Is In­done­sia Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a Di­ver­sity Cri­sis?

A di­ver­sity cri­sis might be head­ing to In­done­sia as many lo­cals be­gin to plead for the reestab­lish­ment of racial and re­li­gious tol­er­ance in the coun­try. But re­cent stud­ies sug­gest that the na­tion might ac­tu­ally be do­ing just fine.

Indonesia Expat - - NEWS - By Caranissa Djat­miko

As the world’s largest ar­chi­pel­ago, In­done­sia is in­deed no stranger to re­li­gious, eth­nic and cul­tural di­ver­sity. Ear­lier this month, Pres­i­dent Jokowi asked his peo­ple to cel­e­brate the ar­chi­pel­ago’s di­ver­sity dur­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the birth of Prophet Muhammad on Jan­uary 8.

“In­done­sia has more than 700 eth­nic groups with 1,100 lo­cal lan­guages and this shows the di­ver­sity. The di­ver­sity is a gift from God we have al­ways to be grate­ful for. We have 34 prov­inces and 516 re­gen­cies and cities. Let’s main­tain our unity. We need unity. ‘ NKRI Harga Mati!’ [ The Uni­tary State of the Repub­lic of In­done­sia is undis­puted],” Jokowi said as re­ported by The Jakarta Post.

Last year, we saw an in­tense de­bate sur­round­ing di­ver­sity that in a way re­minded us why the is­sue of dis­crim­i­na­tion to­wards mi­nor­ity groups in this coun­try is far from over. When lo­cal academics and au­thor­i­ties, for ex­am­ple, pro­posed to crim­i­nal­ize ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and claimed that the ex­is­tence of the LGBT com­mu­nity de­fied In­done­sia’s re­li­gious and moral values, many won­dered if the coun­try ac­tu­ally pro­tects the rights of its own peo­ple at all.

It all started in Jan­uary of last year, when the Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Muhammad Nasir an­nounced that he wanted to bar LGBT stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions from univer­sity cam­puses. The news soon cre­ated up­roar to­wards the LGBT com­mu­nity, with mass re­li­gious groups forc­ing the coun­try to free it­self from these ‘sin­ful acts’. Sev­eral psy­chi­a­trists de­clared that same-sex ori­en­ta­tion is equiv­a­lent to ‘men­tal ill­ness’. The na­tional broad­cast­ing com­mis­sion ( KPI) called for cen­sor­ship on TV and ra­dio pro­grammes that por­trayed LGBT be­hav­iour, and some mothers in the ar­chi­pel­ago broad­casted mes­sages of fear and con­cern for their chil­dren via so­cial me­dia.

But with all these anti-LGBT sen­ti­ments, not many of us are ac­tu­ally well in­formed about the lo­cal LGBT com­mu­nity. I re­cently sat down with Fer­ena De­bineva and Nadya Karima Me­lati, co-founders of the Sup­port Group and Re­source Cen­tre on Gen­der and Sex­u­al­ity Stud­ies (SGRC) at the Univer­sity of In­done­sia ( UI), which Nasir re­ferred to when he spoke out against the op­er­a­tion of LGBT move­ments at for­mal in­sti­tu­tions. De­bineva and Me­lati shed light on why so many In­done­sians to­day are still pro­mot­ing hate­ful rhetoric to­wards the LGBT com­mu­nity.

“The gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials [who called out the LGBT com­mu­nity in 2016] re­ally don’t know what they are say­ing. Our gov­ern­ment pre­vi­ously played it safe by not re­leas­ing any poli­cies against LGBT, although not nec­es­sar­ily pro­tect­ing their hu­man rights. They claimed to stand with hu­man rights, but they also said that it should also be ‘adapted’ to the na­tion’s ex­ist­ing norms and values. So at that time, the peo­ple pan­icked be­cause the state­ments [ pro­mot­ing hate speech to­wards LGBT peo­ple] were re­peated non-stop for three months,” De­bineva told In­done­sia Ex­pat.

Both De­bineva and Me­lati also re­vealed that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are not the only ones deal­ing with mis­un­der­stand­ing about the LGBT com­mu­nity. Even some academics are sim­i­larly ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same is­sue with ac­cept­ing the rights of LGBT peo­ple.

