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by Jennie S. Bev

Every May, my mood becomes somber. Thirteen years ago, in 1998, mobs destroyed, torched, and looted Chinese-Indonesians’ business and personal properties. My parent’s house in Central Jakarta was literally saved by a mosque, as the mob backed down soon after. And had I not received a call from my brother in-law law that stopped me from driving on the Kebun Jeruk toll road, I might have been among the casualties.

One horrific story was a 14-year-old Chinese-Indonesian girl who was brutally gang-raped and genitally mutilated in front of her parents. She eventually committed suicide due to unbearable pain. Every individual who was inhumanely treated is a painful witness to how fragile humanity is.

Many questions have been asked ever since, but no answer is satisfactory enough, either pragmatically or philosophically, to serve as a closure. Humanity approves not of any violence or killing, thus any Weberian attempt to justify the notion that violence and killings are necessary in politics is nothing more than a cowardly endeavor to agree with the Machiavellian paradigm of forcefully rob and maintain power. “A world without killing is possible,” said Professor Emeritus of University of Hawaii and founder of the Center for Global Nonkilling, Glenn D. Paige, as 98 percent of human beings have not and will not kill, and only 15 percent of military front-liners in wars have ever killed.

At the 10th commemoration of the tragedy in the San Francisco Bay area in 2008, organized by The Overseas Think Tank for Indonesia, University of California Riverside assistant professor Muhamad Ali concluded that, “Indonesia is a Muslim-majority nation, which explains why the mob was chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ when looting, smashing and burning properties.” I did not find such an answer comforting and it seemed oversimplifying. At the event, Patrisius Mutiara Andalas and Beni Bevly were the presenters providing minorities’ perspectives.

Another answer was set forth by Amy Chua in her book The World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Yale professor Chua said that the prevailing pattern occurring in most countries is that a small group of people, named ‘market-dominant minorities’ dominate economically, which causes jealousy among the so-called ‘indigenous’ majority. I find this theory breathtaking, yet I disagree with the ‘normalcy’ of economic jealousy as an inevitable consequence for violence.

Public Policy senior lecturer at University of Indonesia, Andrinof Chaniago, said that the May 1998 Tragedy was an orchestrated political move by political elites targeting the ‘market-dominant minority’ of Indonesia, which are the Chinese-Indonesians, to create fear and divide the nation. I find this hypothesis makes sense, yet it doesn’t provide any solution on how to ensure a future that is less violent.

Jemma Purdey of the University of Melbourne Department of Political Science and author of the book Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia 1996-1999, stated that they were targeted because of a widespread belief that they control the economy and are corrupt. Such perception was the result of propaganda carried out by the Suharto administration, which continued after his fall.

With Purdey’s theory combined with the other three hypotheses, we can conclude that Chinese-Indonesians are ‘the weakest link’ in Indonesian society, making them ‘easy’ targets. The ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of the government for failing to build the nation based on integrated pluralism and multiculturalism ideals, and I urge every Indonesian by citizenship, residency, and culture, to internalize values of equality, humanity, compassion, and liberation every day.

Minorities are the Achilles’ heels of Indonesian democracy, but we should remember they are also human beings whose good deeds on collective and individual levels should have been recorded carefully since pre-Independence days, in light of creating an objective history. The Suharto administration is notorious for systematically and legally persecuting Chinese-Indonesians, including wrongful accusations for ‘being communists.’

Hatred toward the Chinese-Indonesian minority was unnatural, implanted and the majority has been ‘used’ by the political elites to systematically eliminate them. These historical facts must be acknowledged with humility and awareness despite any political, historical, and psychological denial.

To heal, Indonesia must admit there is something wrong with our perception and that minority-majority is simply a concept politically created to divide Indonesia. Sure, facts are facts and the minority is a group of people whose quantity only amount to a small number in comparison with the whole.

The issue of integrating a group of people into a society successfully requires more than eliminating them culturally by way of assimilation and active participation in politics. It is a matter of consciously purging misconceptions of being a minority or being a majority, by continuously learning about the beauty of differences that makes up the rainbow of humanity.

Any theory on ‘why’ the May 1998 Tragedy occurred is incomplete. We should use a holistic perspective to comprehend the incident. It requires adherence to utmost good faith, conscience and a belief that humanity is an invisible string that connects all of us. Any single strain to the string would strangle us all.[]

Tempo English, May 18, 2011

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