Illustration: Handining

In English there is an idiom that people say: “learning the hard way.”

This expression refers to the choice of learning on steep roads, or through difficult and unpleasant ways. Possibly this expression is suitable for describing the steps taken on our nation’s journey lately.

There are many easy and safe ways to manage the nation with formulas that are already available and agreed upon, but many of us are choosing the hard way, looking for risky alternative means.

It is like a proverb, which likens us as to a stubborn person who still wants to experiment by “disturbing” wild beasts, even though he has been repeatedly warned about the potential of threatening danger. Or like a person who is still desperately trying to hold embers, despite frequently being reminded that the embers could crush the palms of anyone who touches them.

In the life of the nation, we also know that this nation consists of various ingredients, including ethnicities, races, religions and groups (SARA). We have repeatedly been warned that the negative use of SARA issues in daily association, let alone in politics, will be very risky for the integrity of the nation.

The exploitation of primordial sentiments will easily lead to horizontal conflicts. Emotional ties that attach to ethnicity, race and religion frequently overlap, creasing multiple identities and loyalties, which if included into the conflict arena, could easily become fuel for brutal open conflict.

Not learning from history

Under such a societal condition, the socio-political situation becomes vulnerable, especially when SARA sentiments are used to mobilize the masses, in the form of a series of gatherings. The condition becomes increasingly vulnerable when the gatherings turn into angry mobs as a result of agitation that is carried out continuously. When several gatherings get angry, inter-conflicts are formed and open collisions occur, thereby fanning the flames of conflict that could easily spread everywhere, marked by anger along ethnic and religious lines.

The exploitation of primordial sentiments will easily lead to horizontal conflicts.

The various horizontal conflicts, which used to break out in Ambon, Poso, Ternate, Sampit and many other regions, apparently did not become a valuable lesson for this nation. We apparently do not remember that the joints of the nation’s life were once torn apart, bringing suffering to hundreds of thousands.

Many of us seem to have forgotten how expensive the price we have to pay is when “social trust” is destroyed. The wounds and sorrows of hundreds of thousands of innocent people seem to have no meaning; they do not become a valuable lesson; do not instill the attitude of prudence in future interactions. Therefore, this nation is living in a vulnerable situation because peace and harmony are always in a threatened position.

What is really the cause of the shrinking instinct of humanity and sense of nationality? Is this because of the indiscriminate political lust among a part of the elite in this nation so that they have the heart to sacrifice the people to become a shield for power struggles? Does this happen because of the growing religious spirit? Or does this happen because of rising social jealousies due the widening socio-economic imbalances?

Many questions need to be answered to understand the turmoil that is happening.

However, whatever the cause, the various tensions that reached the culmination point in the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election, have to be a common lesson.

After the overflow of emotions and the battle of interests subsided, it is good for the various components of the society to take a breath for a moment, press the pause button, and with cool heads contemplate all the events that have just happened. We need to realize that we have just taken the steep way, which is full of risks, and if we are not careful, it could lead our nation to the brink of suffering.

None of us wants our country to be ravaged like what happened in Bosnia Herzegovina, Libya, Iraq and Syria. However, what we are experiencing could lead there.

Whatever it is, a tense socio-political interaction had just happened. Right now we can only try to hold back while trying to take on the wisdom from all that has happened. The tension that has the potential to cause open conflict has to become a learning material to build a new awareness in knitting together socio-political relations in the near future. There needs to be self-reflection. There needs to be serious evaluation if we do not want to fall into severe troubles.

We need to compile strength from the remaining social capital to rebuild mutual love, mutual care and mutual trust among fellow citizens. We need to rebuild hope in the future on the basis of the values of togetherness that we have jointly built. This is actually the essence of living with a nation that lives in diversity. In the Al Qur’an it is mentioned: “Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another…” (Qur’an Surah Al-Hujurat: 13)

We need to compile strength from the remaining social capital to rebuild mutual love, mutual care and mutual trust among fellow citizens.

The effort to “know each other” becomes very important because in this way it is expected to nurture  a sense of empathy, a sense of mutual respect, and eventually grow a sense of unity in one nationality and humanity. This is actually the idea of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. This is a motto, which guides the common life. In the United States, a similar value is expressed by the phrase “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one.

However, the effort to know each other, love each other and care each other cannot be put only in the mind. This effort should be translated in real life every day. The principle of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or, pluralism or  multiculturalism, demands step of energetic engagement.

It means, in the diversity of life, inter and intra-community relations should continuously be done dynamically so as to lead to productive interaction. Even though in the Unity in Diversity, each ethnic, race, religion and group holds their own identity, but the difference should not live in isolative situation; each group has to continuously be in intensive relationships with one another.

In other words, the life of the nation, which is based on the spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, demands dynamic tolerance, namely an active effort to understand the differences among various existing groups through continuous intensive dialogue. In a healthy dialogue there will be “give and take”. For that there must be an attitude of openness to criticism and a willingness to engage in self evaluation. The purpose of this interaction is to cultivate mutual trust, not the opposite. Therefore, an attitude of belittling each other and mocking each other has to be avoided.

Freedom and responsibility

In this context, a process of learning the life of a nation that is pluralistic can grow healthily and dynamically (see the explanation of  Diana L Eck, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University).

Of course, the sense of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika will not flourish by itself without any serious effort carried out together.

The state has to give the widest space possible for an energetic engagement process to enable the spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika to happen. The forms of participatory community development, cross-cutting mutual development among different groups and bottom-up programs have to be put forward.

The types of project-oriented development with prime movers done simply by those who merely hunt for private gain should be reduced immediately, if not stopped completely, because they will not contribute anything to the development of the spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. It cannot be denied, bureaucratic development projects, which are time-consuming, full of back-room deals, corruption and manipulation. Things that are widespread in this country are the culprits for the destruction of the life of the nation.

The democracy we are building now should not solely become an arena for expressing freedom of justice, but must also be balanced with obligations and responsibilities to create a just, peaceful and prosperous life.

Finally, the democracy we are building now should not solely become an arena for expressing freedom of justice, but must also be balanced with obligations and responsibilities to create a just, peaceful and prosperous life. Therefore, now in the midst of the movement to fight for human rights, it is also necessary in this country to develop a movement of human responsibility, or TAM movement.

We need a reasonable balance between rights, freedom and responsibilities because “freedom without accepting responsibilities can exterminate the freedom itself,” and at the same time “unlimited freedom is as dangerous as forced responsibility.” (Miriam Budiardjo. Fundamentals of Political Science, Revised Edition, Jakarta: Gramedia, 2008, page 229-230).

It is interesting to note that the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, which was declared on September 1, 1997, (as a supplement to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), outlines several responsibilities that must be carried out by humans.

The declaration, among other things, describes the responsibility of a person to treat everyone in a humane way (Article 1); the responsibility of an affluent person to try to seriously address the situation of the lack of food, and inequality (Article 9); all belongings and wealth have to be used responsibly in accordance with justice and to advance all human beings. Economic and political power should not be used as tools of domination, but to achieve economic justice; politicians, government officials, business leaders, scientists or artists cannot be excluded from ethical standards. Doctors, law graduates and professionals have special obligations to their clients (Ibid, page 231-232).

Finally, we also hope that our country can be saved from various obstacles in realizing the ideals of this proclamation. With prayer and joint hard work, we hope that the country, which is currently facing trials, can be separated from the status of a “cursed country”.



Sociologist at the University of Indonesia