Mon, 08 Mar 1999

Split personalities

There may be other underlying factors, but as I see it, the main reason for the present violence between various ethnic and religious groups is their own conceitedness.

The majority of the people have been left behind by their leaders, who call themselves intellectuals. The common people and the intellectuals have long been separated in spirit, so that even when they belong to the same group, they have different interests -- they seem to speak a different language, although they use the same words and expressions. And they look in different directions.

In my previous letters to The Jakarta Post, I pointed out that those calling themselves intellectuals live in a crystal palace, separated from their own followers and the general public.

There has been too much emphasis in religious color, for no apparent reason other than political considerations. What difference is there essentially between a Muslim intellectual and a Christian intellectual? They both put their religious beliefs before their intellectualism. Do they put service to their God first and to humanity second?

In terms of intellectualism, maybe both have university degrees and speak English. However, it is their integrity that should count, not their social labels. How deep do these great intellects realize that we live on the one planet, and that global warming must be stopped if mankind is to survive at all? How often do they speak about this calamity?

The media allows religious leaders to deliver their sermons almost 24 hours a day. Alas, people's behavior does not improve because they speak a different language and have different interests. Teachers plead every day for a greater respect for the authorities. The students listen but do not understand because they speak a different language and they have different interests also. They may be the have-nots perhaps, and the down-trodden. They think they will never be able to enjoy the privileges of those calling themselves intellectuals. So they continue to brawl in the streets.

The question of which religious group is better emerges, or which intellectual ideals deserve greater attention. The various religious groups exist to unite the whole nation, not to split it in up into various names or categories in the name of serving God, and, at least in theory, the interests of the less fortunate. But how can these aloof intellectuals converse with those others that do not speak the same language and do not have the same interests? Acts of desperation are the only option left for these people. Now the nation is reaping the fruit of a people too long separated by artificial upper-class intellectualism and religious labels.

For too long have we been exposed to the narrow-minded view that we are part of a religious group instead of a big nation. For too long have the common people been left by the wayside by their intellectual leaders who speak a different language and have different interests.

Compounded by the prolonged economic crisis as a result of evil activity -- corruption, collusion and nepotism -- in which the common people have no part, resulting in price increases and massive unemployment, only the desperados remain.

The incidents in Ambon, East Timor, East Java and other places are extreme examples of the combination of this spiritual isolation and economic deprivation. What makes it all the more tragic is that there are leaders who do not want to learn from past mistakes.