By Lynda Ibrahim
14 May 2016
A long while ago I read somewhere that the more diverse a group, the stronger the bond is required to hold them together as a group. Logical. In the case of The Prince and the Pauper, or Beauty and the Beast, it was blind love. In the case of a nation as colourful as Indonesia? Perhaps fear of a common enemy will do.
As a girl who was born and raised in the heyday of Soeharto’s iron-fist rule, I clearly knew who the bogeyman was then. The bloody coup supposedly orchestrated by the Indonesian Communist Party ( PKI ) in 1965, thwarted ingeniously just in time by then Lt. Gen. Soeharto and loyal troops, was drummed up into historical books, an annually-run TV movie and various other propaganda mediums.
Not until I left the country as an adult and was exposed to the world more that I came to understand the oversimplification of ideologies and history that Soeharto’s New Order had consciously imposed, and how similar to 1950’s America my growing up under his rule had been.
Then 1998 Reformasi (political reform) came and I thought, whoa, the distribution of information would be free now, the masses would no longer be structurally duped. I felt like it was the dawn of the Age of Aquarius for all Indonesians. Yet what happened? Just a decade into what was supposedly the enlightenment in democratic governance, we were handed another bogeyman. Kaum Kafir. The infidels. The heathens. The non-believers — either not believing in the almighty, or merely not believing in the same divinity we do.
Islamic hard-liners have had a great run for several years now. For a long time most people, including level-headed Muslims, were too afraid to contradict the garden variety of hate speeches spewed about daily and twice on Fridays.
Yet lately, the public seems to have gotten a teeny bit wiser— many Muslims have openly called out the likes of FPI as common thugs dressed in Middle Eastern garbs, and the vocal Islam-based political parties received paltry votes in the 2014 election.
This means it’s probably time for a new bogeyman. Yet what surprised me the most is that, instead of creating a new one, the powers that be decided to dust off the shelves and brought out, again, the good old PKI and its leftist ilk.
It doesn’t matter that our own founding father’s legendary concept of “Marhaenism”, the little people, is rooted in Marxism. Doesn’t matter the country’s prized philosophical ideology Pancasila, in its mission to support the little people, owes at least its 2nd and 5th principles to socialism. It doesn’t matter the current ruling party never shied away from touting leftist ideals, such as a welfare state, during their opposition years.
Neither does it matter that since the fall of the Soviet Union a couple of decades ago communism is generally considered a failed ideology. Late president Hugo Chavez’s political and economic experiments have left Venezuela virtually bankrupt, China is the world’s largest customer for luxury goods and Cuba is unapologetically the largest growing market for the capitalistic Airbnb.
How do you fear something that, while it has lent wisdom to your country’s own fundamentals, is an extreme spectrum ideology that no longer holds power over the world?
What is even sadder is that, it may just still work. Thanks to inadequate teaching of the social sciences in our education system, many Indonesians still lump communism, socialism and atheism into one box while throwing consumerism, hedonism, liberalism and capitalism into another. If you think that’s horribly misguided, wait until you hear that once an angry mob set Das Kapital on fire because the book taught capitalism.
I’m never one to attach myself to any ideology for I believe nobody can be that black-and-white consistently throughout life, and I’m not here to defend communism, since frankly there’s nothing left to defend.
But I’m never a fan of dumbing down another generation on basic social science while other nations are racing to cure cancer, create renewable energy or reach Jupiter. This phobia resurrection against the supposed resurrection of communism, while amusing at times, is troubling in principle.
Troubling that one can get hell-bent in defending or attacking what one doesn’t fundamentally understand for one never being properly taught on; even more troubling is that there are people adamant in sustaining indefinitely such a fearful bogeyman.
I don’t know who they are, and I’m dumbfounded as to why the country’s highest office hasn’t stopped the National Police for curtailing public discourses on political science or arresting people over silly t-shirts. Does it count as a Mental Revolution when we let a bogeyman loose among our men, women and children, Mr. President?
While I’ll pretend Mr. President reads this column and hence is now pondering my question, you can go underground to see that, now that anything that can be labelled “leftist” is verboten, the price tags of such illicit materials will only soar. And you won’t need a communist to tell you that, a capitalist will do just fine.
So yeah, have fun with the “Kafir” and “Komunis” bogeyman. I’d rather go and have my nails done.