27 May 2008

Race Politics -- Personal Musings

I have been having one of those mornings where I have not been able to sleep. In order to avoid doing work, I surf the Internet. I have been reading a little about race politics, playing the race card, and whether the US is a post-race nation. This got me thinking, probably no surprise to those that know me best, about how this debate would play out in Indonesia.

The Indonesian Constitution of 1945 would seem to support an argument that any Indonesian citizen born in this country, Indonesia, has a right to become its president. The Indonesian term is "orang asli" which loosely would translation to original person, and herein lies the problem. Does the term refer exclusively to indigenous Indonesians or does it also include the important and vibrant communities that trace their respective ancestries through to China, India, and the lands of the Middle East? Even more interestingly is does it include Indonesians who trace their ancestries to European roots who were born and raised in Indonesia from birth?

There has traditionally been a feeling that the highest office in the land was only opened to pribumi or indigenous Indonesians. My problem with this is that Indonesia is a socio-political construct and as such who is indigenous in this sense? Some have even gone as far as to say that one must be Javanese to gain the highest office. Unfortunately, for those that believe this, Soeharto chose one B.J. Habibie to be his Vice President. When Soeharto stepped down and Habibie became President these arguments were no longer valid. Habibie was was not Javanese.

The point of posting is not to write a 50-page tome on the merits or lack thereof of race-based politics. I can publish that research in a journal if it is good enough! Rather my intent here is in light of recent violence between religious followers and between ethnicities within Indonesia, perhaps an evaluation of race relations and politics is warranted.

I feel that Indonesia must sooner or later stand up and stare down those who flame the tensions simmering within Indonesian communities. This stand has to be one for tolerance, acceptance, and unity.

Many will argue that Indonesia is about being diverse but unified (or as some claim fragmented but one) yet this is hardly played out in real life. There must be a time where Indonesians identify not as pribumi and non-pribumi, or as Arab Indonesians, or Indian Indonesians, or Chinese Indonesians, but rather as "Indonesians". Maybe there is a need to return to a more literal understanding of the ideology of Pancasila (Five Principles).

After more than 60 years of independence Indonesia is still squabbling about race, about religion, and about tolerance! The founding fathers and mothers of this nation are undoubtedly rolling in their graves!


Therry said...

I don't understand why race (and religion) is such a big deal in here. You don't find people making a fuss about those sorts of thing in Australia.

In fact the Australians know how diversed the nation is and they have acknowledged openly that everyone is different but they seem to have the same understanding that no matter what race or religion you are, everyone is a human being and deserved to be treated with respect.

I remember that even friends who come from different backgrounds (Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Turkish, or Indian) often joke about their races so openly it didn't seem so offending anymore.

In truth my worst experience of encounters with racism is in Indonesia, not Australia.

Perhaps it's because in other countries like Australia or US, diversity is a common thing, that's why people are so used to it, whilst in Indonesia everyone has the same basic appearances that whenever they see someone different they get into such priapic frenzy over it?

Rob Baiton said...


I think the difference is that Australia has race problems and it recognizes that it does. Generally, we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong like in Cronulla several years ago.

If you give us enough time we even get around to issuing an apology to our indigenous brothers and sisters for the wrongs perpetrated against them in the past...

The other main difference is that most Australians who started out as migrants have embraced Australian culture and lifestyle.

The practices of assimilation were left behind for a genuine attempt at multiculturalism. It has not always worked out the way it should but at least there was an effort.

This often is seen in Australians of all origins having the ability to take the piss out of each other without us needing to burn down Churches or Mosques or government buildings.

I do not get the same feeling of acknowledging the problem pr the issues here in Indonesia.

I still have hope for an Indonesia that is able to embrace a commuinty where there is respect and tolerance for difference irrespective of whether we call it fragmented but one or uity in diversity!