Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Is Indonesian democracy doomed to repeat a cycle of violence?

  • Writer Andreas Harsono spent 15 years and carried out 2,000 interviews for his book ‘Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia
  • In it, he traces a common thread from pro-Prabowo protests after the 2019 election to the mass murders of communists in the 1960s

Author and researcher with the Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono,
reads his latest book Race, Islam, and Power.

Stanley Widianto
South China Morning Post

In Indonesia, violence and democracy go hand in hand. Anyone doubting that should reflect on the viral images on social media last month that allegedly showed police officers mercilessly beating Andri Bibir.

The 30-year-old had been caught up in the violent clashes that resulted from what were initially peaceful protests by thousands of supporters of losing presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto.

To long-term observers of Indonesia, a country of 256 million people of many ethnicities, the scenes were all too familiar.

After all, Indonesia’s democracy was borne from the political instability that caused the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998, when riots in several cities left an estimated 1,000 people dead. The violence targeted ethnic Chinese and many women from the community were raped.

Since then, images of violence have often defined the evolution of Indonesia’s democracy, as it grows to take in competing voices and ideas, among them intolerance for ethnic and sexual minorities.

So what is the Indonesian idea of violence? Is it the image of a homosexual man being caned in Aceh, a special province on Sumatra? Burned temples in North Sumatra?

In his book Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia, released in April through Monash University Publishing, writer and activist Andreas Harsono looked into that idea by interviewing people from across the archipelago. Race, Islam and Power is a travelogue of Indonesian violence, where impunity triumphs with abandon.

Each of the book’s seven chapters bears the name of one Indonesian island, from Sumatra to West Papua. Each island has its own violent story, from the struggles of independence and military occupations in the now-sovereign East Timor and West Papua to the ethnic Chinese massacre of 1967. And then there’s the story of Novi Alfiona, whom Andreas met as a toddler, a mixed Madurese-Malay – both ethnic groups in the Sambas regency on Kalimantan – whose father was murdered in the massacre of ethnic Madurese by Malay militias and native Dayaks that left more than 6,500 dead and many others displaced between 1997 and 2001.

“I felt incredibly sad after reporting on her story,” Andreas says.

Novi was far from the sole character in Andreas’ book: 10 years and 2,000 interview subjects later, he stopped counting. Due to budget constraints, Andreas – who also works as a researcher at Human Rights Watch – took 15 years to finish the book. He was first sent to Aceh by Kuala Lumpur-based The Star newspaper, where he worked as a journalist, to cover the guerilla war zone.

The book is an exhilarating look into the Indonesian idea of violence, combining history – on sharia law, on the contentious proposal of the Jakarta Charter, one of Indonesia’s most prized foundational documents – and personal vignettes.

Andreas was gentle in his lines of questioning towards the subjects – victims opened up to him, a murderer proudly showed him the sword he would wield. They might as well have talked to an old friend.

But the underlying current coursing through the book is one of poignancies: Many of the pogroms, murders, and displacements remain unresolved to this day. Andreas says that the Indonesian idea of violence comes down to one thing: the pursuit of power.

“Take last month’s riots, for example,” he says. “President Joko Widodo’s opponents stirred this kind of violence to secure power, like natural resources or in this case, positions.”

He says the “mother of all Indonesian violence” – the mass murders of more than 1 million communists and suspected communists in 1965 – is another example of that pursuit of power: Suharto and the Indonesian army were allegedly helped by the United States and other parties to demonise communists and assume power through a coup. Many believe those events have been whitewashed in the history books of today.

“I don’t know if it strictly makes this idea of violence really Indonesian,” says Eka Kurniawan, an award-winning novelist whose book, Beauty Is a Wound, touched on the topic of violence. “But in my observation, violence in Indonesia can historically take form in two ways: state violence like the 1965 massacres or the 1998 riots, or horizontal cases like the Dayak-Madurese conflicts that involved identity frictions and other interests.”

Another feature of Indonesian violence, says Andreas, is the centrism on Indonesia’s most populous island: Java.

