A Problem of Trust in Indonesia: Learning from Meeting with a Stranger

Few weeks ago, I had a chance to be interviewed by one of my friends who is currently working on a social project promoting tolerance culture in Indonesia. In short, she asked me to give some comments about tolerance culture and also about the current political situation in Indonesia. Once the interview finished, she then finalized the draft and put it on the website. I was then quite impressed knowing the title of the article. In short, the summary of my thought that is put as the title is about my statement saying that Indonesia is never running out of good people.

Encountering a kind stranger

My statement actually comes out when she asked me about is there any particular situation that makes me really falls in love with Indonesia. I then recalled my experience when my friends and I were planning to hike a mountain in Indonesia. In the middle of our journey, we then met a stranger in a bus. The stranger then asked where we would like to go and he then continued talking while also kindly offering us some salak (snakefruits) to be eaten together. It did not stop there since after that he also offered us to have a rest in his house. We then spent one night in there and ate together with his family. The next day, he and his friends also kindly accompanied us to the nearest village before we started hiking the mountain.

When I reflected back this moment, I just realized how kind such a person. It just started as a real stranger in a bus. Just because he knew that he could help, without any hesitation, he just offered us a hand to help. I could not imagine such a thing to happen because in any metropolitan cities like Jakarta -the city where I was born and have been living- meeting a stranger and offering a help is something that is uncommon. We never know exactly what is going to happen when offering such a help since we do not know what is the background of the people whom we offer help. Something bad that we do not want to happen might just happen because of this. On the other hand, the person whom I met just jeopardized all of my prejudices. And so then I think why Indonesia is just never running out of good people.

Problem of trust

However, there is one real problem here. While an optimistic feeling rises when such a kind thing happens, it is also true that this kind of situation is uncommon or even rare as what I have said before. People living in metropolitan cities rarely trust stranger. This indeed does make sense considering how often criminality does happen and the nature of the social lives in such cities as well. This might probably not the case in rural villages where people still know each other quite well and thus they are also able to develop a strong bonding of trust among themselves. So the question is how can people really increase the trust among themselves? In particular, how Indonesians start to trust their fellows?

Trusting each other is not something that can be developed overnight despite the fact that it will bring numerous benefits towards the society in the long run as has been completely explained by Francis Fukuyama in his treatise ‘Trust’. The problem with developing trust is about how to start to trusting other who are not from our ‘circle.’ For Indonesia in particular, this situation is undoubtedly challenging considering the diversity of the people living in Indonesia. This might also be worsened by our disposition for not trusting our policy makers who should have had a capability to promote trust among Indonesians. In fact, it is often the case that those who are in power are more keen to loosen the social trust by encouraging sectarian thinking.

Developing trust can then only be done by putting those ‘good people’ in the front line. A man whom I encountered during my journey above, for instance, did not have any bad prejudice at all towards my friends and myself. He opened up his arms to kindly know and help us since he knew he could help. Only by doing this could Indonesians -and human beings in general- start to trust each other. Promoting sectarian thinking is definitely useless since it basically only says that the other are not worthy of our attention because they are not ‘us.’

So, to close this writing I would like to return back to where this writing begins: that Indonesia is never running out of good people. Now the homework is then how to bring these ‘good people’ to be leaders so they are able to give higher impact to the society in general. Only by doing so could Indonesia then start to be a better place for everyone, regardless of their background, because we now start to trust each other and make a better social cohesion.


The New Banknotes: The Importance of Acknowledging Pluralism in Indonesia’s History

It seems that 2017 would not be to friendly towards tolerance culture in Indonesia. By the end of 2016, Indonesians have experienced persistent intolerance issues. It was started in Bandung where a Christmas event held by a Christian group was forcefully disbanded by a hard-liner group. As time went on, during the Christmas time, there were also few cases reported regarding the arrogance of Islamic Defender Front (FPI) to do sweeping in some places to uphold the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) fatwa regarding Christmas attribute. The GKI Yasmin people, the intolerant case that seems to go nowhere, also had to celebrate their Christmas in front of the State Palace because of their building permit issue. Sadly, this intolerance case does not stop at the level of building permit and Christmas celebration. Another issue that has just recently sparked Indonesians in social media is a statement from a legislative candidate who protested about the presence of “kafir” national heroes in the new Indonesia’s banknotes.

