What 19 November has to say to the world

Peace rally in Jakarta, 19 November 2016, calls for national unity.
Peace parade in Jakarta, 19 November 2016, calling for national unity.

News about Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama being named suspect by police over blasphemy allegation in a politically-ridden circumstances has garnered international media attention recently.

The double minority status of his Christian religion and Chinese ethnicity in a majority Muslim population plays well with the foreign sentiment towards the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, questioning the spirit of equality and harmony in diversity it brags so much about.

Especially the west, where the current mayor of London is a directly elected British Muslim politican, Sadiq Khan, who took up the office since last May for the next four years.

As there is hardly a debate about the governor’s performance index in the past two years, national media are caught up in the raucous rants of Muslim hard-liners, inciting hate speech and religious-style repression, to be responded with little action by the embattled governments.

As a result, the hard-liners plans to stage continuous rallies similar to the 4 November anti-governor protest that saw Jakarta downtown surrounded by a massive number of angry followers, demanding the arrest of Basuki. Some even went to far as to make death threats to him whom they believed has insulted Koran.

It is this primitive anger that fills the local news content. Unfortunately the media, increasingly divisive day by day for each of their political interest, feeds on this kind of primitive fear.

Little is exposed that there lies a more relevant threat to national unity. The 4/11 protest, which eventually went violent, with police truck set on fire, a convenient store pillaged, and the contained riot in North Jakarta, heightened the social tension in the face of municipal election next February.

The situation exacerbates as there occurred low-explosives bombing in Samarinda and Singkawang, Kalimantan province in the week that follows.

Basuki, who topped the poll before he uttered a verse in Koran during his work visit in front of the community in Kepulauan Seribu, runs for Jakarta governor as a suspect.

Now that the hard-liners want him arrested for violating the 1965-stipulated law and/or the infamous 156a KUHP criminal code concerning blasphemy, which many rendered biased and prone to misjudgment, or killed out of radical interpretation of Islamic holy book, the two other competing pair of rivals will get the edge.

Some who had fallen victim to the law, and in most cases brought to trial because of mass pressure, were literature figure HB Jassin, sentenced 1 year in 1968, chief editor Arswendo Atmowiloto, sentenced 5 years circa 1990, not to mention the accusations incriminating the chief editors of Rakyat Merdeka and Jakarta Post in 2006 and 2014, respectively.

Indonesians are now in the state of hate-mongering. The tourism slogan of harmony in diversity, and the image of Indonesian hospitality are fading in the brink of municipal election in 2017, to be held nationwide in 7 provinces, 76 districts, and 18 cities on 15 February, participated by 153 pairs of candidates. Never a municipal election in Indonesia caused so much uproar, all because of one person of religious and ethnic minority.

But the dynamics does not only lead to negative trends.

A giant stage erected at the center of the mass rally that calls for national unity.
A giant stage erected at the center of the mass rally that calls for national unity.

Occured after 4/11, a spontaneous movement led to a mass-gathering event on 19 November to stage a public outcry over the fear of a nation divided.

As election nears in, large number of people took to the streets in the capital to amplify the importance of national cohesion despite political upheaval that exploits race and religion. These people reiterated the principle term Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or unity in diversity, which is stated in the constitution since the founding of the republic over 70 years ago.

Many saw it as a direct and organized response to 4/11 rally, although it was more of a parade than a protest. Various group of ethnicity in Indonesia showcased their cultural identity in the form of dances, music, and dresses. All was there donning red and white shirts, the two colors of the flag, sweating under the afternoon sun, to promote tolerance.

The running event the next day was held, not so much by coincidence, in the same spirit. Another large number of sports enthusiasts took part in the 10K Tolerun down the main streets of the city center, sending a message about the importance of tolerance and unity during one of the critical episodes of Indonesian democracy since reformation era.

When hope that pertains to a value of a republic seems lost to radical influence, those on 19 November shared to the world that Indonesia has yet to be a ideologically-hostile country.

However, it was again very unfortunate to notice that the media reacted by comparing the number of participants seen in the parade and the religious groups protest that preceded it, rather than focusing on the substance. Not all was lost.

A lit up candle in the dark sheds the brightest.

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