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Less its weight in gold
Independence, wrote Sukarno, was to be a golden bridge. “Across that bridge is where we will perfect our society,” said one of the founding fathers, in a heated debate on whether the subjects of Dutch, and later, Japanese rule were ready to become a nation.
In August 1945, the country was born and over the past 63 years it has become crystal clear that perfecting “our society” is far from complete.
Residents in East Jakarta experienced this bitter truth first hand when they were subjected to a raid during a Sunday service – right on Independence Day.
“We feel as though we are being colonized by our own country,” said the priest of the Pentecostal church in Pondok Rangon, Christof Ambesa.
Ambesa decided to hold a service on Independence Day “to pray for the country,” he said Monday.
However, while solemn ceremonies were being held nationwide, he said, a group of people broke into the church and forced his congregation to leave.
And like other similar incidents which are no longer too surprising, the issue was whether the congregation had a legal permit to worship in a building, which was once a house.
Also on Independence Day, a group of refugees in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, might also have felt they were less free than others. The group of 48 families, who have lived in a disused hospital and a government building for the last two years, are followers of the Ahmadiyah school of faith. Like other Ahmadis, they have been discriminated against because they defy followers of mainstream Islam by claiming to be Muslims themselves while appearing to have distinct beliefs.
An exasperated local official said the families had to do their bit by “assimilating into society” before the local administration could help them return home.
The government has tried to overcome the problem by issuing a decree. It recognizes the Ahmadiyah followers’ freedom to practice their faith according to the Constitution, but bars them from propagating their faith among others.
But officials doubted whether the followers were abiding by this decree, and said this was why local communities were yet to accept them.
These two scenes are our other face, beyond the celebrations of the nation’s birth.
After the fun, it’s back to the nuts and bolts, the grueling work of putting this project together, perfecting this society, striving to reach a common platform of what it takes – what it means – to be Indonesian.
The experts will confirm that it is far from easy to patch together a country based on the borders largely drawn by the Dutch colonialists.
It may have seemed easy under the New Order: We knew one history, which told us who the heroes and the villains were – what was patriotic and what wasn’t, and the rest was rendered irrelevant. But now it’s not so simple.
When are we Indonesians, and when are we Muslim, Christian, Javanese or Acehnese?
Across the golden bridge which led to both relative prosperity and hardship, we have secured again a space for free debate to find answers to such questions – a space that narrows in every case of intimidation.
We can only state here our continued support for every effort to maintain this space in Indonesia. The road and the buildings across the bridge are far from perfect, as Sukarno the architect may have wished. But with the colonialists long gone, no one should feel colonized or become refugees from hate on their own free soil.