Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Inner Freedoms

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." - Oliver Cromwell (writing to the Scottish church)

After governments in North Africa ignited a white hot rage in their citizens, the fury appears to be spreading to similarly mismanaged states, with Bahrain and Iran making headlines as I ate my cereal with banana at 5.00 this morning. Ever since Tunisia rocked the world, 1998 and Indonesia's own era of reformasi has been prominent in my thoughts as well as how, despite many success stories, the nation has progressed very little on a number of fronts. 

While the Arab world takes centre stage, Indonesia has been making headlines for quite a different reason. The lynchings of members of the Muslim Ahmadyiah sect, justified by the sect's deviations from mainstream Islam, have been deemed too graphic for Indonesian television. Given the very low standards of local broadcasters with regard to censorship of violence, I am confident I will never have cause to seek out the footage. Shortly after these unspeakable hate crimes, riots erupted in Temanggung, Central Java, as a man was considered to have got off too lightly on charges of blasphemy; despite having been given the maximum sentence allowable by law. Nothing short of death was deemed sufficient by angry mobs burning down churches. 

In the wake of the overthrowing of despots far, far away from where I now sit, too little rememberance seems to have been paid to events which took place in Indonesia thirteen years ago. When the will of the people also persevered in the face of violence, from security personnel and shady agitators alike, to dethrone one of the most corrupt dictators the world has known - the Republic's second president, Suharto. Never punished for his crimes against humanity, he died under the most comfortable state healthcare available, having retained  many of his privileges as an ex-head of state.

By contrast, under the draconian, hardliner instigated, anti-pornography bill, a local musician has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison  for filming himself in the act of sexual intercourse for personal usage. It goes without saying that his real crime was to allow the footage to be stolen and consequently disseminated via the internet.

In Indonesia, there is still a strong tendency to afford elders respect, no matter how undeserving they are of it, and Suharto, who ruled for 31 years, may well have come off as the consummate patriarch to many. The severely obvious hypocrisy of arbitrary judicial decisions goes unchecked by an unfortunately significant number of citizens who are easily smart enough to know better. Judgement is clouded by fear of religion (read: fear of hell) and elders, and it is in this way that despite its being able to enjoy many of the benefits of democracy, there is a marked absence of a certain kind of freedom in this country.

One casual dicussion on eternal souls which I had with one of my Muslim ex-girlfriends went approximately as follows:

Her:The existence of an afterlife is important to me.
Me: Not so much for me, I'm more into enjoying the life that is staring us right in the face as we speak. 
Her: I would feel better if you could try and embrace the concept of an afterlife too.
Me: Let's look at it in a different light, many of your best friends are Christian, right?
Her: Yes.
Me: Doesn't that mean that you're compelled to believe they will all go to hell?
Her: (very pained facial expression) I don't want to talk about this anymore.
Me: Come on, surely you can see what I'm getting at?
Her: Yes, but I don't want to think about it. 

And we changed the subject, partly because she was vehemently against going further, and partly because I could see that she was genuinely upset. But for me it was a pivotal point in my understanding of how a vibrant, finely-tuned, young mind can become stuck by self-serving ideologies inflicted on the young by previous generations. How can we really have freedom of expression (including freedom of religion), when we don't even have freedom of thought?

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