
With this in place, the gossip press could stay in business, but they would have to ensure that everything they say or print is true. Their victims would be free to file suits that could cripple them financially if they didn’t do the journalistic basics of fact checking and source verification; the prospect of enormous punitive damages would act in place of consciences.
There would be no need for further restrictions on Indonesia’s freedoms through broadcasting bans or restrictions, and there would be no need to impose the ulemas’ religious views on the country as a whole. Decriminalising these matters would free up the criminal courts and allow the police to get with whatever it is they do or are supposed to be doing.
Indonesia’s laws restrict freedom of expression to an extent incompatible with democracy; there are more than twenty provisions within the Criminal Code for charging someone with a criminal offence for something said or written. A reconsideration of these laws is long overdue if the country wants to progress in its struggle for genuine democracy and real liberty.
If this misguided attempt to impose more limits on free speech sparks a backlash, and Indonesians finally stand up and say, “That’s enough!” Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali’s mission will have had a far more beneficial effect than the one he was hoping for.
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The Paparazzi Strike Back

(Run in The Jakarta Globe December 21, 2009)


Freedom to Tweet
Patrick Guntensperger
While genuine journalists and people with real concerns about press freedom and freedom of expression fight an uphill battle in Indonesia to reverse the trend toward greater limitations, an unlikely opponent to the struggle to speak or write freely has emerged: The Indonesian Journalists Association.
Recently, Kamsal Hasan, head of the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Journalists Association representing “infotainment journalists” reported a young sinetron actress and television hostess named Luna Maya to the police. Her crime? She is accused of having insulted that breed of journalist in a Twitter post. Apparently she posted something to the effect that such “journalists” are lower than commercial sex workers and murderers. Their allegation, however, can’t be verified, as her Twitter account is no longer accessible. Disregarding the fact that many real journalists would agree with that assessment, the idea of a journalists’ association using the controversial defamation and electronic information transfer laws to prosecute an Indonesian citizen for expressing her views, is deeply troubling.
Other journalists associations have recently been involved in controversy over the banning of the film Balibo here in Indonesia and have campaigned strenuously to have the film screened and distributed. That is a real issue, and an important one for journalists, as the film is a screen depiction of the events surrounding the murder of five foreign television journalists who were covering the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. It is also a real issue, and an important one for Indonesians. The film represents an alternative recounting of those events to the official Indonesia version, and as such would permit Indonesians to make an informed assessment of the facts and come to reasonable conclusion about events in their own recent history.
Some journalists associations involved themselves in protesting the expulsion of foreign media members from the country for reporting on environmental crimes in the Sumatra. Again, a serious issue, treated seriously, as the associations are there to protect the right of the people to hear alternative viewpoints and of journalists to report them. The freedom to express viewpoints is critical to any country that wants to call itself a democracy.
And yet, the Indonesian Journalists Association (or at least the chapter representing “infotainment journalists”) is attempting to stifle that very freedom, a freedom that its members, as much as any genuine journalists, depend upon to do their jobs.
It is certainly true that “infotainment” does not concern itself with matters like geopolitics, national politics, or economics, or with weightier subjects like democracy or human rights; nevertheless, it would seem that an association representing that sub-branch of journalism ought to be concerned with ensuring that its members are seen as legitimate journalists. Reporting one of their prey to the police for commenting unfavourably on their legitimacy has precisely the opposite effect.
What legitimate journalist, after all, would launch an attack on anyone’s freedom to express a point of view, even if it was a negative one about that very journalist? Clearly, a celebrity who is routinely aggressively covered by the paparazzi and who makes a statement like the one Luna Maya is alleged to have made is expressing a personal view, and that falls under the general rubric of “fair comment”. Were the members of the paparazzi damaged in any genuine sense by her well-founded frustration as expressed in her Tweet?
Certainly not. Not many rational people have any real respect for this particular species of “journalist”. The truth is, their feelings were hurt. Or they are flexing their muscles in an attempt to show other celebrities that they had better cooperate or they too will suffer the wrath of the Indonesian Journalists Association. Whatever the case, the act of reporting Maya Luna to the police for her angry Tweet was a petty, vindictive, spiteful lashing out at someone who had simply been fed an overdose of the excesses routinely practiced by “infotainment journalists”.
Once again, the right of an Indonesian citizen to express a view, negative or otherwise, is under legal challenge. Even as thousands of Indonesians contribute money to pay the fine of the last high-profile victim of abuse of the draconian defamation and electronic information transfer laws, the very people who ought to be defending the people’s right to free speech are abusing the same laws.
Can they not see that the right they exercise with such abandon must be extended to everyone, or it’s not a right at all?
One can only hope that the people will get behind Maya Luna with the same degree of outrage that they have in the case of Omni International Hospital against Priti Mulyasari. One can only hope that real journalists will call on the Indonesian Journalists Association to drop their complaint and act as though they cared about the most precious right any journalist can claim: the right to express oneself freely.
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We’re gonna vent our frustration….

…And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse,
Singin’ “We’re gonna vent our frustration…
If we don’t, we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse…

You Can’t Always get What You Want
Jagger/ Richards


PAGUN


JAKARTA, INDONESIA – The Jakarta Anti-corruption Day demonstrations and rallies, while grinding the city to a halt, seemed to be lacking in focus or even any specific agenda. It was a grassroots outpouring of frustration by a population that is fed up with what seems more and more every day to be a purely cosmetic fight against the systematic, systemic, and pernicious corruption that is the single most significant impediment to Indonesia’s growth as a nation.