“Violence in post-Suharto Indonesia, from Aceh to West Papua, from Kalimantan to the Malukus, is evidence that Java-centric nationalism is unable to distribute power fairly in an imagined Indonesia,” Andreas writes in the book.

The dominance of Java – the island that contributes to 59 per cent of Indonesia’s economy – can also be attributed to the violence: thousands of Javanese transmigrants were displaced in Aceh after conflicts that stemmed from economic and social inequity.

“Both Javanese dominance and Islam are two forces that need to be maintained,” Andreas says. 

“Indonesia has mostly failed to protect the country’s religious minorities from religious intolerance and violence. Many Indonesian administrations, ranging from president Sukarno to President Jokowi but not president [Abdurrahman] Wahid, mostly failed to confront militant groups whose thuggish harassment and assaults on houses of worship and members of religious minorities have become increasingly aggressive especially in post-Suharto Indonesia. Those targeted include Ahmadiyahs, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

The dominance also makes it harder for the history to be reproduced – in teachings, books – factually. “There’s no attention to this violence. People only look to Jakarta. Our press is centred in Jakarta, the portion of regional stories are so little. That’s why violence in regional areas doesn’t really show up,” says Made Supriatma, a researcher and a visiting fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, who is working on a dissertation about violence.

Indonesian violence traffics in impunity. Take the massacre of communists: many of the surviving victims, who were unlawfully imprisoned, now live under meagre means and are mostly stigmatised. Take also the ethnic Chinese – “The oldest minority group in Indonesia to be scapegoated,” Andreas says – who still fear intimidation when the going gets rough.

After 15 years, to feel relief is an understatement, Andreas says. But he is wary of the very Indonesian idea of violence, wary of the impunity of it all.

“Indonesian violence is well described with the Malay word “running amok,” he says. “Impunity is widespread and this running amok keeps repeating itself.”

Saturday, June 15, 2019


Sebuah pagi di Yosemite, California. 
Saya mengatur pemaparan perjalanan saya berdasar pada tahun penerbitan naskah. Setiap tahun saya berjalan ke tempat jauh. Ada yang sering saya kunjungi. Ada yang mungkin hanya saya kunjungi sekali.


Menyelesaikan buku kekerasan etnik dan agama
Gunung Salak tempat dimana saya suka sembunyi dari keributan Jakarta. Sebuah villa pernah jadi tempat saya membaca, menulis dan berpikir. Ia dekat dari Jakarta, hanya tiga jam, bawa bekal dan diam sendirian seminggu.

Omah Tani in Bandar
Pekalongan Has a Few Things to Do

Mengajar Jurnalisme di Wamena

Makam Pejuang Hak Asasi Manusia Munir di Batu
Naik Kereta Api Berlin-Brussels

Dari Central Park ke Harlem

Melaka: Sebuah Teratak di Stadthuys
Chik Rini di Padang Halaban
A Baby was Shot to Death in Merauke
Palembang: Parkour Benteng Kuto Besak
Tokyo: Seichi Okawa
Banda Aceh: Ali Raban dan Adi Warsidi

Pertama Kali Datang ke Merauke
Kembali ke Salatiga

Perjalanan di Jayapura
Kepulauan Wakatobi


Halmahera: Duma dan Cahaya Bahari
Tobelo, Tobelo, Tobelo
Perjalanan Ternate-Tidore
Pulau Maitara dan Pulau Tidore: Gambar Uang Rp 1,000
Jalan ke Kupang dan Pulau Rote
Wutung: Satu Desa Dua Negara
Penyu, Sukamade dan Meru Betiri
Ule Lheue Diterkam Tsunami

Belajar dari Kao untuk Mamasa
Baroto Island
Miangas, nationalism and isolation

Pulau Sabang: Republik Indonesia Kilometer Nol
Puri Lukisan Ubud

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Kebiasaan Membaca di Sekolah

Amsterdam dengan memorial
Baruch Spinoza (2019).
Saya lahir pada 1965 di kota Jember. Ini sebuah kota menengah, dikenal dengan pertanian tembakau di Pulau Jawa. Perpustakaan sekolah kami tak punya banyak buku. Namun saya beruntung bisa beli buku cukup termasuk berbagai karya klasik dari Balai Pustaka. Saya juga suka baca komik: Si Buta Dari Gua Hantu serta Kho Ping Hoo. Saya belakangan mulai baca Mochtar Lubis, Soe Hok Gie, Soekarno, Yap Thiam Hien dan lainnya.

