Saturday, November 22, 2014

Desi Anwar: A Mental Revolution

Activists supporting Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as Jakarta governor walking with a banner in the center of the capital earlier this month. (Antara Photo/Rosa Panggabean)
Activists supporting Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as Jakarta governor walking with a banner in the center of the capital earlier this month. (Antara Photo/Rosa Panggabean)

For some, the idea of having a non-Muslim and non-pribumi, or native Indonesian, becoming their leader, is not only unpalatable but outright abhorrent. And yet here we are, the world’s most populous Muslim country, actually having an ethnic Chinese and a Christian as governor of the country’s capital.

If part of undergoing a mental revolution is the ability to challenge one’s dearly held beliefs and not think and respond reactively to things, as well as act with the greater and long term good in mind, then we should be proud that we’re putting ourselves on the right track.

It is, after all, an important moment in Indonesia’s democratic journey. It is also a sign of evolving pragmatism based on the desire to practice what works and what produces results amongst more and more Indonesians rather than continuing to cling to irrational ideas based on personal fears and prejudices, such as the belief that another person cannot be good at what they do or worthy of respect because he or she is of a different religion and ethnicity.

Indeed, Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s quarrel with and rejection by members of the FPI is illustrative of this struggle between form over substance. The superficial over the essential in which the clothes make the man and not the action.

For a long time, when it comes to questions of religion, the Muslim-robed group has had the upper hand in the public discourse mostly because few wish to be seen on the opposite side of a discussion that employs defending Islam as its core argument. Easier to remain silent and keep one’s opinion to oneself, especially as the group’s members are more known for their thuggery than their religious piety.

Basuki, obviously, has no such compunction. A tough and no-nonsense fellow unimpressed by social niceties, not to mention unafraid and immune to criticisms and ridicule, he is able to do what many Indonesians cannot. Call a spade a spade. Or in this case, he dares to pull down the FPI from their moral high horse and reveal them for what they really are: an intolerant bunch that doesn’t have a place in a country whose Constitution is built upon tolerance and diversity.

This straight way of talking, rude and painful as they can be to a lot of people, however, has an important impact on changing how people think and hence, how they act. Most Indonesians speak a language of basa-basi, a set of acceptable expressions borne out of habit, laziness of thinking and the desire to conform to society’s expectations. It is a form of communication that allows one to hide the truth, to break promises, to not get things done and get away with it. A language designed to conceal rather than reveal.

Form and lip service allows one to pray five times a day and at the same time happily indulge in corruption without feeling there’s anything wrong with it.

For when one concerns oneself only in the superficial, the basa-basi, the appearance, it gives one the license to be self-righteous and hypocritical without the accompanying guilt or social censure. If found out, one merely dispenses with one’s responsibility by invoking a forgiving deity.

That is why although we are the largest Muslim country in the world, we are also one of the most corrupt and one of the most uneducated. Self-righteousness and superficial beliefs rob us of the ability to see and understand ourselves for who or what we are.

Thus, an important component to our so-called mental revolution is the doing away with basa-basi, with shallow and superficial thinking, with knee-jerk responses to events that happen around us, and with defining through the labels we give to one another because it comforts our fears.

Instead, we need to learn to think clearly, focus on the real issues at hand, face and speak the truth even if it hurts and offends us.

Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV. She can be reached at or

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