Category Archives: 3. Learning about Indonesia: lectures at UGM

Out of ignorance comes fear

We’ve all heard this quote and we all know it’s true. But I have to admit that until being in another country and for that matter, the country with the largest Muslim population, did I realize just how true this sentiment is. After listening to the lectures from Wednesday and yesterday, I’ve started to wonder what it is about the unknown that scares people. Why is it so difficult for us as people to open the lines of communication and engage in dialogue with one another? Why is it that we continue to surround ourselves with others like us, who share many of the same opinions and experiences when that actually hinders us as a functioning society?

Yesterday we heard from Professor Francois Bourget, the head of the French Institute of the Near East and an expert on Arab-Western relations. He gave a lecture on Democracy in the Middle East, touching on some of the political history along with the components that produced radical Islamic thought. It was really interesting to hear him speak about many of the same issues we’ve been exploring in the Indonesian context but in a completely different part of the world. Part of what was so fascinating for me was that with the fall of Indonesia’s authoritarian dictator, Soeharto in1998, there was a peaceful, non-violent transition. Yet, in many countries in the Middle East, this is not the case. We’ve seen in cases like Libya and Egypt, with the people’s demand for a new government, comes violence and death. Francois said that some people might want to attribute this to the fact that some populations are just more violent than others, but he does not agree with this explanation. Islamic understanding and involvement in politics can yield many different results, on one end of the spectrum there is what we’ve seen as radical-Taliban action and on the other, there is a type of democracy, yet this democracy is different from what the United States conception of democracy. It seems though that American news coverage never seems to headline these cases of a successful democratic society informed by Islamic understand, instead focusing on radical movements to instill fear and terror in the hearts of its citizens. This type of bias is not productive, and as Bourget pointedly said, “I’m tired of all the room Al-Qaeda is taking in our heads.” He said that when you think about the death and destruction caused by Al-Qaeda in comparison to all the death and destruction caused by the United States, the French, Pinochet and numerous other political actors, it’s 1-100,000. What does this say about our society then? We’re a society that thrives on fear, but this fear half of the time isn’t even legitimate. When we come back to the United States with the Indonesian students, it’s almost inevitable that Fikar, a Muslim man, will get taken aside by airport security and ruthlessly questioned. We’ve apologized to him in advance but why is this something that we even have to do in the first place. We’ve become obsessed with fear, with security, and with that, we’ve sacrificed a chance to learn about other cultures and to realize that Islam is not about violence, nor is it repressive to women. Just as Bourget is tired of all the room that Al-Qaeda is taking, I’m tired of the common perception that the hijab (or head scarf) is a symbol of women’s repression and inferiority. Wearing the hijab is a choice for Muslim women; it is not a forced action, especially here in Indonesia.

Bourget says that he cringes when he hears “Muslim values” and “Western values” because at the end of the day, they are the same values. Social justice is universal, we all share similar values but every culture has a different symbolic system. Therefore, we must learn to allow other cultures to use a different vocabulary and symbolic system to achieve democracy. I asked Bourget if he believed democracy truly is the answer for every society, and he answered that it absolutely is. The issue is that for democracy to work, it must fit the vocabulary, symbolic system and values of the people it is claiming to represent. Additionally, as we attempt to move toward a more democratic world, we must constantly ask ourselves the question of what is modernity and who defines it. For the United States, modernity is freedom of expression, a main reason why it’s so difficult for Americans to conceptualize the use of a hijab. Yet, from different values comes a different understanding of modernity and this is something that we must constantly remind ourselves of. No matter how we dress, what religion we believe, what color skin we have, in the end we have many of the same values. It is then the question of adapting democracy to properly fit each cultural variation. At first, it was hard for me to understand how a country that requires their citizens to have a religion can also be considered a democracy. However, after hearing Bourget speak and being in Indonesia, I realize that the while democracy here may be different it is no less valid. For instance, there is limited freedom in the press and other modes of communication because defamation of any religion is forbidden. While to many Americans this may seem repressive, it actually helps to ensure a more peaceful and harmonious society. When you approach the issue in this way, it begins to make more sense as you begin to realize just how big a role religion plays in the lives of Indonesians.

