by Jennie S. Bev
We Americans are fortunate. We live where ideas of democracy, equality, and freedom live on. It is a privilege that I can’t stop being grateful for.
In other parts of the world, such as Indonesia, the country where I was born and raised, even breathing and worshipping are oftentimes a risky business.
This month marks the 12th year after the May 1998 Tragedy in Indonesia, where looting and rioting resulted in 1,338 deaths and the rapes of 92 Chinese-Indonesian women, shaking the nation.
As a triple minority —based on gender, ethnicity and religious affiliation— I was among the targeted group. I am grateful to this very day that I escaped the incident and now enjoy cultural and religious freedom in the United States.
At least 8 million Chinese-Indonesians and a few more millions of religious and sexual-orientation minorities in Indonesia still reside there. They are experiencing religious, sexual-orientation and ethnicity persecutions and hate crimes on daily basis.
For instance, in March, an LGBTQ group was scheduled to have an International Lesbian and Gay Conference in Surabaya, East Java, which was forcefully closed down due to violent acts performed by an Islamic fascist group named Islamic Defender Front. Though Muslim extremists are less than 1 percent of the overall Muslim population, they have a strong voice, and the majority tends to be silent due to fear and other unknown reasons. The police, military and government officials have been condoning their barbaric acts through omission and silence.
In April, a poverty-stricken Chinese-Indonesian community named Cina Benteng, which has been living in an enclave in Tangerang, West Java, for more than two centuries, was allegedly evicted by the local government on the basis of illegal housing. While the government officials’ reasons made sense, people of this community had been discriminated against in obtaining building permits and other residency-related documentations.
Recently, the local government of Bekasi, West Java, forbade all worship of a Christian church, Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church, after the congregation held a service outside the church building, though the service was only outside because the building has been sealed without due process. The pastor was forced to sign an agreement to promise not to have worship in the future, as the activities “disrupted” the local community.
These are merely a few examples of ongoing persecutions experienced by minority groups in Indonesia. More reports can be found on Human Rights Watch’s website.
As Edmund Burke once said: “To love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” The United States isn’t perfect by far, but it is where dreams are made and can come true. Here, I feel at home, and I can stand tall without bending for fear of being persecuted. I believe in America and its ideals.
It has been 12 years since the May 1998 Tragedy, which gave birth to a “reform era” period in Indonesia. Yet, we can still sense that laws and regulations aren’t on the people’s side. They are designed to preserve politicians’ positions. After all, the Indonesian term for “government” is pemerintah, or one who gives an order or command. In the United States, laws and regulations go through a lengthy process to ensure they represent the people’s demands.
I love America as my adopted country wholeheartedly, and I care about the country where I was born and raised. I would love to see Indonesia grows into a mature democracy where the people are the rightful owners of the country, just like Americans.
Let us Americans set the example of a great nation. It is based on rules of law and respect for liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness, all of which are based upon an important underlying principle: compassion.
Tracy Press, May 5, 2010