Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Indonesia, play good music, please!

Thang D. Nguyen, Program Coordinator, United in Diversity Forum, Jakarta

The celebration of Idul Fitri -- which is fondly known as Lebaran -- recently in Indonesia would have been perfect, if it were not for a bomb explosion and an open gunfire in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

According to The Jakarta Post, the explosion took place near a housing complex in the sub-district Lawanga on Nov. 26, not too long after security officials in Jakarta announced that Idul Fitri had passed peacefully across Indonesia.

Just hours before the explosion, a group of unidentified men opened fire in Bukit Bambu village -- the borderline between Christian and Muslim villages in the area -- forcing the local police evacuate 53 families to a safer location.

Although these two incidents caused no lives, there are arguably some implications. First, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to bring about peace and stability in Indonesia.

With elections in about five months away, the prospects for peace, security, and stability in Indonesia are difficult, if not impossible, to forecast. Known to Indonesians by the acronym SARA (Suku, Agama,Ras, dan Antar golongan), inter -ethnic, -religious, and -tribal conflicts have been, and still are, one of the key problems confronting Indonesia.

National integrity is also hard to maintain. The military is currently holding the ground in Aceh against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which calls and fights for independence from Indonesia -- the kind that East Timor has been granted as a nation per se.

Second, the economic conditions must be improved for the poor in order to keep them from being turned into terrorists.

This means the economic priority must be given to combating unemployment. Even though poverty is not the root cause of terrorism, it is a handy tool with which the poor, pious, and naive can be easily manipulated to commit inhuman acts against no one but their own fellow Indonesians.

This also means that diverse faiths in Indonesia must not be perceived or blamed as the cause of its social violence. It is economics that matters: When the economic pie is big enough for everyone in society to share, do people really care what faiths others practice -- or, for that matter, what ethnic group they are from? Perhaps what Indonesia may need is something similar to Malaysia's New Economic Policy (NEP).

Third, and most important, now is the time for Indonesians to stand firm and united in diversity against the strokes of the provoking, divisive, and ill-wishing few.

Indonesians and friends from the international community must understand that, like any other society, Indonesia is made up of, among its truly diverse elements, certain ones that do not like and get along with the rest. As a matter of fact, they spend time, money, and energy trying to keep Indonesia a house divided.

Based on my personal experience, the best way to Indonesias many challenges is a platform on which Indonesians from business, government, civil society and friends of Indonesia from the international community can come together to address, discuss, and find ways to deal with them in an open, constructive, and forward-looking manner. No one can guarantee that a forum of this nature will solve all of Indonesia in a day or two, but it can do at least one thing: Serve as a catalyst in the process of building trust for Indonesia's future.

Mark Twain once quipped: "Wagner's music is better than it sounds." Indonesia, it has been said, is like Wagner's music. It should, however, be played by an orchestra of all Indonesians who want to make their music sound good. Does Indonesia have these players? The answer is "yes", albeit it will take lots of discipline, diligence, commitment, and rehearsals.

Indonesia, let the world hear your best.

This article is a personal view.