Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Bring On The Guns

The Navy Chief of Staff Agus Suhartono has confirmed that Indonesia has enough warships to safeguard our territory including a Cakra submarine that, according to him still works quite well. This is quite a relief because if we were to go to war against Malaysia, a properly functioning submarine would be useful. However, even if we don’t have enough hardware with which to go to war (fancy warships and guns are luxuries that our impecunious armed forces could rarely afford), all is not lost, as Indonesia has what it takes to quash to the ground any upstart neighbour who dares to rub us the wrong way. That is, our invincible and loud-mouthed jingoism.

We may not have the ships, we may not have the guns, we may not have the money, but it looks as if we have the men and women with more than enough jingoistic sentiment around to create a juicy war. And we certainly want to fight, it seems. One female Parliamentary member Lily Wahid even vows to rally all Indonesian women to unite and fight Malaysia if the men in the government don’t have the gumption to face our arrogant aggressor.

Yes, Indonesian women will unite to tell bumptious Malaysia to shove it. We will tell our maids working there to put their broom down once and for all and make their Malaysian masters clean their own houses themselves. How would they like that? Enough is enough. Indonesia is no pushover even though we have one wishy-washy president who always put on a nice face abroad.

The ordinary Malaysian might be quite bemused by this display of ire on this side of the strait. They might not even be aware of the extent of animosity that is being stirred from all quarters here, least of all by our drum-beating political warmongers and the media hungry for any chance to air sensationalism and generate rating. But then they probably don’t have much access to the kind of uncensored, below-the-belt and hyperbolic ravings that pass as free speech that we have here, and probably, quite rightly, see the two countries’ border dispute as a political issue for the government to deal with. And certainly not for the ordinary man on the street to lose sleep over.

Not so here in this country however. Politics is everybody’s business and pet topic. From the humble street-seller to the boardroom chief, and just about everybody with access to a television set, politics is something all
Indonesians indulge in, next to corruption, porn and sex scandals. It's what keeps us in the media alive.

Toss in a bone of nationalism, then it’s feeding frenzy. In a country where poverty is still a problem, where education for the masses is pitiful, where corruption is rife, where the social and economic gap grows wider and where most of our men in their productive age wallow in unemployment, shallow nationalism is the opium for our masses and petty patriotism the balm to soothe our inferiority complex. Our status might be lowly but our pride is highly inflated.

Because pride, or our illusion of self-worth is the one thing that everybody could afford here. It is after all a cheap emotion along with its relatives, fear and indignation. And we have them in unashamed abundance, ready to be deployed whenever we feel the tiniest slight, the itsy-bitsiest hurt and any attempt at injury to our character.

Left to our own devices, we use these emotions liberally - from the thugs in the street who are perpetually offended over something, to our leaders who live in constant fear and suspicion of moral degradation and those in power whose notion of governing is not to create a better life but to poke its nose into people's private lives, into what they wear, what they read and what they surf on the Internet.

We are a nation that practically cultivates paranoia and nurtures a thin-skinned sensibility that sees the rest of the world as always out to get us, to steal from us, to corrupt our culture, defile our values and belittle our character even as we ourselves have only a vague idea of who we are, what we stand for and where we're heading. Even as we ourselves fail to take care of our traditions, make use of our resources or live up to the values our founding fathers fought for.

Our freedom has not translated into the utopia of prosperous living and shared responsibility. Rather our democracy has only given rise to a fear that pluralism, tolerance, diversity and modernism are a lot more painful to swallow and difficult to implement than simple narrow-mindedness and suspicion. We don't trust our leaders, we don't have faith in our system, we don't trust each other. Most of all, however, we have little faith in ourselves: that we can do better, we can be bigger and we can act wiser.

Try and steal an inch of our water, filch our culture, pass off our tradition as your own, then our dog in the manger instinct is aroused. Never mind that we have thousands of islands with many we fail to take care of, traditions that we studiously neglect, a history that we increasingly ignore.

Instead we scrape the bottom of the barrel for the one thing that those who feel marginalised in their own land have. Shallow nationalism and very loud jingoism.

So, let's bring on the ships, bring on the guns and bring on the men too.

(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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