I really love how every day is making me think long and hard about some difficult issues that are facing the world today. On a different note, today Mas Abe told me that my name in Javanese means, “left behind,” which is quite fitting considering my luggage situation. Also, on Tuesday, the group almost left me at UGM, Mas Indra had to run after the van… Here’s hoping to better luck!

-Carrie

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Selamat Pagi!

Good morning or for those few who are reading this blog from Michigan Selamat Malam! (Good evening) The expression “time flies when you’re having fun” is incredibly accurate.  I can’t believe that it’s Friday here in Yogyakarta already.

The past couple of days have been quite educational and I have really learned a lot.  On Wednesday  prof. Muhammad Najib Azca  gave a very interesting lecture about Islamic radicalism followed by a lecture on peace building and Islam given by prof. Titik Firawati .  The day’s lectures concluded with prof. Siti Mushah Mulia speaking with us about women’s role in promoting democracy and interfaith dialogue.  Yesterday we attended a seminar on democracy in the Middle East at the State Islamic University of Yogyakarta.  *A fact about this university I found interesting was that women are only required to wear hijab inside of the university but once outside, they can take them off.  Anyway, I’ll get back to the hijab later because I think that that’s a real point of interest for many Americans.

So yeah, after that we had a discussion with Nunuk P. Murniati and several other important people (including an ambassador from the U.S embassy in Jakarta Don Washington!)  The discussion was primarily about promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue in Indonesia/U.S as well as increasing U.S understanding and involvement with Indonesia.  One thing that I  have really taken from all of this is the importance of engaging in dialogue and getting to know people from different walks of life on a personal/human level.  I think that in the past decade there have been a lot of stigmas attached to Islam and negative portrayals of Muslims in the media.  I believe that all of things have led many Americans to assume A LOT about this DIVERSE religion and the people who practice it.  I will admit that prior to this trip I did not know any Muslims on a personal level and I too had stereotypes in my mind about Islam.  I must first say that it is a shame how much attention terrorism gets from the world media considering (when you really think about it) how infrequently it happens compared to other incidences that have caused mass deaths, especially by certain powerful nations out there *eh hem.  Also, people (including myself) often fail to realize how many different sects of Islam people practice, most having nothing to do with jihads or fatwas.

In some ways I think that the discussions we had after the lectures were just as if not more informational than the lectures themselves in some ways because I got to go directly to the source to ask questions about religion and culture.  It is great to talk openly and honestly with young Muslim men and women about issues where the media has typically done the talking for us.  Out of the 3 girls in the group 2 of them are hijabes (wear hijab).  All of them told us that they were given the choice whether to wear the hijab or not.  Binar doesn’t wear the hijab because she used to play basketball and found it uncomfortable.  Generally the girls told us that women who wear hijab are respected a bit more by men, in that men won’t sit as close to them or asked them out the way that they would with women who don’t wear them.  They were telling us that many women in cities and in more educated areas do recognize their full rights however, it is at the grassroots level that women are having more difficulty acknowledging and embracing these rights.  We also talked about the ways in which the U.S does not understand Islam and the stereotypes and stigmas now attached to Muslims (especially after 9/11).  We all agreed that engaging in dialogue is the best solution for us human beings to gain a better understanding of each other and our place in this crazy world.

On another note.  Went to a Gamelan rehearsal last night and LOVED IT.  I want to learn how to play Gamelan and I also wouldn’t mind doing more Javanese dance again.  I think I’ve basically decided that I WILL find a way to live in Indonesia after I graduate.  Plus everyone is telling me that Indonesian is a really easy language to learn (they only have present tense!).  I may actually finally live my dream of becoming fluent in another language.  Shout out to the University of Michigan for providing me with the opportunity to learn Indonesian next year!

