Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not Ready to Toss Away My Holiday Hopes

Lynda, our regular coffee taster is bothered. She expressed her angst once on blind faith, among all. There, she refused to get defeated. Now, with the world is seeing fractured democracy, lame law, yoga ban, and terrible war, she refuses to surrender her hopes. Rather, she wishes us all louder laughter, sweeter love, stronger health, better luck, more peace, and wiser self. Ladies and gentlemen: Lynda.

-- Kate

Not Ready to Toss Away My Holiday Hopes
by Lynda Ibrahim

The thing about having a December birthday, with the New Year looming, is that I get to reflect on life in the passing year at one intense go. Things are so bleak I had no choice but to hope for happier days this year. My holiday SMS wished for louder laughter, sweeter love, stronger health, better luck, and more peace. A quintessentially dry friend quickly replied ‘wonderful, but wishful’, but I didn’t let him to rain on my jolly parade.

Yet, it has since rained out there, literally and figuratively. Raining season brought floods, landslide, and tidal wave. Earthquake comes jolting. Many Indonesians lost lives and possessions. Then Gaza happened. It’s like the universe conspires against my holiday hopes. As the world started a new calendar year, technically we all got a bit older. But, have we gotten any wiser?

I recently saw Teater Koma’s Republik Petruk. The play borrowed the storyline from Petruk Dadi Ratu, a tale off the Javanese puppet-shadow’s Mahabharata. Petruk is the nosey middle son of Semar, a once misbehaved god who’s now banished to Earth as wise court jester (punakawan) to Pandawa princes. Petruk accidentally gets hold of divine power and becomes a king, but over time forgets his real priority is serving as punakawan. In a classic satire, Petruk lounges on his royal golden bed Cleopatra style, cheekily boasting his brand of ‘SBY’ democratic leadership. The Indonesian President’s initials stand here as ‘Semua Boleh, Ya’ or ‘Anything Goes, Right’, implying that anything is acceptable as long as done in a ‘democratic’ fashion. Touché.

Instead of growing wiser in finding similarities and more tolerant on differences, after all that’s what democracy is all about, we’re quicker in pointing out differences and fiercer in holding our own fort, adamant that democracy guarantees our rights to speak, be heard and accepted. Many people conveniently forget that it’s actually EVERYONE’s rights, not only their own, and definitely not only the rights of the majority, that’s promised by democracy. This is precisely why the law is more pivotal in a democratic system, because the law serves to secure a common ground where everyone can co-exist peacefully despite the differences.

Especially in Indonesia, where hundreds of native groups with traditions or mother tongues as different as German to French live spreading on 17,000 islands. The law is critical in ensuring that Indonesians can co-exist at all amid the glaring differences. The priority should be to find the common ground or uniting bridge for all Indonesians, then create the law and uphold it together.

But for the past decade I see most people are still trapped in only finding the ‘best’ way for the majority, or for the ones who wield most power, or for the ones who shout the loudest and grab public’s most attention. The interests of others outside those are kicked away, sometimes literally on the streets by the ‘winning’ group. That’s not democratic law, that’s jungle law.

Some groups, who are uncomfortable on how others present themselves in clothing or expressions, decide to hide behind women’s fear of sexual abuse and parents’ fear of pedophile to create a pornographic law. Want to genuinely fight pornography? Task law enforcement to sweep through multimedia trading circuits regularly and punish violators severely, empower schools to check students’ information tools like their increasingly hi-tech pocket gadgets that can smoothly transfer smutty files via Bluetooth while they solemn-facedly finish an essay, and more importantly, make parents legally accountable so they take more charge in their children’s life. Punish both prostitutes and the paying men. The real priorities are barely touched by the vague bill that so far only makes many Indonesians feel their centuries-old native traditions being penalized.

A company’s spewing mud costs thousands their homes, which are only compensated meagerly after years-long wait, and nobody’s ever brought to court. The sister company’s unpaid debts bring down stock exchange; bailout plea by taxpayers’ money ensues. Business and personal wallets may differ, but isn’t that mind-boggling that the mostly family-owned group claims to be cash-strapped yet manages to throw the most extravagant fete of the year for a family member, where the bride, without the slightest hint of irony, bubbly states adoration for Marie-Antoinette as the inspiration for one of the wedding receptions? Wonder if the trust fund has procured real history books beyond Sofia Coppola’s 2006 movie.