Pada 1981, ketika pindah sekolah ke SMA Katolik Sint Albertus Malang, saya beruntung ia punya perpustakaan bermutu. Mereka praktis punya semua coffee table book dari Time. Saya baca banyak buku soal Perang Vietnam yang berakhir enam tahun sebelumnya dengan kekalahan Amerika Serikat di Hanoi. Saya juga mulai membaca buku dalam bahasa Inggris: Albert Camus, Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill.

Saya kadang heran dengan kepala sekolah Emanuel Siswanto (1929-2002). Dia seorang pastor Katolik. Namun di perpustakaan banyak buku yang kritis terhadap agama dan spiritualisme. Romo Sis memang seorang guru yang berpikir terbuka (ketika meninggal, bunga di makamnya datang terus selama 40 hari). Dia sering beli buku –sekaligus beberapa eksemplar—dan dibagikan ke guru dan temannya. Dia minta mereka baca dan bikin ringkasan. Saya sering lihat dia bawa buku, yang sedang dibacanya, ketika menjaga ujian kelas. Dia sibuk membaca ketika murid-muridnya mengerjakan ujian.

Suatu hari, Romo Sis tiba-tiba bicara lewat loudspeaker sekolah bahwa dia akan mengumumkan nama murid setiap bulan yang meminjam buku paling banyak.

Dia bilang bulan sebelumnya, murid paling banyak pinjam buku, ”Andreas Harsono dari kelas 3A2.”

Saya terkejut. Saya dapat hadiah kecil. Ketika bertemu dengan Romo Sis –kantornya penuh dengan kaktus dan buku-- dia tanya sedang baca apa?

Kalau ingatan saya tak khianati saya, saya jawab, “Potret Seorang Penjair Muda Sebagai Si Malin Kundang” karya Goenawan Mohamad.

Tapi saya ingat saya beritahu Romo Sis bahwa juga suka musik. Saya kagum dengan lirik lagu “Roxanne” karya The Police. Saya kagum dengan band Queen dengan vokalis Freddie Mercury. Atau Peter Gabriel dari Genesis. Cyndi Lauper juga peka kemanusiaanya.

Dia tanya sesudah lulus mau sekolah dimana.

Saya malu menjawab, “Berklee College of Music di Boston.”

Sayang, cita-cita tersebut tak kesampaian. Papa keberatan saya jadi seniman. Saya sebenarnya sudah mulai menulis beberapa lagu lengkap dengan not balok dan lirik.

Chik Rini dari Aceh datang bertamu.
Saya kuliah teknik elektro di Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana, Salatiga. Papa ingin saya melanjutkan bisnis keluarga kami. Namun di kampus tersebut, saya tak banyak belajar teknik. Saya berkenalan dengan dosen-cum-pembangkang macam Arief Budiman dan George Junus Aditjondro. Keduanya doktor sosiologi masing-masing dari Universitas Harvard (Cambridge) dan Universitas Cornell (Ithaca).

Mereka membuat saya lebih mendalami dunia pemikiran dan aktivisme. Arief Budiman atau Soe Hok Djien adalah abang dari Soe Hok Gie, demonstran anti Presiden Soekarno yang meninggal keracunan gas di Gunung Semeru pada 1969. Arief memperkenalkan saya pada Marxisme. Bacaannya banyak sekali. Arief membuat saya baca The Second Sex karya Simone de Beauvoir soal feminisme.

George Aditjondro membuat saya baca berbagai teori pembangunan berkesinambungan, dari Frantz Fanon sampai Rachel Carson. George banyak terlibat kampanye lingkungan hidup di Indonesia, dari penggundulan hutan di Merauke sampai pencemaran Danau Toba. Saya bantu para sais dokar melawan penggusuran mereka di Salatiga. Pada 1990an, George sudah rajin kritik kebijakan transportasi di Indonesia dengan motorisasi. Ia akan bikin kemacetan lalu lintas, polusi udara serta memperpendek umum warga kota. George promosi kereta api, sepeda kaki dan trotoar.

