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.