Growing up Muslim in Indonesia is a privilege. It is not hard to live as a member of the majority, and this can lead us to have a narrowed worldview, usually at the expense of minorities.
Are Muslims and Javanese the majority in Indonesia? Probably. What about Chinese and Christians? Probably the minority. Shiites or Ahmadi? Probably marginalized.
With privilege comes a responsibility to speak up for fairness, against injustice.
Despite being the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, Indonesia is also home to many religions, tribes, languages and ethnicities. It is not surprising that our wise founding fathers bequeathed us the Pancasila state ideology, and that most of us subsequently learned about tolerance and diversity in our civics textbooks.
Yet, in the 1998-2001 period, Indonesia experienced one of its darkest chapters, with anti-Chinese riots, ethnic warfare and religious conflicts afflicting some parts of the country. For the 32year dictatorship before 1998, we prided ourselves in teaching tolerance and diversity in all schools. What went wrong? We only taught tolerance. We only spoke about tolerating differences among ourselves.
Today most of us live in cities with heterogeneous populations. Yet our politicians divide and conquer us with divisive rhetoric based on our differences.
Our differences have been used as political capital to win elections.
Despite many pleas for tolerance in our multicultural society, we are increasingly likely to hate things different from us. This is not an Indonesian phenomenon; this is a global one.
The recent poll of support for Donald Trump’s Executive Order against immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries showcased this. Turkey, France, Hungary and many European countries are sliding toward a form of populism that rejects diversity and champions right-wing nationalism.
Jakarta’s gubernatorial election has been marred by accusations of blasphemy of Islam and anti-Chinese rhetoric. So what went wrong again?
We all preach tolerance and the value of diversity, but we never internalize it. We have not accepted diversity as a core fact of our lives.
We still live in a highly prejudiced world. We still discriminate, judge, and mistreat others. Many of us even vote for politicians who marginalize minorities, refugees and immigrants.
Something is wrong with tolerance. Literally, to tolerate is to allow the existence of something that we dislike or disagree with, without interference.
Tolerance is premised on giving space for something that we don’t like, not celebrating or accepting it. Until something bad happens: what triggered antiChinese riots in Indonesia in 1998 was economic crisis and democratic transition.
What helped elect Trump was rising inequality and the unintended economic effects of globalization. This string of local events globally shares similar traits: economic or political pressures can override tolerance and trigger social frictions that will lead to conflict.
This is why a social movement to promote acceptance of diversity such as SabangMerauke exists. The movement for student exchange has grown from eight co-founders to hundreds of volunteers, thousands of participants, and millions of shares across digital and print media since 2013.
It promotes the value of acceptance by pairing extremely different people to live together for extended periods in family and educational settings.
Chinese-Christian-Javanese parents are suddenly able to host an Ambonese-Muslim boy. A Muslim mother suddenly has to take a Sulawesi Christian girl to a church on Sunday.
Accepting differences through living together generates empathy, which is the core of the movement.
The movement believes that tolerance and diversity cannot be only preached or taught through textbooks, they have to be experienced to lead to acceptance.
Through our smartphones and computers, we are at risk of creating echo chambers that shield us from the real voices of others. The emerging Virtual Reality industry should internalize empathy as part of their storytelling business beyond gaming.
The government should facilitate public schools to foster more experiential learning for tolerance and diversity, beyond learning about others in textbooks.
And we ordinary citizens can continue to get to know our neighbors and engage with people who are different from ourselves. Ask each other questions that help us dispel myths of differences.
We must try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and view the world through their lens.
It won’t be easy to reject tolerance and accept diversity. But it is more difficult to live in a prejudiced world where we repeat history’s cycle of conflicts and wars.
As published on The Jakarta Post by Jourdan Hussein