Life under the crescent-bearing Garuda

Also published on Wordpress.

*puts on my personal lenses*

I was born and raised in Indonesia, a predominantly-Muslim country which also has the biggest Muslim population on earth. It has been hailed as a progressive Muslim. I beg the differ. First, the government only acknowledges six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Native religions? Sikhism? Judaism? Our government is not secular -and kind- enough to recognise them. Too bad. Oh and Islam is the golden child.

There are publicly-funded Islamic universities; you won’t find non-Islamic religious ones funded by taxpayers. Formal events have brief Islamic prayers. Broadcasters air Islamic calls for prayer. Mosques can get away with their loudspeaker abuses. TV stations re-schedule their shows every Ramadhan. There are quite a few Islamic political parties. All presidents have always been Muslims. The ministry of religious affairs has always been dominated by Muslims. Of course, favouriting Islam makes us vulnerable to hardcore Islamic conservatism.

More Indonesians think women should wear hijab. Islamism is getting popular. Increasing religious bigotry and homophobia. Increasing anti-Semitism. Islamic moral police grow like fungi in wet seasons. Some universities are accused of letting extremists brainwashing students. More Indonesians think Islamic identity is inherently Arabic. Aceh has provincial Sharia. There are ISIS supporters. So much for being a progressive Muslim country, eh? Progressive haven it is not. So, it is right to call it an extremist one, right? Right? No, it is not.

Indonesia is admittedly heading the path towards extremism. But, it has yet to reach the destination. With female modesty, for example. Some workplaces ban hijab. Few female TV personalities wear hijab. Hijab is not enforced in some Islamic schools. Hijab is still seen as a backwarded cultural practice, not a religious one. Some hijabis are trend-followers, not devout believers. Okay, then. Hijab is not widely-accepted. How about atrocities against religious and sexual minorities?

Religious discrimination and homophobia are indeed rising. The former can be really violent at times. But, at the same time, the situation is not as horrific as claimed. We still have religious pluralism. Mind you that we still recognise other religions. Some regions are still predominantly-Christian and Bali is still predominantly-Hindu. In predominantly-Muslim ones, there are many non-Islamic places of worship and educational institutes; some Muslim parents send their kids to Christian schools. Non-Muslims have held high-ranking government positions. Indeed, all of our presidents have been Muslims. But then, all of them are also of Javanese descents; Javanisation is also an issue here. Our homophobia and anti-Semitism were born out of cultural conservatism; only now Islamic radicalism is a major factor. We were already homophobic and racist even when we were much more secular.

Secular. Yes, Indonesians can be secular, even some of the most devouted ones. From 2000 to 2004, I attended two Islamic schools. Despite the compulsory prayers and all-Muslim student body, the atmosphere was very secular; students openly enjoyed hedonistic entertainment and not all girls wore hijab. Our entertainment in general is very secular. Islamic one exists as a niche market. Islamic political parties flopped at the previous national election. Every time a netizen demands state Sharia, others would remind him/her (sometimes brutally) that Indonesia is a multi-religious country and has always been. The moral police here is like Westboro Baptist Church: widely-known and widely-hated. We still appreciate our Hindu and Buddhist heritages, like Garuda, our national symbol. Out of 34 provinces, only Aceh is Sharia-plagued. No, Aceh does not represent the entire country. Okay, I need to stop.

I admit that Indonesia is a wrecked ship that needs massive renovation inside out. Government’s permissiveness of radical Islam, centuries-old racism and homophobia, corruption, horrendous education, endangered heritages, fragile economy, anti-intellectualism, I can go on all day! But, likening Indonesia to Saudi Arabia is just delusional. You cannot cherry pick information that pleasure your prejudice g-spot and pretend you are in touch in reality.

I admit that we don’t know everything about our own countries. But, that doesn’t mean foreigners can make shits up. A foreigner who has never been to Indonesia claimed he knew everything about it; when I said “everything”, I meant only the bad ones. Where did he get his info? Cherry-picked news articles and his Indonesian friends of dubious existence. He swallowed their words easily like an obedient little child. I refuted his friends’ claims and he accused me of blindness. But, I should not be angered by him and his likes. Their intellectual dishonesty drastically lower their position in the rank of creatures and their brains usage.

Update: this article was written last year, long before Ahok’s blasphemy case started. Now that he is wrongfully convicted, Indonesia is heading even closer to religious darkness. But still, Indonesia is still far from being Saudi Arabia. Pakistan, maybe. But, not Saudi Arabia. Again, the Muslim world is diverse.

Another update: Recently, there was a news about the opening of the first Catholic state university in Indonesia. The first Catholic state university, NOT the first non-Islamic religious one. A quick google search showed me that there are a handful of Protestant, Buddhist and Hindu higher education institutes in the country. Even though the ministry of religious affairs is still annoying dominated by Muslims, it seems I really underestimated the religious section of Indonesian government.

Hi. I am a stammering dunce. My Wordpress blog: https://dachmad.wordpress.com/