Sun, 13 Aug 2000

What is obvious about stating the obvious

JAKARTA (JP): Twelve days ago a powerful bomb exploded in front of the residence of the Philippine ambassador in Central Jakarta. The explosion was so loud that you could hear it as far away as Bali or even California -- if you turned on the television. You could also see the debris, the awful sight of the victims' bodies, the wrecked cars and the policemen who quickly got busy in doing their job.

If you are Indonesian, you were no doubt proud of the policemen. They worked very fast. They went to the site right away before receiving a report from the victims. They cordoned off the area and began to investigate the case without asking for uang bensin (gasoline money) or uang rokok (cigarette money) from the victims.

So those stories about corrupt police officers who would not investigate reports of car thefts or robberies before they received something in advance must be wrong. And who dared to spread the falsehood about a man who lost his chicken and when he reported it to the police, lost his goat, and another man who lost his goat and later lost a cow when he reported the crime to the police? Utter slander!

Anyway, back to the terrible bombing -- who did it? Some, including President Abdurrahman Wahid, who has just realized that Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri deserves a little more work other than reading his statements, speculated it was related to Philippine domestic troubles. Others surmised that those responsible were fans of former president Soeharto who were upset by the news that he would stand trial soon.

The police could not identify the bomber right away, which is understandable. It takes time to investigate such a big crime. However, we have another reason to be proud because shortly after the incident, a top police officer was on television, telling the public how bad the incident was and that one thing was for sure: "It was done by irresponsible people." The next day, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Widodo A.S. said that the bomb attack was "an irresponsible terrorist act".

"Oh, come on. Of course it was an irresponsible act done by irresponsible people," a friend grumbled. "Why state the obvious?"

Yes, it was an obvious statement and, of course, there are no "responsible" bombers whose intent is to create a little diversion to keep the public on their toes.

He continued that actually a lot of people, not just the police, say things which are obvious and a bit annoying.

"Someone came up to me the other day and said: 'You're really fat,'. I was taken aback. I didn't know him and it's none of his business," said my friend. "And the other day, after I had played tennis, while I was still in my shorts and carrying my racket, a colleague said: 'You're sweating'. What's the point of saying something that is as plain as the nose on your face?"

Another friend showed his great sense of humor in dealing with the obvious statements. He quipped that he was tempted to give an alternative response to the usual "going home?" of coworkers.

He said he secretly wanted to reply: "No, I'm off to my second wife's home. See you later."

Obvious statements are not necessarily bad. Many people say them to make a connection with you and to show they care. OK, you are coming out of the dinner room, and someone says "Have you eaten?" Of course you have, and of course they know you have, but it's a sign of familiarity. And it's better than having someone sweep by you with their face pointed in the other direction.

As for telling people about their appearance, it's common, especially here, to give nicknames to others based on their physical characteristics. The late actor Tan Tjeng Bok was called Pak Item because of his dark skin. A man with a bushy mustache may be known as Pak Kumis ("Mr. Mustache), or Pak Brewok, if he has a beard. Si Kurus and Si Ceking are common nicknames for skinny people, or Si Gendut, for a chubby kid.

Then again, sometimes stating the offensive can be offensive to us if it is not said at the right time and right place.

Some of us might feel better if somebody says "are you upset?" when we are having a bad day, but it might push the wrong buttons in others.

It depends on a person's personality, but more important is the way it is said. Some say it from the bottom of their hearts, others as basa basi (small talk) to start a conversation, or asbun (just to be heard) because they do not know what else to say.

Anyway, back to the bomber. In order to show the public that they are really serious about getting the job done, the police need to find the criminals as quickly as possible. I am sure the police have it in them. Soon, they will give more information to the public about the development of their investigation. And then they will give us more information about the bomber and his or her motivation in committing the crime.

The police have separated from the Indonesian Military, and have a plan to don new uniforms, which may be quite important in physically shedding their tarnished image. But even though they are still in their old clothes, we should not doubt their professionalism.

We could expect the police to call a big press conference, and tell the assembled reporters a more revealing statement than: "The bomber is not just an irresponsible person. He is also a cruel, cold-blooded, wicked, sadistic, brutal, ruthless and evil person. He planted the bomb because he is a bad person.

"No, he is not just bad, but really, really, really bad." Enough said.

-- T. Sima Gunawan