By Bonni Rambatan
August 06 2014
The recent presidential election in Indonesia was nothing short of a victory for democracy.
Nowhere before have we seen such an engaged electorate, with such a large number of voters, very passionate (if not always the best mannered) social media interactions and increased transparency through various digital means.
What’s more laudable, the numbers taking to the streets in protest at the election result have been paltry compared to what predictions and rumors of possible riots might have led us to believe.
In light of this, presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s Facebook video call to “fight until the last drop of blood” for his 8 million-strong followers seems downright tragicomic in hindsight, with well-known commentators calling him delusional and accusing him of trying to hold the country hostage by whatever means.
On the other hand, the support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Indonesia that has been gaining traction as of late has been nothing but a crisis for democracy, a display of disenfranchised masses attacking its core values and calling for alternative extremes.
Even outside of the ISIL supporters, renowned Islamic commentators have quoted how democracy has been “excessive”, how wars and other violent movements are a product of too much freedom of opinion.
The numbers taking to the streets in support of ISIL in cities like Jakarta, Surakarta, Malang and Bima has exceeded anyone’s expectations. In light of this, the call by Indonesia’s ISIL supporters to rally followers in support of an Islamic State, with tales of ISIL violence spread around as the “success stories” of some kind of holy war, becomes a very real discomfort.
What do we make of these two events? What is the state of democracy in a country in which these two events coincide almost perfectly? It is all too easy to blame democracy and the so-called “too much openness” for the spread of radical ideas through Islamic youth, as many conservative intellectuals are won’t to do: You choose democracy; you are bound to attract anti-democratic views within it. But is that really true?
We must be very careful to note that violence, in and of itself, does not come from any kind of freedom of speech.
Spoiled children are not a product of too much love — they are products of too much of the wrong kind of love.
No matter how much “national development” gets preached, the feeling that you are being ignored and your views do not matter in the larger scheme of things will inevitably lead to frustrations — often destructively so.
This is where all the talk of “too much democracy” is fundamentally misleading. What we have instead is too little democracy — people voting, yet at the same time feeling as if they are not making a difference. All that, if the recent presidential elections are any indication, seems to be changing.
But lingering questions nonetheless still haunt our minds: Will things really change? What with all the infamous, seemingly above-the-law crooks still pulling the strings, plundering Indonesia’s wealth and circulating it overseas, what with all the unresolved crimes of Indonesia’s past hovering right in front of our eyes, the criminals shamelessly running for political positions of the utmost importance, is there even a remote possibility of a true, actual difference in the way things are conducted?
Is there hope for those whose voice has been lost in the dark recesses of history to actually, finally be heard? Or, as many jaded fatalist “intellectuals” seem all too ready to believe, has all this election drama been just for show, and we will inevitably end up disenfranchising more and more of the Indonesian population, causing mass frustration to rot and fester into ISIL-style reactionary uprisings in more places in Indonesia?
If the political passion of the masses in recent elections is any indication, the signs are positive. Of the very many Joko “Jokowi” Widodo voters I have encountered, most, if not all, are not exactly supporters of the figure per se, but instead are disillusioned youth who have only opted for the structural openness that Jokowi brings to the table.
Most, if not all, are ready to point out the flaws of Jokowi and name names among his political supporters with obvious cases of corruption and human rights abuse worn on their sleeves — and yet they still support him, because it is only with Jokowi that they feel safe doing so.
This, personally, is what democracy is supposed to be: a readiness to criticize, at full throttle, the very people you support — because you know you won’t be silenced and killed for doing so.
This is, incidentally, where Jokowi’s famous “Salam Tiga Jari” (three-finger salute) speech seemed a little incomplete. Of course, Persatuan Indonesia (the unity of Indonesia) is a wonderful ideal, but we should not forget that our democracy, our Indonesia, is still one that breeds wave after wave of fundamentalist terrorists and their supporters.
Do not get me wrong — of course, I am all for the unity of Indonesia, and against any and all kinds of terroristic reactionary movements. But we must realize that a three-finger salute is best done with the middle finger at its core, a finger that should be pointed squarely and consistently towards the corrupt politicians still in power.
The middle-finger salute, as it was called during the presidential elections, signifying a movement of constant vigilance that the threat of corruption lies on both sides of the candidate should not be lost in the continuous quest for unity.
Yes, it is good to put aside political differences and retreat to peaceful economic lives (“Nelayan kembali melaut” and so on), but we must also know that peaceful economic lives can only be achieved when there are no people in black raising weapons supporting lynchings under the name of Allah walking around in our neighborhood.
For such dangers to stop growing in power we need to open our arms and lend our ears to the disempowered and show them that, yes, there is a way out besides violence.
And to do that, we must never cease our newfound political passion in the recent elections, and instead focus those passions on constant vigilance, criticism and a striving for transparency with the new government to together make our country a more pleasant place to live in.
After all, it is only when terrorism is no longer an appealing political option among the youth that we will know we are moving in the right direction.
Bonni Rambatan is a writer, artist and critical theorist.