Far from the rallies being a disguise or excuse for a coup d’etat as SBY had suggested they were, they were simply the people raging against the hypocrisy routinely demonstrated by leaders who wax poetic and rail virtuously while electioneering, and then do little, nothing, or actually contribute to and benefit from the rot in the body politic of this country.

It is only experience and not cynicism that suggests that nothing positive will come of this. Certainly the politicians will know that they have to spout anti-graft rhetoric to achieve public office, but there seems little likelihood that their actions, once they are ensconced with their snouts in the public trough, will be any different once they have a mandate.

My heart bleeds for Indonesia.

Elected representatives doing their jobs

Have you seen the little piggies

Crawling in the dirt
And for all the little piggies
Life is getting worse
Always having dirt to play around in.
Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt
Always have clean shirts to play around in.
In their sties with all their backing
They don’t care what goes on around
In their eyes there’s something lacking
What they need’s a damn good whacking.
Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.

Lennon/McCartney



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“BALIBO” the movie the Indonesian government doesn’t want you to see




Balibo
A film By Robert Connolly
Running time 111 minutes
CINEMOD FILMS  & LAST STRAW PRODUCTIONS
Reviewed by
Patrick Guntensperger
JAKARTA, INDONESIA – Balibo is a tiny town, a village really, on the Timorese side of the border between what is now Timor Leste and Indonesia. Timor Leste or East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975, when it declared independence from Portugal. Nine days after the Timorese declaration of independence, Indonesian troops invaded the newly established country and a bloody conflict ensued.
Five television journalists working for Australian news outlets were present in Balibo and were reporting on the events when the Indonesian army (TNI) invaded the fledgling republic. During the invasion, all five reporters were killed and later a sixth was killed during combat at the capital of the newly established Timor Leste, Dilli. The new country was occupied by Indonesia and, for years until it achieved complete independence, was under Indonesian rule. In the interim, Indonesian investigations into to the deaths of the journalists determined that the young men were caught in a crossfire and that they were unfortunate collateral damage.
Australian authorities didn’t buy the results of the investigation and launched their own. After years of investigation, enquiring of witnesses, and forensic examination of the battle zone, in 2007, an Australian coroner’s inquiry determined that the journalists were specifically targeted by Indonesian invading troops and murdered.
The journalists have become known as the “Balibo Five”, and their deaths and the murder of a sixth journalist have become a diplomatic stick in the spokes of Indonesian/Australian relations.
Just recently the film, Balibo, a dramatisation of the events surrounding the deaths, has garnered high praise and numerous international film awards, and less than a week ago as this is being written, was banned by the Indonesian government censors for public screenings. Balibo is a film the Indonesian government does not want Indonesians to see.
In the first place, controversy aside, the movie is a terrific one. It is an exciting, authentic depiction of high drama and adventure; the fact that it is a true story only adds to its fascination. And the director and producers stand behind their version of the events. This is not a movie that “was inspired by actual events” or “based on a true story”. The title sequence states unequivocally that “this is a true story”.
The movie traces the actions of Roger East, played by Anthony Lapaglia, who is also the film’s executive producer, a veteran Australian journalist who is persuaded by East Timorese revolutionary Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) to accompany him to the war-torn East Timor as the head of the new country’s national news agency. Ramos-Horta wants his country’s story told and he believes the soon-to-retire East is the man to do it.
East agrees to go to East Timor to see what’s happening and will consider the offer. With Ramon-Horta, he sets out on a quest to find the five missing journalists. According to the movie (based upon the book Cover Up by Jill Jolliffe) and the Australian coroner’s court that investigated the case for years after the Indonesian government had declared that the journalists were caught in a crossfire, he finds that the Australians had been specifically targeted and, after having been clearly identified as foreign journalists, executed by Indonesian invading Special Forces.
As an adventure and political thriller the movie is very effective; it dramatises with surprising authenticity the realism of the circumstances under which professional journalists in conflict situations do their jobs. For anyone who has ever tried to cover a conflict such as the East Timor revolution, Balibo has an authentic feel that combines theatrical feature sensibilities with near-documentary realism.
Because of the realism of Balibo,  and the use of unknown (except for Lapaglia) actors, the acting is unnoticeable. The journalists seem to be just like any other young journalists doing their job and behaving like young, adventurous men in a profession at which they excel and which they love for its excitement and its significance to the world. Journeyman actor Lapaglia’s performance as the tragic character, Roger East, is seamless, nuanced, and spot on.
 Lapaglia as Roger East
Shot in the actual locations the incidents portrayed occurred, there is a sense wasted beauty, of a devastated paradise that permeates the picture. It leaves profound images of a land that one can understand as being worth fighting for.
There is little point really in recounting much more of the plot of the story; suffice it to say that the Indonesian government has one story and pretty much everyone who has investigated the incidents has another, utterly different one. This is a movie. And it is a very good movie. Watch it as a movie. And if it interests you enough, do your own research into the historicity of the script.
By banning the film, the Indonesian government has done its best to ensure that interest in the Balibo Five will reach a peak in the months ahead.
Available illegally at virtually any warung that sells DVDs.
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