by Jennie S. Bev
Twelve years ago, our family and my parents’ house were saved by a mosque. A mob came to torch down the neighborhood but a good Muslim neighbor shouted, “Don’t torch our homes. There is a mosque nearby!” I was fortunate I was there and not on the way to my house in Tangerang, West Java.
Afterward, I heard many cars and their occupants were violently attacked on Kebon Jeruk toll road. One of those cars could have been mine.
Questions on forgiveness and justice have been haunting me since.
As a triple minority, based on my ethnicity, gender and religious affiliation, I belonged to “the weakest link” group, which explains why women of Chinese-Indonesian descent were targeted.
At that time, being at the right place at the right time saved me from harm, while 1,338 people were killed and 92 Chinese-Indonesian women were raped and sexually assaulted. It is common knowledge that for centuries, rape and other forms of sexual assault have been widely used as instruments of war and terror worldwide.
This blessing of survivorship left me with the so-called “survivor’s guilt” and trauma. For months, I had nightmares of the pitch black sky of Jakarta, buildings and houses on fire, and cars being attacked by angry mobs.
For months, I had to live with the faces of dead Chinese-Indonesian sisters who looked so innocent and hopeless when being raped.
I could have been among them.
The May 1998 Tragedy incident directed me to philosophize about what’s important and to have a life of mission: educating people on crimes against humanity and inspiring them to change the world for the better breath by breath and word by word.
Many people have experienced a similar heightened level of consciousness on their identity, political standing, and victimization and survivorship as minorities.
We often hear comments that there are many “native” Indonesians among the May 1998 Tragedy casualties, which I acknowledge.
When there is social unrest, there are “direct” and “indirect” as well as “targeted” and “not targeted” casualties, which no one can discriminate against.
However, to be fair and clear, we need to be aware of the facts that “the targeted” and “the directed” casualties were minorities, not the majority.
Other historical facts and scientific literatures also validly revealed that Indonesia is a weak democracy in which incidents of persecution of minorities have occurred for centuries during Dutch colonization and after the declaration of independence, including recently.
Failure to admit such wrongdoings is more than being ignorant, it is called adopting the mindset of the “banality of evil.”
This term was coined by Hannah Arendt in 1963 referring to the notion of ordinary people who accept the premises of their state and participate without questioning the fundamentals.
In other words, those who numb their minds and hearts belong to this category.
As members of a society, Immanuel Kant reminded us of obligations. Two types of obligation are “perfect” and “imperfect.”
An obligation is considered “perfect” when an individual possesses and can perform effortlessly a specific skill, talent, or power that can save member(s) of a society.
In other words, the more one has, the more obliged they are to save or, at least, attempt to save fellowmen and women. A “perfect” power comes with a “perfect” obligation to work for humanitarian causes. Thus, people with enormous power such as US President Barack Obama and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should naturally be strong humanitarians.
An “imperfect” obligation occurs when an action that can benefit a society must be performed with some effort — either big or small.
In the case of an individual with a very low power to assist others, they are the least obliged, such as children and sick people.
Such “imperfect” obligations are relative, of course, but “relativity” is also a mindset. Whatever the mind sets as “truth,” our physical body usually follows.
The notion of “forgiveness” is not being melancholic nor a form of repentance. It is a measure of the people’s mourning of the past that should be kept extraordinary, not merely normative, as Derrida said in On Forgiveness. Whether “silence” of the majority on this incident is forgiveness or a simple form of amnesia remains a question mark.
At last, allow me to remind ourselves that justice comes with fairness and it can only be achieved with liberty and acknowledgment of differences, as John Rawls posited.
To be fair, minorities must receive more and stronger protection so the balance of justice doesn’t tip favorably toward the majority.
After all, the protection of the minority’s rights is an important element of democracy.
Let’s never forget the May 1998 Tragedy and demand for justice for all minorities, victims and survivors. For now, let’s not forgive the actors until they are brought to justice.
The Jakarta Post, May 11, 2010