The last case is quite interesting. She rises the protest because she thinks that it is for the interest of the majority. Although she does not deny the fact that there are national heroes who had minority background, it would be good not to include national heroes whom she regards as “kafir.” This case has brought intolerance case in Indonesia to a new level because now intolerance case is not only confined in building permit issues but also has another objective in building an intolerant perspective for the history of Indonesia. This is a worse situation since by changing the perspective of Indonesia’s history, minority voices would probably no longer be heard. A question then may be asked: what kind of history that is actually at stake?

I am pretty sure the deliberation process regarding who should appear in the brand-new Indonesia banknotes was a long and exhaustive one. It is because the banknote should be the representation of Indonesia as a whole nation and not only represent it in particular. Since diversity cannot be taken away from Indonesia, putting on “kafir” national heroes is indeed a good idea since it means that the nation recognizes their service for the country. What is then the importance of this?

People across the world are aware that Indonesia is the country with the largest Moslem population. However, they may not be aware that Indonesia is actually also comprised of people from different background: people that we call minority in this country. By saying so, it is very easy to assume that the Indonesia history should be full with heroes with Islamic background. Thus say, very few people, even among Indonesians, are aware that we actually have people who have given their lives for this country who come from minority background. And as people use banknotes in a daily basis -even for tourists who are visiting our country-, they may then be exposed to the fact that diversity really builds this country as represented by the national heroes appearing on the notes. They may then start to look for an information about the heroes whom they do not know before and then be aware what kind of service that they have given to Indonesia. Hence, diversity posed in the brand-new banknote is actually a very effective way in promoting tolerance culture because Indonesians can then learn about their history from another perspective: a perspective that they might not be aware of before about the presence of non-Moslem national heroes.

However, this move would be at stake when some people start to rise a protest about the appearance of “kafir” national heroes on banknotes. This is because they are trying to alter Indonesia’s history in only one direction and not the other. Isaiah Berlin, a British philosopher, once argues about the importance of plurality in history. This is because human beings are very capable of creating a story that does make sense for them although the cause and effect between each particular case sometimes is not indeed necessary. Having said that, it does then make sense to build an Indonesian history that is solely based on one single component: Islam and Moslem people. It is because majority of the Indonesians are Moslem. However, by neglecting another historical perspective and solely clinging to one perspective, Indonesians may then be misled to think that only Moslem people were actually struggling for Indonesia. We then can easily neglect the fact that people from minority background have also contributed in building Indonesia. In fact, what is actually happening is most Indonesians just never hear about another historical perspective from a minority who has served this country. Their services to the country get blurred by the insistence to only put some figures that may be regarded as majority. They never have any chance to tell their story because there is rarely no any chance to have a plurality in Indonesia’s history.

If this situation continues to happen, we are just worsening our intolerance culture because now it has been brought to a national level with justification from a historical point of view. This phenomenon can also be misused to justify the importance of changing Indonesia’s ideology from Pancasila to be an Islamic state. Sadly, such an attempt to alter the importance of pluralism in our history was conducted by a legislative candidate who is supposed to represent Indonesia as a whole nation.

It is then Indonesian’s responsibility to maintain plurality in Indonesia history. This is because it is important to maintain pluralism in Indonesia and to build a tolerance culture. At the very least, the government has tried by exposing the relatively non-well-known and “kafir” national heroes on the notes. By doing so, the government has unconsciously promoted pluralism and thus not letting the minority’s voice to be shut off. The only task remaining for Indonesians is to further enhance this effort. We must be aware the pluralism of Indonesia history not only from the Islamic-based perspective. Starting to learn history from minority’s perspective is a good way to understand Indonesia better regarding its diversity. We should not let any hard-liner sweep away the pluralism existing in Indonesia’s history. And by doing so, pluralism in Indonesia can hopefully be maintained.

Notes: I actually intended to publish this opinion when the new banknotes were firstly issued. However, since I did not manage to do that, I hope that my thought could still be relevant for other issues.