A Day Full Of Lectures

June 9th, 2011

This morning started with a lecture at the Universitas Islam Negeri Yogyakarta (Islamic State University Yogyakarta) with a seminar by Professor François Burgat. Mr. Burgat is a political scientist and a Senior Research Fellow at the French National Centre for Science. Mr. Burgat has spent over than 20 years in middle-east countries: Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria.  Professor Burgat shared his experiences and opinions on Democracy in the Middle East.   At the beginning of the lecture, Professor Burgat made a simple and basic point that it is impossible to study the Middle East without studying the history of the Middle East.  Often times, we forget the importance of learning the history and culture of an area.  The history is what shapes and defines the people of an area and determines how the people will react to changes in the future.

During the open question time, a member of the audience asked “Why is the democracy peaceful/ different in Indonesia compared to the Middle East?”  Burgat replied that one cannot draw such a distinct picture that Indonesia is peaceful and the Middle East is not violent.  This distinction is far too strong and too explicit to put these areas into two separate groups.  Burgat focused again on the importance of the area’s history and the culture of the people.  He stated that depending on the culture will determine how change occurs.  Later in the discussion, Carrie asked whether Burgat thought democracy was the best way for social justice and if it was the only way of true, fair government.  He said that it was absolutely the only option, but all democracy looks the same.  Burgat believed that all cultures support the same values even in polar opposite cultures.  The difference is in the superficial appearance is due to the difference in the symbolic systems that define culture.  The symbolic systems of Indonesia are different from the United States, because the Indonesian culture is based around an Islamic symbolic system while the American culture is based around a Christian symbolic system (whether Americans will admit to it or not).  Since an American is grown up in the Christian symbolic system and American culture, this can create a major barrier for understanding the form of democracy in Indonesia and vice versa.  I believe Burgat was trying to show the democracy of America will not be exactly the same as the democracy in Indonesia or any other country, but that is okay as long as it is a form of democracy in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

After this lecture, we returned to UGM for another series of lectures.  The first was Dra Agustine Prasetyo Muniati, Ma, she is a renowned multiculturalism activist.  I found her definitions of interfaith dialogue, faith, and religion very interesting.  Ibu Nunuk stated that dialogue is not only talking but a commitment to action.  It is a promise to work towards the facilitation of interfaith dialogue.  For interfaith dialogue to be successful, the participants do not need to unite under a single religion, but under our faith.  Religion is the institution, ritual, practice, and teachings of God, while faith is the belief and personal understanding in the mystery of God.  By separating these parts of interfaith dialogue theology was very interesting.  It showed that dialogue is not only respecting another religion, but responding to the problems of humanity.  We all have the same problems and need to work together to solve these problems.  Ibu Nunuk was insightful and inspiring with her opinions of interfaith dialogue.

Following Ibu Nunuk, from the Ministery of Foreign Affairs elaborated on the Comprehensive Partnership between Indonesia and the United States.

In the evening, we attended a traditional Indonesian Gamelan rehearsal.  This was absolutely breath taking to listen to the rehearsal, we heard a contemporary song and traditional song.  The traditional Gamelan song was slow and tranquil, it was almost a soft lullaby that was comforting and smooth.  In comparison, the contemporary song was fast paced and exciting.  It began with a powerful and dramatic opening and finished to an ever increasing tempo.  Both were magnificent, unique, and unlike any other music I had heard before.

The more time one spends in a different culture, the more one is able to appreciate the beauty of the culture.  Every day we spend in Indonesia, the more I realize how incredibly blessed I am to be here and how blessed I am to have this brilliant experience.

Selamat Malam!

Anne Marie

Ps. “Ibu” is a term of respect used for an older woman.   It is similar to “Mrs.” in English.

Info info info!

Today was a day loaded with so many prestigious information, I would even say that I had information overload!

