Sat, 05 Apr 2003

Peaceful rallies preferable

Iqbal Widastomo, Research Associate, London School of Economics, London

In the past few years it has been rare that Indonesia has been portrayed on the likes of CNN or BBC in a positive light. More often than not the reports focus on the rampant violence and conflicts.

Reports of recent demonstrations in the heart of Jakarta provoked thought among viewers. For once there were no signs of excited youths on top of buses wildly waving flags or shouting out complaints, and happily there were no signs of violence or rioting that consistently cloud the whole purpose of demonstrations.

No, these peaceful rallies included, first, one by Indonesian women calling for the nation to stop and think about how overt consumerism has become an obsession for our people and how it is undermining the social fabric. More recently, thousands upon thousands of Indonesians rallied against the war in Iraq.

Here were demonstrations that could be seen to be working. They were expressing concerns, bringing them into focus for more people and encouraging people to enter into the debate and show their concern for the future of our nation and the world.

Even though the rallies revolved around deeply worrying aspects of our lives, the fact that these people were able to express and peacefully demonstrate their concerns in the heart of the capital is a welcome contribution to the nation.

After so many years of harsh and unforgiving dictatorship, Indonesia seems to have exploded, or perhaps more accurately imploded, in a series of conflicts that have led to deaths and destruction. The messages of various rallies have become lost in the acrid smoke of burning tires and even, sometimes, spilt blood.

Some say "without pain there is no gain" but Indonesia has suffered enough pain and surely we now deserve the right to a voice without fear and reprisals. Dissenting voices have to be heard, whether they are from an individual, a demonstrating group or a newspaper or magazine that takes an opposing view, as the right to peaceful dissent is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy.

And perhaps we are on the threshold of a new beginning. With the new millennium still in its infancy, globalization changing the way the world works and the dark clouds of war and terrorism overshadowing world affairs, this is a time of great challenges.

As globalization grows it becomes more important for us to honor and respect diversity instead of trying to impose an artificial man-made unity.

Demonstrations show that people care and are thoughtful about the way our nation and the world is managed and develops. They highlight the existence and need to tolerate different views and reflect the growth of civil society.

Globalization brings more choice to our lives; yet more could mean less in terms of real value to our lives, among others in caring and sharing. We exercise our minds to consider how best to manage ourselves and our neighborhoods and communities.

The challenges of the 21st century require that we are able to think globally, and simultaneously act locally. We need to understand the global context of what is happening in our world but we must respond to this locally by being active. If we remain passive we will surely be left behind. Demonstrations exemplify action and as such are important.

But we need to ensure that they are not distorted by violence or sidelined as the actions of extremists. Demonstrations on the streets of Jakarta demonstrate more tolerance of the expression of diverse opinions. We must commend those that are already so active and encourage many more to be similarly motivated and peacefully vociferous.