“That kind of fear is based on the myth and ta­boo re­lated to sex­u­al­ity, while all this time they can’t re­ally dis­cuss it. And the me­dia’s fram­ing con­se­quently con­trib­uted to the preser­va­tion of stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion to­wards the LGBT com­mu­nity that wors­ens peo­ple’s un­der­stand­ing about it,” De­bineva ex­plained.

Re­spond­ing to acts of prej­u­dice, the dis­cus­sion of tol­er­ance be­gan to take cen­tre stage as the me­dia and academics showed us that plenty of lo­cals still sur­pris­ingly fail to pro­mote tol­er­ant values on a daily ba­sis, even in cities like Jakarta. Last Au­gust, non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Wahid Foun­da­tion, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with re­search in­sti­tute Lem­baga

Survei In­done­sia ( LSI) re­vealed the re­sults of a sur­vey, which claimed that as many as 59.9 per­cent of 1,520 re­spon­dents hated a par­tic­u­lar group, in­clud­ing non-Mus­lims, the Chi­nese and com­mu­nists.

Find­ings re­vealed by Sai­ful Mu­jani Re­search and Con­sult­ing (SMRC) in Novem­ber, sug­gested that the level of tol­er­ance for non-Mus­lims is in fact quite low. The sur­vey dis­closed that the ma­jor­ity of the In­done­sian pop­u­la­tion was against groups like ISIS, the LGBT com­mu­nity, com­mu­nists, Jews, Chris­tians, the Is­lamic De­fend­ers Front, Wah­habi Mus­lims (the move­ment Wah­habism is be­lieved to be the driv­ing force be­hind global rad­i­cal ter­ror­ism) and lastly, the Chi­nese com­mu­nity.

Yet, in con­trast to the Wahid Foun­da­tion’s and LSI’s re­sults, those ob­tained from SMRC prove that the tol­er­ance for non-Mus­lims in the ar­chi­pel­ago is still there. This came as good news for SMRC’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­searcher and UI lec­turer Ade Ar­mando, who thinks that In­done­sians over­all still have re­spect for di­ver­sity.

“The ma­jor­ity of In­done­sians do not ap­prove of ISIS and rad­i­cal ide­olo­gies, which is good. But they are still strug­gling to ac­cept the LGBT com­mu­nity, who came in sec­ond on the list, be­cause the term it­self has only been in­tro­duced to the na­tion over the last decade. And the way peo­ple prac­tice their re­li­gious be­liefs here might per­haps have some­thing to do with this. The third one is the com­mu­nist [ group], and this is un­der­stand­able due to the peo­ple’s trauma of tragedies in the past. But in gen­eral, In­done­sians do not ac­tu­ally see peo­ple who are non-Mus­lims as a prob­lem,” Ar­mando said.

Fol­low­ing up on the case of Jakarta Gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama (Ahok), who is ac­cused of com­mit­ting re­li­gious blas­phemy, the na­tion was im­me­di­ately po­lar­ized. But look­ing at a man who has worked in­ces­santly to build the cap­i­tal city, some feel that the case is more of a tes­ta­ment to the na­tion’s re­li­gious ar­ro­gance rather than a quest for jus­tice. Fur­ther­more, Ahok’s case seems to re­it­er­ate the lo­cals’ long-stand­ing prob­lem with Chi­nese-In­done­sians, es­pe­cially when they take on the role of a prom­i­nent leader in the na­tion.

That said, Ar­mando thinks that Ahok’s case is more con­cerned with In­done­sia’s po­lit­i­cal drama, and there­fore can­not be en­tirely used to rep­re­sent the na­tion’s di­ver­sity cri­sis.

“Of course there is truth to the need for tol­er­ance and re­spect for di­ver­sity. But if we take a look at Ahok’s case, it is ac­tu­ally more of a po­lit­i­cal one. There are many nonMus­lim lead­ers across the ar­chi­pel­ago and the peo­ple are okay with that,” Ar­mando said. “So I think the idea of a di­ver­sity cri­sis in In­done­sia might not ex­actly be ap­pro­pri­ate for our time now.”

While it might take a while for In­done­sia to be­come a peace­ful, tol­er­ant and mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion, I still hope that one day we can get there. Just as long as we learn to con­front our fear and re­mem­ber to prac­tice what we preach. As the na­tional motto of In­done­sia sug­gests, we should be­lieve in “Bhineka Tung­gal Ika” or “Unity in Di­ver­sity”.

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