My moth­er­land! This Christ­mas is scary for me

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between the Lines - KORNELIUS PURBA

A9-year-old boy re­cently scolded me when I told him that I hes­i­tated to bring my fam­ily, es­pe­cially my sick wife, to at­tend the Christ­mas Eve mass ser­vice at our church this Satur­day. To be hon­est, as a Catholic mi­nor­ity and as an In­done­sian, I am afraid about the safety of my fam­ily. Will the com­ing Christ­mas be peace­ful or dis­as­trous? You can say I have lit­tle faith in it be­ing the for­mer. But if you were in my po­si­tion, per­haps you would un­der­stand my anx­i­ety. The ma­jor­ity of In­done­sian Mus­lims are tol­er­ant, demo­cratic and peace­ful. It is very true. But the threat to our life is very real too.

This boy clearly could not un­der­stand my po­si­tion. For him Christ­mas is like a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, dur­ing which his friends, in­clud­ing his Mus­lim play­mates, con­grat­u­late him and ask him for treats. Of course he also ex­pects lovely pre­sents from them.

He shook his head firmly and even stared at me when I cited a po­lice re­port on the pos­si­ble re­cur­rence of Christ­mas Eve bomb­ings by ter­ror­ists on a num­ber of churches in Jakarta back in 2000. He clearly ac­cused me of try­ing to find the per­fect ex­cuse to skip the mass ser­vice, even though I told him the church where I would cel­e­brate Christ­mas was among those bombed 16 years ago.

“All my Mus­lim friends are very nice to me. They em­brace a very good religion,” the boy preached.

“But many Mus­lims don’t like the Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion be­cause for us Je­sus is the Son of God and even God him­self. For them Je­sus is a just a prophet,” I ar­gued.

Then I re­mem­bered the boy’s cousin who once told me about the un­nec­es­sary waste of time and en­ergy of de­bat­ing whether Je­sus is God or a prophet.

His cousin, who dreamed of be­com­ing an Army gen­eral in his child­hood, com­pared the two sta­tuses to military ranks. “For us Je­sus is like a gen­eral and for oth­ers his rank is much lower, say a ma­jor. Both rank­ings are highly re­spected any­way,” he told me many years ago.

Christ­mas, like other reli­gious cel­e­bra­tions, such as the Is­lamic post-fast­ing fes­ti­val or Idul Fitri, is al­ways a source of joy, which we are will­ing to share with our own fam­ily, friends, neigh­bors and even fel­low ci­ti­zens. I al­ways teach my chil­dren to greet their Mus­lim friends on Idul Fitri be­cause I be­lieve it is a cour­tesy for our neigh­bors and friends. The greet­ing does not have any ide­o­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions.

Now many In­done­sians feel anx­ious and fright­ened to cel­e­brate Christ­mas. On Wed­nes­day, just four days be­fore the holy day, po­lice shot dead three al­leged ter­ror­ists who re­port­edly wanted to dis­rupt Christ­mas and New Year cel­e­bra­tions.

Na­tional Po­lice chief Gen. Tito Kar­na­vian has re­peat­edly con­vinced church­go­ers to not feel afraid of per­form­ing their faith, which is guar­an­teed by the Con­sti­tu­tion. He said the po­lice had taken more than enough pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures to en­sure the safety of Christ­mas rev­el­ers. Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo also said he had taken the nec­es­sary steps to pro­tect the peo­ple. But why do so many peo­ple, in­clud­ing me, re­main in fear de­spite the re­peated as­sur­ances?

In the last few weeks, we have read many anti-Chris­tian slurs on so­cial me­dia, es­pe­cially af­ter the con­tro­ver­sial re­marks of Jakarta Gov­er­nor Ba­suki “Ahok” Tja­haja Pur­nama. He is stand­ing trial for al­leged blas­phemy, which has sparked anger among Mus­lims against the Chris­tian and eth­ni­cally Chi­nese gov­er­nor

Many Chris­tians in In­done­sia and else­where across the globe are fright­ened by the con­tin­u­ous re­ports of ter­ror­ist at­tacks per­pe­trated by those who claim to rep­re­sent Is­lam. Sim­i­larly, mil­lions of Mus­lims in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Myan­mar have to con­front horrors in their daily lives.

The pictures and footage of mourning chil­dren in Aleppo and Ro­hingya have fre­quently ap­peared on TV, news­pa­pers and so­cial me­dia. Threats of death are very real for them and even when they sur­vive they may have to face a dark fu­ture.

Those peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, are en­dur­ing unimag­in­able suffering as vic­tims of crimes against hu­man­ity in their own home­land. They have lived in fear for a long time and should the suffering end, the trauma will stay for years.

I have no gut to claim that my religion is the clos­est to God or the right­eous one. My fa­ther of­ten told me that no one had ever re­turned from heaven or hell to tes­tify their ex­pe­ri­ence in the two places. Some of my Ja­panese friends ac­knowl­edge that they have no religion. “But we faith­fully prac­tice your reli­gious teach­ings. We nei­ther com­mit cor­rup­tion nor abuse power. We help the poor,” they said.

I still re­mem­ber John Len­non’s ev­er­green song “Imag­ine” that may jus­tify my fear de­spite the Bi­ble’s as­sur­ance that the birth of Je­sus that we cel­e­brate on Christ­mas is an event of joy.

.... Imag­ine there’s no coun­try/It isn’t hard to do/Noth­ing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/Imag­ine all the peo­ple/Liv­ing life in peace....

Merry Christ­mas! Hope­fully my fear is to­tally ground­less.

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