Monday, October 15, 2012

Addicted to mockery

Addicted to mockery, incitement

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This formula recurs repeatedly throughout Muslim countries blasphemy is always responded to with anger. For some Muslim groups, those who mock their sacred beliefs must be punished.

However, with no legal power to punish the mockers, rage is directed at whoever is considered as abetting in the mockery. The embassies of the US, Germany and UK in the Middle East, despite having nothing to do with the movie Innocence of Muslims, were attacked in the subsequent protests against it. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens along with another three US officials, entirely unconnected with the movie, were killed during an attack on a US consulate in Libya.

In many cases, from Benedict XVI’s speech in Germany, the Danish cartoons, to Geert Wilders’ movie Fitna, it was the face of violent outrage that represented Muslims across the world. This time Sam Bacile, the pseudonymous maker of Innocence of Muslims, reaped similar dramatic outrage from Muslim groups from Benghazi to Jakarta to previous cases of blasphemy.

Let us make the case simple. Do you not see what will happen when you continually show outrage at being mocked? People will think that their mockery works.

Rather than desisting from making fun of you, they will heap more ridicule on you.

Realizing that you are childish, having no ability to restrain yourself from fury, mockers will become more creative in their efforts to disparage you.

Indeed, mockers of Islam always get what they expect from their nasty ideas. They know that discrediting Islam — no matter how disreputable their sense of humor and artistic tastes are — is a risk worth taking. Upon hearing the death threats, the mockers go into hiding to attract more public attention. What is clear is that drawing cartoons and producing movies denigrating Islam and Muslims always yield more public outrage in the Muslim world than the mockers could ever hope for in their wildest imagination.

On the other hand, public anger can also serve as rhetoric and a method of political bargaining. Radicalism and conservatism find a medium by which Muslim solidarity can be roused.

As seen in various mass protests, self-victimization has indeed been an effective tool to produce a Muslim collective identity that had been marginalized during times of liberal democracy and free markets.

To put the point differently, amid the public outrage against the blasphemies committed by those want to take advantage of Muslim volatility, Islamism has gained a momentum to further agitate Muslim sentiment. The conspiracy theory suggesting that the West systematically weakens Islam is further borne out.

Imagine this. When a small child is faced with contempt from his bigger friend, the former shows anger in a rather unique way. The victim, who lacks the courage to face the bigger child, will throw a tantrum, during which the smaller child lashes out at other children of equal size. On the other hand, upon seeing the victim’s outrage and overreaction to mockery, the bigger child feels a sense of satisfaction.

Surprisingly, both the mocker and victim enjoy the mockery game. Both parties are addicted to mockery. Whenever the bigger child repeatedly mocks the small one, the latter runs amok. Whereas the mocker takes pleasure in seeing the victim’s delinquent violence, the victim also exercises his power over his friends.

In other words, the two sides reap benefits. Not only is the producer of Innocence of Muslims satisfied at seeing the reactions against his work, conservative and radical Islamists also seize the momentum. Showing anger publicly is also an exercise of power.

The ritual of mass rallies are re-enacted in various cities across the Muslim world. Although most never see the movie, they pretend to get angry. Of course, their protest does not always convey their religious feelings but rather political gamesmanship.

Nonetheless, in Jakarta, the movie has not brought forth significant fruit. The radical groups — the Islamic Community Forum (FUI), Indonesian Hisbut Tahrir (HTI) and FPI (Islam Defenders Front) — failed in their mission to exercise power in public.

As politics is always local, local issue dominate people’s priorities in the capital city. Jakarta’s gubernatorial election buried the radicals’ reactions against the movie. Poor Bacile. Poor FUI, HTI and FPI!

All in all, when you fall into bankruptcy, like the alleged moviemaker who was imprisoned due to bank fraud, you need an alternative career and committing blasphemy against Islamic symbols sounds promising. If you want to attract the world’s attention, so that major global news channels will mention your name, make a movie or draw a cartoon despising Muslims.

The writer is a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.

Persecuting, Prosectuing Minorities

Persecuting, prosecuting minorities

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The assault on the Shiite group in Sampang on the East Java island of Madura is definitely a display of sectarian violence motivated mainly by religious sentiments that have been occurring across Indonesia lately. Denials of the role of religion in the incident, such as Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi’s earlier claims, are absolutely irrelevant.

Rather than this conflict being a family affair as the minister suggested, narrow-minded understanding about religion in the case cannot simply be ignored. Keep in mind that religion cannot be ruled out in this case of harassment of a minority.

The minister has to differentiate between hundreds or thousands of family disputes related to divorce, children guardianship, inheritance, etc. and the recent human rights abuses carried out in the name of religion, or more precisely, the persecution of minority religious groups.

It is useless to deny the religious conflicts blatantly occurring before our eyes in order to defend the “political image” of the current government. Denying the new reality that Indonesian society has lost its religious harmony helps us to find neither causes nor solutions. Honesty is indicative that we are serious in handling cases like the Sampang tragedy. The government, in this vein, is either avoiding honesty or simplifying the problem.