Lulus kuliah saya jadi wartawan, pindah ke Jakarta, juga ikut jadi pembangkang, bikin macam-macam demonstrasi anti Presiden Soeharto, belakangan ikut mendirikan organisasi, antara lain, Persatuan Sais Dokar (Salatiga), Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Jakarta), Institut Studi Arus Informasi (Jakarta), South East Asia Press Alliance (Bangkok), International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (Washington DC) dan Yayasan Pantau (Jakarta).

Saya memang tak beruntung bisa kuliah di Berklee namun, sesudah Soeharto mundur pada Mei 1998, saya dapat beasiswa dari Universitas Harvard, tetangga satu kota Berklee.

Ini kampus bermutu dengan reputasi global. Harvard memiliki 43 alumni dan profesor yang mendapatkan Penghargaan Nobel. Saya ikut beberapa kelas mereka. Bill Kovach, guru jurnalisme, menjadikan saya murid pribadi, setiap minggu diskusi soal buku yang ditugaskannya minggu lalu. Saya jadi kenal Cornel West, David Halberstam, Henry Louis Gates dan sebagainya. Kali ini saya bukan hanya baca buku mereka, tapi juga diajak makan siang atau diskusi dengan para penulis tersebut.

Di Harvard, saya belajar banyak soal jurnalisme, nasionalisme, studi militer serta hak asasi manusia. Namun saya juga ikut kuliah Thomas Forrest Kelly dan belajar musik klasik, dari Ludwig van Beethoven sampai Igor Stravinsky. Secara khusus, saya belajar genre “jurnalisme sastrawi” atau “narative reporting.” Kelak pengalaman di Harvard ini membantu saya menulis buku juga.

Kalau ditanya buku dan penulis yang paling berpengaruh dalam pemikiran saya, mungkin bisa dilihat dari seberapa sering saya mengutip mereka dalam karya-karya saya. Saya kira ada dua cendekiawan.

Pertama, Benedict Anderson (1936-2015) dari Universitas Cornell, ahli Asia Tenggara, yang menulis buku soal Indonesia, Thailand dan Filipina. Anderson menguasai belasan bahasa termasuk bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog dan Thai. Karyanya yang paling dikenal adalah Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Anderson salah satu ahli Indonesia dengan keberanian moral dan analisis paling tajam.

Kedua, Bill Kovach dari Universitas Harvard, mantan redaktur The New York Times, yang menulis tiga buku soal jurnalisme bersama Tom Rosenstiel. Karya mereka yang paling dikenal adalah The Elements of Journalism:  What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect. Mereka menjelaskan dengan gamblang peranan jurnalisme. Yayasan Pantau membantu terjemahkan dua buku mereka ke Bahasa Indonesia. Saya belajar teori jurnalisme dari Kovach.

Saya punya sikap kritis terhadap karya fiksi. Ini mungkin dipengaruhi dengan disiplin saya dalam jurnalisme, yang ketat menjaga fakta. Kalau ditanya siapa novelis yang saya kagumi, saya jawab J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) dari Universitas Oxford, yang menulis novel serial The Lord of the Rings. Ia dijadikan film Hollywood. Saya suka Tolkien karena dia tak mau campur aduk antara fakta dan fantasi. Ini kebiasaan buruk novelis kebanyakan. Tolkien menulis fantasi soal manusia, elf, hobbit, dwarf, ahli sihir, raksasa maupun orc guna bicara soal perjuangan kebaikan dan kejahatan.

Saya percaya seorang pembaca buku hidup mungkin ratusan kali, bahkan ribuan, mengatasi batas ruang dan waktu, mengelilingi dunia dan angkasa, belajar sejarah, belajar musik, membaca novel dan kaya akan khayalan. Orang yang tak suka membaca … sederhananya hanya hidup sekali. ***

Andreas Harsono menulis buku Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia. Kini dia bekerja untuk Human Rights Watch, sebuah organisasi hak asasi manusia, di New York.