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2016-12-20
Anger

This country was founded with dreams of friendship. But that was three quarters of a century ago.

We recall: towards August 17, 1945, when independence was in the air as an actuality ("now!" Bung Karno yelled on June 1 of that year), there was the belief: "In this liberated Indonesia we liberate our people!" as Bung Karno said. There was the hope that the Indonesian people had the full potential to become unfettered beings, because political independence was the 'golden bridge'—glittering, strong and safe to attain aspirations.

But that was three quarters of a century ago. That 'golden bridge' turned out to be an overly sweet dream or mistaken rhetoric. Postcolonial Indonesia is also a country full of violence, injustice, conflict and fraud. It is also clear that a large part of 'the people' does not consist of individuals who determine their own choices. The poor are in the grip of social inequality. The strident are crammed with dogma. Those with principles turn out to lack the courage to liberate themselves from the thrall of the collective.

The dream of friendship was also evident when Bung Karno stressed in his speech of June 1 that the Indonesia about to arise would "not be a nation for one person, nor a nation for one group," but rather a nation of "one for all, all for one." Bung Karno determined the process of blending the 'one' and the 'all' would involve an effective process of deliberation called musyawarah, through a political process with the people's representatives.

Three quarters of a century later, what we often experience is this: 'musyawarah' can mean the veiled stifling of different opinions: 'the people's representatives' turns into a parliament chosen by a dictator or selected by oligarchs and their cronies. Frequently, emanating from there are voices of power motivated by provocation, bribes or narrowmindedness.

The 1945 dream of friendship was later shaken together with quakes in world history. Three times, at least.

The first time was the failure of the grand endeavor to establish a society that grew in equality. Socialism is no longer the promise of a sure future: socialism today has become the tomb of the past—sensed probably as beautiful or grotesque, yet stagnant.

The second is the arrogance and futility of 'globalization'. There was once the promise that the distribution of capital and free trade to all corners of the earth would produce a sense of satisfaction and peace. "No two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other," Thomas L Friedman said, giving voice to the most optimistic view of globalization.

But it transpires that McDonald's is not the symbol and road to peace but rather, as capital, the cause of obesity and fracture. Only a few are able to enjoy the accumulation of global capital—and to those who miss out, McDonald's (or Ferrari cars, or Louis Vuitton suitcases) signifies something easily suspect: things from foreign culture and greed. People oppose globalization itself—even in the United States and Europe, two economic zones that are the strongest players in the distribution of capital free of those borders.

The third: the confusion, anger and violence afflicting people of religion. The most strident noise, as we know, is heard from the 'Islamic world'.

In a recently published essay in The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra records with great sensitivity and scrutiny the current tumult, and dubs this era the 'Age of Anger'.

He does not limit the collective 'anger' to the Islamic world where terrorism grows. This anger smoldering like fire in hay is also heard as the voices of all kinds of groups in all kinds of countries. But Indonesia these days is witnessing something more particular—something not known three quarters of a century ago back in the dream of friendship of the founders of the republic: shrieks of hatred, enmity that sanctions slander and lies, Rizieqstyle demagogy.

How could this have come about? Mishra mentions a concept that Nietzsche, among others, proposed when observing psychological symptoms of religious people, ressentiment. The word conveys "an intense mix of envy, humiliation and powerlessness."

Today, among the Muslim ulama, ressentiment also depicts something intense: a frustration. They are aware but do not want to admit that what is called 'the West', is actually a living hybrid of various elements that coexist unceasingly within hegemony, whereas the Islamic world is unable once again to produce anything meaningful to civilization. This frustration has become an increasingly shrill voice of anger but finds no way out, except as destruction.

Until when, we have no idea. What is clear is that Indonesia can arise from the 1945 dream of friendship—or can just remain in fear.

Goenawan Mohamad



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