Monday, May 21, 2012
On the 14th of May I returned from a family trip to the area of Banten. My host ayah is a doctor, and right after he got his doctoral degree, he worked in a little village in Banten near Cigeulis. Twenty-some years after completing his services there, we went on a family road trip to see how the place has changed. It was a very long car ride, but mainly because the roads are in such disrepair. Though I felt like a popcorn kernel in a microwave as we ventured the chasmed roads, my parents kept exclaiming how much better the roads had gotten. As I bounced around the back seat, my Ibu shared how she used to have to make the trip on a jalopy mini-bus without air-conditioning and over even worse road-conditions...she also had to hold onto her very young infant. A particularly large rocky mound sent me shooting up and I impaled my skull on a metal bar hiding in the padding of the car ceiling; moments later we arrived at a large house on a hill. We got out and a kind-faced woman greeted my Ibu very warmly; she explained she used to be my ibu's neighbor. Back in the day, the village did not have electricity, so this woman would help my Ibu start a cooking fire out of firewood. My Ibu says that because she was one of the youngest children in her family when she was growing up, she never learned how to cook until she got to the village; the neighbor woman would help my Ibu cook by showing her what spices to use and how to prepare the dishes. Multiple times, my Ibu expressed her sincere gratitude to this kind neighbor. At the house were a whole crowd of my ayah's previous employees; over a traditional lunch in a bamboo gazebo, they reminisced about the past and remarked all the development that had happened in twenty-some years. The whole thing was quite a revelation for me; it was amazing to learn from first-hand witnesses just how much development had happened in twenty-some years. The village market used to be open once a week on Tuesday and only in the morning; when I was there in the afternoon on a Sunday, the market was open and very busy. The village used to be without electricity, and now I saw ricefields adorned with powerline towers. It gives me chills of pride and nostalgia to realize how fast Indonesia is growing. Over these past two months, my love for Indonesia has increased ten-fold--no doubt because of my new situation; my time here has instilled in me a deep desire to see Indonesia grow even more and hopefully I can help it develop in a responsible and sustainable manner!
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
16th May 2012
Religion. It is THE defining component of everyday life in Indonesia. When you first meet someone you can pretty much tell what religion he or she is based on how they greet you. Do they say "shalom" (christian) or "assalamualaikum" (Muslim)? Do they let you kiss their hand or are they too conservative to be touched by the opposite sex? Do they appear to have rice stuck to their forehead (Hindu) or are they sporting what looks like a nazi swastika (Buddhism + Hitler definitely ripped off Buddha by making the swastika so taboo, originally it was a meaningful & good Buddhist symbol)? Okay, I'm dramatizing a bit, I've never seen some one wearing the Buddhist symbol that looks like a swastika as a necklace, but my point is that there are endless inescapable reminders or religion everywhere all the time non-stop.
Thus, it goes without saying that society as a whole--especially the "secular" republic--is very much influenced by religion. Indonesia is a country where majority rules; thus as Islam is the majority religion, it's influence is prevalent. Indonesia's heavy influence from religion means that even though it is a "secular" Republic, the lines between religion and state are blurred and swirled together.
Perhaps the most poignant and timely example of the aforementioned dynamic has been a recurring headline for the past few weeks: Lady Gaga.
I don't know how much coverage this is getting in the States, but she is causing quite a ruckus in Indo land.
Conservative Islamic religious leaders are outraged at her planned performance this coming June. They say the concert must be banned because it is "harem" or not allowed (as in against Islamic morals). Lady Gaga struts too much of her stuff & she is vulgar & cannot be allowed to corrupt the minds of Indonesian youth!
Not everyone in Indonesia is Muslim, right? So outlawing the concert would be major minority persecution, right?...
Yea, not to mention a suppression of free will...
So what if a Muslim wants to 'sin' (according to some old guy) and enjoy themselves at a hoppin' Lady Gaga concert? I guess I personally just don't agree that going to a racy concert will send me to hell in a hand basket.
The government is encroaching upon private life and religious boundaries of state and religion if it thinks it has the right to regulate Indonesian citizens right to go to a CONCERT!
It flabbergasts me that this is an issue and even a heated debate right now in Indonesia. If I were an Indonesian citizen/parent/whatever, I would not be giving a care as to whether or not Lady Gaga is approved of by my religious leader, I would be freaking out about the infringement on my civil liberties! This is a big deal when you think about it: will the government step aside and allow her to perform in peace or will they take a step inside the private life of its citizens?
From the inside this feels like a big turning point, an important precedent, in Indonesian politics.
I adore Lady Gaga; I am worried that the group of extremely conservative Muslims, will wreak havoc around the spot where Lady Gaga performs, or some over kind of mess. This group of fanatics has been known to trash nightclubs during the month of fasting. They don't seem to have all theirs marbles.
Just now I had a meaningful talk with my host mother about this extremist group: we concurred that they are NOT right at all in the way they follow their religion. Anyone who has all of his or her marbles and has ever cracked a Quran open in her or his life could easily tell you that the prophet Mohammed taught a path of peace--NOT violence.
To put strong words to a subject I've come to feel so strongly about: anyone who is violent towards others and claims that his or her actions are justified by Islam, said person is utterly wrong and they are hijacking the peaceful religion of millions of good people.
I think the above statement applies to all major religions, as I am not aware of any legitimate religion that teaches or encourages violence.
I came to Indonesia without judgement and open to learning; I had no expectations or quarrels that I was waiting to pick--my suitcase was almost solely occupied by curiosity. Now I have learned quite a bit and it has opened my eyes to all kinds of prejudice--not just limited to the realm of religious prejudice. This may sound cheesy, but I think that the very conservative people attacking Lady Gaga are prejudice against her because to them she is this very Western icon of liberated sexuality and a progressive social lifestyle. In my experience those things are not accepted or embraced in Indonesia and thus I think those people feel threatened by it. Sigh. But the fact that there is a debate and that Indonesians are also pressuring the government to allow the concert--that's a great step toward secularism!
Warm wishes and positive energy going to Lady Gaga for just being her provocative self; whether she knows it or not, she has started an important dialog about civil liberties versus religious conservatives.
Attached is a random picture of me at Tanah Lot Temple in Bali; the sun is setting over the rocky cliffs that surround the temple at low tide. My host mother recently took me to Bali for the second time (!) because she ROCKS! I have a Balinese flower in my hair that I found floating in the water stream coming out of a cave below the temple cliff.