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By Michael Fitzgerald
Record columnist
March 25, 2009


Jennie S. Bev is a typical Mountain House resident – urban, educated, underwater – with a difference. She pounds out a weekly column for a newspaper in Jakarta.

Jakarta, sprawling capital of Indonesia, boasts several papers, even an English-language newspaper war that was sparked in 2008 when the startup Jakarta Globe took on the Jakarta Post.

Bev writes for the Globe. “I believe in my heart that my cause is to quote-unquote enlighten the somewhat conservative Indonesians to broaden their minds,” she said.

The rise of a conservative, even radical strain of traditionally moderate Indonesian Islam affects Bev’s homeland and her mother, who still lives there.

Born in Jakarta, Bev is Chinese-Indonesian and “Catholic by registration, but quite secular in practice,” a minority in a country that’s 95 percent Muslim.

Her writing reflects concerns of persecution and human rights. A sample:

“Last September, the unorthodox Muslim sect Ahmadiyah was banned in South Sumatra. … In July, a 20-year-old Christian theology school was attacked. … In January 2008, a Hindu temple in West Lombok was burnt down by a mob.

“At this point, the Indonesian government leadership seems to be wearing their best tuxedos while smiling meaningfully to look good on paper and to make strong political statements that Indonesia is a country where human rights are guaranteed and respected. We, the people, must make sure that those are not killers’ smiles and torturers’ faux friendliness.”

Strong stuff.

“Some more fundamental Muslim groups have expressed their disapproval of my articles,” Bev said. “Obviously. I write about issues of religion, decline of pluralism in Indonesia. So sometimes I receive threats from them.”

A graduate of a Jakarta law school, Bev settled permanently in the U.S. in 1998. Moving from San Diego to Daly City, she wrote articles and reviews for dot-coms.

En route, she earned a master’s in education and a doctorate in business administration. Her scholarly, global view meshes well with The Globe’s philosophy, expressed in its slogan, “Great Stories, Global News.”

Incidentally, the paper was founded by Indonesian tycoon James Riyadi of the Lippo Group, linked to a famous Clinton-era fundraising scandal.

“I think this is quite separate,” Bev said. “That Clinton scandal is a personal issue.”

Together with husband Beni, Bev moved to the Valley before the recession, seeking affordable housing. They found it – until Mountain House became the worst-hit city of the U.S. mortgage crisis.

Bev paid about $650,000 in 2005. Her house is worth around $210,000 today. She appeared on local radar when she helped form a group of Mountain House residents to lobby the government for financial aid.

“We cannot afford to stay,” Bev said. “We cannot afford to leave, right? So it is a very confusing time.”

In a way, Bev is a literary opposite of Stockton native Maxine Hong Kingston, who wrote about being trapped between American culture and the wrenchingly different ways of her Chinese immigrant parents. Cultural dislocation empowers Bev.

Bev quoted a passage from Salman Rushdie:

“It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. … The writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form. … This may enable him to speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal.”

Here is something on such a subject the Jakartan journalist of Mountain House wrote for a people 8,700 miles away:

“We might want to place the responsibility for making changes in the hands of Muslim clerics, … but we can actually start with ourselves, with these verses from the Quran:

“‘If God had willed, he would have made you one community, but things are as they are to test you in what he has given you. So compete with each other in doing good;

“And … ‘among his signs is the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. Surely there are signs for those who reflect.'”

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270

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