A neighbor’s majority loses political power, then uses their religious clout to issue edict that yoga chants can dilute one’s faith. Even more comically, their Indonesian counterpart first ignorantly states that no Indonesian Muslims are known to practice yoga, only to backpedal in one day with me-too decision to review all yoga studios. My mom first learned yoga in Jakarta in the ‘70s, I’ve done it for years and even learned some serene chants, and I’m happy to share that I actually can focus better when performing shalat now. Look, there’s Starbucks and La Senza Lingerie in the mall next to Mecca’s Masjidil Haram, does that mean Umrah and Haj pilgrimage get less holy? Instead of reviewing yoga, better use the resources to review our Haj management process to avoid the same mess repeated every year.

And now Gaza. Let me first clarify that I’ve always tried to remain objective over the years. I have Palestinian and Jewish friends across different nationalities, who all want peace as any decent person would. I don’t wish to dwell on the origin of Israel state anymore than being dragged into the whole biblical arguments of Chosen People and Promised Land. PLO, Fatah, Hamas, and sometimes next door’s Hizbullah, have caused lives of Israeli or Jewish descent civilians in their fights, that’s one sad fact everyone should admit. Lost of civilians is wrong, regardless of race or religion.

Which makes what Israel has done in Gaza since Dec 27th is blatantly unfair. Why? When innocent Israelites get wounded by Hamas rockets, nobody stands in Israel government’s way to immediately help their citizens or invite international press to cover. But Israel only let humanitarian aids to enter Gaza after 10 days of fighting for a brief 3 hours per day, even as Palestine civilian casualties mounted since Day 1. To disallow independent journalists, bar the heavily-guarded lone BBC cameraman’s few minutes-coverage on Week 2, only gets everyone to openly question Israel’s true motives beyond disarming Hamas. And don’t get me started on the shelling of UN aid trucks, shelters and compounds. Ignoring UN’s repeated pleas for cease fire is quite disrespectful, but opening fire to humanitarian aids makes me questioning Israel’s intention in becoming a world citizen. Israel may eventually relent for a truce, but the bloody images of Gaza civilians will have forever been etched on everyone’s mind.

I did caution friends not to get too carried away by Obamania, yet I harbored hope for a less biased US foreign policy. Must admit it’s rather disconcerting that President-elect Obama chose to wait for a week before offering a mild statement on Gaza crisis, considering his immediate sharp remarks during Mumbai attacks. Let’s hope that real change, as was the theme of his rousing victory speech that gave me goose bumps, will remain the priority comes January 20th.

For my Muslim Indonesian fellows, I share your sadness and frustration over Gaza. But first things first. Prayer for the safety of Palestinians or donations for Palestine refugees are the best options. Before boycotting any American or Israeli products, do realize that in globalization era those goods may well have Indonesian-made elements and/or are marketed by companies who employ Indonesians. Don’t get easily manipulated by hidden agenda, like the circulating SMS about Masjidil Aqsa allegedly being surrounded by Israel army. 10-second Web check can verify that the mosque is located in Old City Jerusalem that is geographically in Israel yet is full of holy sites for Muslims, Jewish and Christians, each managed by its own religious representative. More exactly, Masjidil Aqsa is on Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site. Please check independent sources before forwarding any SMS or emails that may inflame hatred even more. Misleading chain message like the Aqsa rumor is as unfair and dangerous as the “Muslim Indonesians like killing people of different faiths” that circulated after Bali bombings. Just like demanding the closure of Surabaya synagogue, which wouldn’t make you any nobler than the actions of Israeli government you’ve strongly criticized.

Last but not least, though I loathe quoting religious passages for cheap validation, this one is a suitable pearl of wisdom indeed. Remember that Prophet Muhammad once say to prioritize close neighbors over distant relatives? That’s not only kind but also logical, because your close neighbors, regardless of colors and religions, are the first you can turn to when your house is on fire or your children need midnight ride to ER. Recently our fellows in Manokwari lost homes over the earthquake; Sulawesi has been hit by landslide and ferry accidents, and some Jakartans suffering a 2-meter flood. Before we get all carried away by faraway concerns, have we lent any hand to our own fellow Indonesians?

Common priorities. Not only for the majority, the strongest or the loudest, but for everyone involved even if they don’t share visible traits with you. That holier-than-thou attitude really gets nobody nowhere. The more you sincerely open yourself to learn about people different than you are, the more evolved human being you become. Equal freedom and fair law make a real democratic society. For those insisting on jungle law I earnestly suggest discarding modern accoutrements and relocating to the forest. Let me know how the elephants and tigers greet you.

I’m still not ready to toss away hopes and will contribute my part of work. I hope you will, too. For louder laughter, sweeter love, stronger health, better luck, more peace, and wiser self. Happy New Year 2009.

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