On Suicidal Phenomenon: a Useless Religious and Weak Person Judgement

Sadly speaking, it seems that suicide is becoming a new trend in Indonesia. Just recently, a video went viral showing two siblings committed a suicide by jumping off from an apartment in Bandung. People then started to argue that the siblings actually had a mental illness after their mother passed away several years ago. Such a grievance then led to depression and it seemed that the burden just became unbearable leading them to commit suicide.

However, what I would like to discuss here is not about whether they had made a right decision by committing suicide. After the incident occurred, I just surfed some online forums in Indonesia. From what I read during the time, quite significant number of people are able to say things such as ‘lacking of religious faith that leads to suicide’ or ‘hell is waiting for them’ and other varieties of religious-based saying. Such judgements actually imply that (1) they did suicide because they were not religious enough or not close enough to God and by doing so (2) there will be no place for them in heaven. The question is:is this something really appropriate to shout out such judgement?

In this discussion, I would not like to discuss whether suicide is actually allowed from religious point of view. I am pretty sure such a question leads to a definitive final answer. My discussion here is more about the appropriateness to handle suicide problem. Although I am not an expert in this area, I am pretty sure that a humanist approach is undoubtedly universal rather than making a bias judgement.

One day I had a chat with my friend talking about suicide. I said that if life is so unbearable, suicidal thinking can easily come across. Then my friend argued that it cannot be if you are religious enough. In addition, he said to me that such a thinking may probably never come to me considering that I am religious enough and keep myself close to God. My experience does not then significantly differ from what I read on online forums after the suicide phenomenon I described above. I also had a similar experience when talking about that. Even anyone can experience it when talking with their parents.

Form my perspective, suicidal thinking is actually a really difficult situation because a person maybe in his/her lowest state. The most important thing when finding someone who has a suicidal thought is just to talk to them and listen. I do not think such people really need any judgements from us, in particular a judgement saying how far they are to God. I won’t say that religious consultation does not work. I would rather say it is just not for everyone. If they think that they might get relieved after going to a church or a mosque, then there we are to help. But if it is not, who we are to say that they are not close enough to God and the hell is waiting for them? What we actually need to do is to find the most appropriate intervention to prevent them from committing suicide.

A weak person (?)

Another point to highlight aside from judging them from religious point of view is how a person who would like to commit a suicide is often regarded as being weak. From my point of view, to some extent a bravery is actually apparent from such a person.

First of all, they have been actually bearing the burdens that they think are no longer bearable. We might not know completely how much is it the burden but bearing a burden and facing it even for a moment in life requires strength and bravery. Another thing, I just never think committing suicide is easy. They really have to think to choose the least painful option. But what are the least painful option? Even the most instant and calmest way to kill yourself requires time to get the result out. And do we really think that during this period, the victim does not feel any pain at all? They must face that crucial moment with bravery since they know they will end up their lives. The last point is to think in the opposite way. If, normally speaking, we want to live and enjoy more from our lives and they think to end up their lives, is it not a bravery? They even choose to do something that we avoid. Therefore, I do not think such people are really weak: they are actually strong enough to have a suicidal thought.

Thus say, neither religious nor weak person judgement really helps at all. What we actually need to do is to help them and find any appropriate intervention so they might get relieved from their burdens. Only by doing so we have made a positive contribution to someone else’s life. If we are to judge, we just have to make a judgement that is useful to contribute to make them better and not worsening their current condition.

Note: Into the Light Indonesia actually opens its hand for anyone who has any suicidal though.

Transactional Politic: Learning from Budi Gunawan’s Case

It is a quite embarrassing moment for, Jokowi, current Indonesia President after Budi Gunawan, a police chief hopeful, was announced as graft suspect by Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). This announcement just came out not long after Jokowi gave his recommendation regarding the police chief nominee. Furthermore, it is also several days prior to the police chief hearing scheduled by House of Representatives. A question may arise here: why did Jokowi suggest Budi Gunawan as the police chief?

In this article, I would not like to study the detail about the capability of Budi Gunawan or his track records in his professional career. When his name was put under the recommendation made by National Police Commission (Kompolnas), I think that the body had not doubted the capability of his career in police. What I would like to elaborate more in this writing is more about morality in politics. Why is it important? The answer lies in the fact of Jokowi’s promise itself who promised for not having transactional politic once he became Indonesia President. Furthermore, it is also worth to note that he also emphasized the importance of building clean government when he was selecting his ministers.