Persecution of minorities in our society (such as Lia Aminuddin’s Eden group in Jakarta, Christian churches in Jakarta and West Java, and Ahmadiyah followers in West Java, Nusa Tenggara and other parts of the country), as well as their prosecution for their beliefs and faiths amount to a systematic abuse of human rights with religious legitimacy. The Sampang riot has only extended the list.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s immediate call to enforce the law in the Sampang case is rhetorically entertaining. However, upon carefully examining his statement, many will realize that his words convey unclear messages. Which law is the President referring to? The outdated 1965 law on blasphemy or the Criminal Code?

It is worth noting that under the two laws, many criminals and perpetrators of attacks on minority groups were set free, whereas the victims were put in jail. Leaders of minority groups—Lia Aminuddin, Abdul Rachman, Andito Putro Wibisono, Ahmad Mushoddeq, Buki Syahidin, Tajul Muluk, and dozens of others were convicted and sentenced to an average of 2.5 years in jail although their groups and followers came under threat and suffered serious wounds.

Who should be punished? Who should be blamed and cursed? Based on the 1965 blasphemy law and Criminal Code’s Articles 156 and 335, the court convicted Sampang Shiite leader Tajul Muluk while the perpetrators of a previous attack on the Shiite community were allowed to roam free so that they could perpetrate the most recent assault on Aug. 26.

The police and the intelligence apparatus should not be left to shoulder the responsibility for the Sampang attack and other religious riots alone as they only followed orders. As in other cases, the police quickly took measures in the aftermath of the Sampang attack including arresting suspected perpetrators. Whether those people will be punished or not is not the police’s business.

Nevertheless, the government’s mindset and the whole justice system should be seriously reviewed. Only in 2010 did the Constitutional Court, under the leadership of Madura-born Mahfud MD, turn down a judicial review request filed against the 1965 blasphemy law. Not only had radicals and conservative figures successfully terrorized numerous NGO activists, intellectuals and scholars who filed the judicial review motion, they also exercised intimidation in the process of the review.

In fact, the Constitutional Court knelt down to the radicals’ agenda. The law was kept intact and is ready to prosecute anyone accused of insulting religions. Neither criticism nor challenge to religion is allowed in this country. Religion, particularly the one that is embraced by the majority, is well protected.

Persecuting and prosecuting minority groups, including the Shiites, for their beliefs and faiths is blatantly supported by the edicts of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has publicly supported the MUI’s stance over and over.

According to the council, the Shiia, like the Ahmadiyah, the Eden Community, and various new Islamic sects founded by local prophets across Indonesia, are deviant. It appears that to embrace a faith that is different from the majority’s is a crime. During the reform era, the MUI had more room to maneuver with its religious edicts and political opportunities. Note that the MUI’s deputy chairman is also part of the presidential advisory team.

All in all, at the national level, the position of minorities is indeed at risk. They are weak in the eyes of the national laws and the central government has no clear mechanism to protect them. Any movement initiated by a minority group that arouses the suspicion of radical groups that on behalf of the majority will be scrutinized.

Even though the perpetrators are fully aware the violence they commit is forgiven by the law, the state’s obscure commitment to protection of the minorities has created opportunities for various groups to carry out such attacks. Let us wait and see who the court will convict and imprison in the latest attack on Sampang’s Shiites.

The minorities’ demand for justice is just wishful thinking in this country. They are apparently destined to live in constant danger.

The writer, a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Fatherland: Soil and Water

Fatherland: Soil and water

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During the heyday of the revolution for the nation’s independence in the early 20th century, soil or land dominated the subject of intellectual debates. Water, which surrounded the islands in the archipelago, earned fewer spotlights.

True, the Indonesian anthem composed by respected Ahmadiyah follower, Wage Rudolf Supratman, contains the combination of two words “tanah air/soil and water”.

However, not only the anthem puts soil in the first place, it also emphasizes the role of land rather than water, such as in the phrase “tanah tumpah darahku/the soil in which my blood is shed.” In short, water, which covers most of the nation’s territory, has long received less attention.

Likewise, in pumping the spirit of the freedom fighters in the guerrilla wars against the two times Dutch aggressions, our national leaders, such as Gen. Soedirman and Soetomo, also pointed out land, or soil, symbolizing the fatherland, such as in the sentence “sejengkal tanah tak rela kuberikan pada penjajah / a mere inch of soil I will never let the colonial aggressor take.”

From elementary school, history teachers told us that the syncretic Hindu-Budhist Majapahit kingdom in East Java with its mighty army under the leadership of prime minister Gajah Mada conquered many other kingdoms in islands far away from Java. It is not hard to imagine that without an adept naval force it would have been impossible for Majapahit to fulfill the phenomenal palapa oath, by which was the vision to unite the hundreds of islands in the archipelago. However, most of us miss the ocean adventure of Gajah Mada’s legendary conquest.

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