A Festival of Fasting, Fear and Factions

A festival Ramadan has become. For the urbanites, it’s an endless series of retail sales, grocery hunts and iftar invitations, that an atheist friend of mine had busier Ramadan than I did. Add in the nightly firecrackers, once a merriment only in villages without malls, Ramadan in metropolitans like Jakarta has transformed into a festival boasts fasting as an emblem. Shiny, sewn up tightly, worn with pride—yet not the whole festive wardrobe.  

If you think it means Muslim Indonesians are going more secular, enough of us are adamant to prove otherwise. One of the fruits of 1998 Reformasi is decentralization; a move meant to serve locals better yet now often misused to appease the majority by issuing discriminative bylaws, like forbidding the sale of food during the day throughout the monthlong Ramadan.

That such bylaw is discriminative as not all Indonesians are Muslims, some Muslims may not fast due to legitimate reasons, or that religious practice is private than public, didn’t seem to matter. Protests from other citizens, including levelheaded Muslims, went unnoticed. All hell eventually broke loose weeks ago when Serang administrative, under TV cameras, raided food stalls that dared to open, busting rice pots and confiscating dishes as a stall-owner, an elderly lady, crying openly, pleading for mercy.

The netizens reacted quickly not just with damnation, but also with sizable donations; shelling out about USD 20K to the old lady and other stall owners nearby, perhaps in defiance against the law they’re hopeless to change. Conservatives were quick to point that the authorities were only enforcing the law, and within days it became an open assault towards the elderly lady’s characters, so removed from the necessary public conversation about revoking such stupid bylaw.

There are too many discriminative bylaws popped out recently, just when I thought 1998 Reformasi and the Internet age would open the eyes of blindsided Indonesians after 32-year of iron fist rule under Soeharto. And yet the stream of free information, foreign people and new practices often isn’t seen as opportunities to grow, but threats to one’s core, be it tradition, political view, economics, or religion, or all of the above. Faction after smaller faction, over fear of the unknown. And political parties cunningly used this left and right, pun intended, to gain votes.

Indonesians do go online, but instead to discover new things and learn of opposing views they ironically tend to veer towards justifications and protections. Creating a clique, instead of getting intrigued. Some have used Malaysia as preferred reference—a country where it’s apparently a crime to post food pictures on social media during the day throughout Ramadan. Getting online to defensively go inwards—an irony I doubt ever crossed the Internet creators’ visionary minds. Even more so when you think that Indonesia’s much-touted motto is Diversity in Unity. People who dare to speak up for diversity or against discrimination prescribed by clergies are often silenced by their own peer group to maintain a false sense of unity. Even the President has been meek about the issue.

It’s disheartening to watch the grow of conservatism among people you grew up with, the once free-willed, educated bunch who got wide-eyed exploring the world yet is now gradually turning into folks that don’t see anything wrong with the aforementioned bylaws or the blinkered concept of Muslim-only suburbia housing where residents must attend daily prayers collectively in communal mosque as oppose to privately at home and regardless of their daily activities. Shields for their kids against drugs, premarital sex, “un-Indonesian” attitudes, “funny” ideologies or “unholy” vaccines have been cited as a reason, sometimes a subtle code for me the childless singleton to shut my “liberal” views, while, as I wrote here in May, thanks to inadequate teaching of social science in our education, most Indonesians can’t define liberalism beyond “anything-goes Western value” anyway.

Fear of continually being edged out by globalization is widely suggested as the underlying motive for the surprising Brexit vote last week, and the sudden rise of post-referendum intolerance towards Polish and dark-colored immigrants in the UK only adds to the equation. Xenophobia and far-right nationalism are on the rise in western Europe, fueled by the influx of immigrants and refugees that some deemed “un-European” based on race and religion—blind to the fact that enough of top footballers defending their flags in Euro 2016, including Indonesian descendant Radja Nainggolan if I may add, are sons or grandsons of earlier immigrants.

The same nationalistic rhetoric, almost jingoism really, has also been trumpeted about by the Republican Party’s presumptive candidate, Donald Trump, and, to a lesser degree, the newly-minted President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. While I can fathom the lure of nationalistic utopia, I think such feverish pitch usually signal pent-up anger as opposed to reasoned rejections.

And where that would lead us? For UK citizens, it’s saying goodbye to countless opportunities in 27 other countries while having no apparent leader as David Cameron resigned and former London mayor and Brexit movement leader Boris Johnson announced he wouldn’t run for PM post. For Indonesians, it’s a heated tug-of-war between the hardliners and sober minds, with the ignorant majority dragged farther into insularity cloaked in nationalistic pride and newfound piety. Ramadan’s supposed meditative soul, reflective mind and steely patience? Oh honey, as long as people don’t eat in front of us during the day, we’re carrying on with the festival. Now hand me the firecrackers already. Minal aidin wal faidzin.

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/07/02/urban-chat-a-festival-fasting-fear-and-factions.html

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