From the first time Jokowi selected his ministers, several people had put doubt on them especially for several names who were considered as part of transactional politics. I would not like to elaborate the names here because many people have already discussed them already. However, what is important here is when doing the task, Jokowi asked KPK help to properly check whether or not the chosen candidates had bad track records regarding corruption. Thus, it was quite clear that Jokowi put his conscience in selecting the candidates and showed his consistency in maintaining clean government.

From the news currently circulating, it is also then clear that Budi Gunawan had also been one of the candidates. However, the name was then rejected due to the bad track record regarding fat bank account. It was quite fortunate that Jokowi followed the KPK suggestion for not naming Budi as one of his ministers. The problem then arises when Jokowi then selected him as the only candidate of the police chief. Why could this thing happen? If the answer offered is “he is also recommended by Kompolnas,” then it is very ridiculous. How can a president give such an answer? It just blame other for his unreasonable decision. In fact, Kompolnas did not only recommend Budi Gunawan as the sole candidate. Thus, it should have been reasonable for Jokowi to have other candidates who have better track records regarding graft cases since he already knew that the name he chose had been already blacklisted before in minister selection. Thus, why should he come to the decision?

People may speculate that it is because Budi Gunawan was the former adjutant for Megawati when she was a president. In this case, it is then clear about the transactional politics lingering Jokowi. Of course I cannot prove the fact that there is a transactional politic occurring behind this particular phenomenon. Even if journalists ask Jokowi directly regarding this matter, he may answer that he chooses him because of his exceptional track record. But one thing to note: transactional politic often happens and one person cannot eradicate it easily through promising. It is a very tough job, if it cannot be said as impossible.

The reason behind it has been extensively covered by Francis Fukuyama, a political philosopher. It is mainly because we have a tendency of kin selection. When human beings start to organize something and on the highest degree to organize a country, they tend to select people who are close to him. The reason is quite simple: because they know them and perhaps, to some extent, as part of a reciprocal altruism. It occurs everywhere even though we never consciously notice it. For example, when a manager would like to hire a new employee, he/she will prefer the one who is graduated from the same university. This is probably because he/she already knows about the quality about his/her university or as a part of alumni solidarity. Even though there are also some other candidates who have better profile and experience, the manager would get stick to his/her alumni. Hence it is very normal to choose people who are close to you or those who share similar things because you know you can trust them or because you have to pay something back to them. Similar thing also then occurs in politics and it is more complex because in order for a candidate to be a president, he must be supported and backed by people coming with different interests. As a consequence, there is a tendency for a president to select people who are close to him. The question is then: is it wrong?

In ideal circumstance, it is indeed wrong. In order to build a good country, transactional politic should not happen because ministerial post should be filled with competence people. However, as we live in non-ideal circumstance, this condition can be considered as “quite normal.” What should be emphasized then is we should not promise that transactional politic would not happen. Rather we should promise that we will fill the ministerial posts by competent people. Choosing candidate from our close friends is not a wrong decision provided that they have sufficient competency to perform the task. Moreover, when we talk about building a nation, they should also have clean track records regarding corruption. This is the thing that should be emphasized and made clear.

Thus, transactional politic is indeed a phenomenon that cannot be eradicated easily. If Jokowi wants to improve the quality of the government, what is needed is to fill any posts with good and clean candidates. I am not quite sure if there is no transactional politic occurring in Jokowi’s cabinet starting from Cabinet selection process. But I was quite glad to know that KPK was still involved during the selection process. And currently, I am very disappointed by the fact that either KPK or PPATK was not involved in selecting police chief candidate. Please Jokowi, we know certainly transactional politic can occur but please, keep your promise to have clean and professional government. There is nothing wrong by selecting your friends as long as they are clean and competence. It turns wrong only when you are heavily chained by the transactional politic and you get blind easily for the fact behind your candidates just because you want to satisfy everyone who has been backing you until now. Please remember, you work for Indonesian People.