While acknowledging the salience of such approach to analyses, this article is going to cast highlight on slightly different, yet equally disquieting, aspect: government’s apparent tendency to belittle these acts of violence by making comparison with similar calamities elsewhere. Instead of de-securitising the issues, this article argues that such disposition will only carry looming consequences, or the high price, that all of us will have to pay for in the long run.
First of all, let’s have a look at the following statements. A couple of days ago, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a cabinet meeting mentioned that “the recent incidents in Papua can be considered small-scale, with a limited number of casualties. They are far too minor if we compare them to the violence in the Middle East, where deadly attacks with so many fatalities occur almost every day” (Jakarta Post, 13/6/2012).
In similar manner, in reaction to criticism directed towards government’s failure to protect minorities, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali declared that “Indonesia’s religious harmony is the best in the world” (Jakarta Globe, 23/5/2012), without making any clear reference to which other places in the world that have worse experiences thus earns Indonesia the best position in terms of religious tolerance.
Despite there are some degrees to which these statements may hold some truth, it is not hard to imagine that the real concerns of ordinary citizens of Indonesia do not lie in what other governments do or fail to do to their people. Rather, what Indonesians want to see is what their own government does to protect them particularly in the face of flagrant violence, massive pain, and real life-threatening fear.
It should not be forgotten that the preamble of the 1945 Constitution stipulates very clearly that it is the government’s duty to “protect all the people of Indonesia”. Accordingly, it is based on this that the people are assured to look up to the government to care for their lives.
To the Papuans, the Ahmadiyahs, the HKBP Philadelphia Congregation, and all others who are suffering from outright injustice, what would statements that belittle their gaping wounds suggest to them about the government?
To fellow Indonesians who sympathise with their pain, what would this say about government’s commitment to uphold the mandate of protecting the people of Indonesia?
Downplaying the scale of violence can easily be interpreted as a plain manifestation of insensitivity that unfortunately will only lend itself to deepened anger, dissatisfaction, and distrust towards those who are supposed to protect.
The second grave consequence that may arise from this approach is the birth of violent culture within the Indonesian society. It is a widely held belief that big things start from the snowballing of small seeds of ideas, or ‘sedikit-sedikit lama-lama menjadi bukit’ (many a little makes a mickle). While this proverb is usually directed towards positive things, such as the habit of saving small amount of money that will lead to generation of wealth, the same logic applies to violence as well.
Branding violence as ‘small-scale’ and insisting on Indonesia as ‘the best place for religious harmony’ in the face of blatant violent acts towards minorities is a sure recipe for a change of attitude towards violence. The apparent gesture to condone violence will only breed new norm that eventually leads to the creation of ‘new culture of violence’ in the society.
This is undoubtedly alarming. Disregarding the agony of the victims will do no good to both the society and government. No act of violence is too small to be handled with great care, and issuing statements that brush directly with people’s yearning for protection needs to be exercised with prudence.
No violence can be tolerated. Failure to act tough on it will only engender a new understanding of ‘no problem committing little violence unless caught’. This has very similar resonance to ‘no problem committing petty corruption unless blown up’. Leaving the ‘acceptable’ limit of committing such filthy acts to subjective interpretations incontrovertibly bodes ill for the sanity of the society as a whole.
When time is rough, nothing is needed more than the collective spirit to get through it triumphantly. Being the vanguard of the hopes and aspirations of the people of Indonesia, it is at the government’s discretion to set course on what it wants the people to feel and believe about its own credibility.
As far as the people are concerned though, nothing is more crucial than firm tangible acts of the government safeguarding and protecting them from any harm. And what people care the least in times of grieving is any attempt of consolation, or possibly justification of doing less, drawn from vague reference to instances that occur in other parts of the world.