We started off the day like usual, bright sunny day and a new breakfast for the American students. This time it is Nasi Kuning and all its accessories (abon, telur kornet and oseng-oseng tempe). At approximately 08.30 we headed for Universitas Islam Negeri Yogyakarta (Islamic State University Yogyakarta) for a seminar by Professor François Burgat. Mr. Burgat is a political scientist and is a Senior Research Fellow at the French National Centre for Science. Mr. Burgat has spent over than 20 years in middle-east countries: Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. He spoke about the basic characteristic of culture in the middle east and why people power occurs now, and not earlier. Also why it happens in the middle east and not in other areas. As an example Algeria is a country that has been colonized by the French for more than a decade, and it previously did not have any freedom to speak. Thus the moment they were decolonized they became out of hand and all sorts of groups started to surface.This is actually similar to the situation faced by Indonesia after “Reformasi 1998”. Mr. Burgat also explained that the condition of African countries when being compared are different. For instance Algeria was colonized while Tunisia was led by a protectorate. This difference made a huge effect to their development in the future. The Algerians who were colonized and was not given any choice had a hard time adjusting to freedom, whilst Tunisia with the protectorates still had indigenous identities, though very small.

The lecture flew by, and it was time for lunch. We had quite a quick lunch in Pandanaran Sagan, and shortly after that went to the Multimedia Room, Faculty of Law UGM.

Our next speaker was Ibu Nunuk Murniati, who is a human rights defender, as well as for women and feminism.  Ibu Nunuk is a very experienced woman who has devoted her life for her passion and love of equality. She believes that in order to make people understand the concept of human rights, the best approach is culture. So if she was to teach people in Batak, she would have them chat over tuak (traditional wine). This would vary form place to place, according to each customs. Ibu Nunuk stated that making a balance between human rights (democracy) and culture is not an easy thing, and the best way to figure it out would be through dialogues. It might not be a discussion, but it could be anything that would make it easier for the community to give trust to this one researcher/person in charge.

Our last speaker is Mr Tangkuman Alexander Imanuel, who is a representative from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He explained that the Foreign Affairs and United States of America has many programs that builds both ways and that there are to be more and more exchanges of students in particular in the near future. It became an interesting discussion of how the number of Indonesian students who come study in the US is a whole lot more than the US students who come to Indonesia. There was also a moment of sharing experience between participants who had already have the change to study in the US and what they expect in the relationship of America and Indonesia. It was very fortunate for us to have Mr. Washington from the US Embassy Jakarta, who looked in and shared his points of views with us.

As I said before, so many prestigious information was gained and I’m trying very hard to fit it all my head! So again, I will see you all tomorrow on another daily report for our great and adventurous journey.

Thank you

“A New Perspective On Democracy in the Middle East”

This morning started with a lecture at the Universitas Islam Negeri Yogyakarta (Islamic State University Yogyakarta) with a seminar by Professor François Burgat. Mr. Burgat is a political scientist and a Senior Research Fellow at the French National Centre for Science. Mr. Burgat has spent over than 20 years in middle-east countries: Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. Professor Burgat shared his experiences and opinions on Democracy in the Middle East. At the beginning of the lecture, Professor Burgat made a simple and basic point that it is impossible to study the Middle East without studying the history of the Middle East. Often times, we forget the importance of learning the history and culture of an area. The history is what shapes and defines the people of an area and determines how the people will react to changes in the future.

During the open question time, a member of the audience asked “Why is the democracy peaceful/ different in Indonesia compared to the Middle East?” Burgat replied that one cannot draw such a distinct picture that Indonesia is peaceful and the Middle East is not violent. This distinction is far too strong and too explicit to put these areas into two separate groups. Burgat focused again on the importance of the area’s history and the culture of the people. He stated that depending on the culture will determine how change occurs. Later in the discussion, Carrie asked whether Burgat thought democracy was the best way for social justice and if it was the only way of true, fair government. He said that it was absolutely the only option, but all democracy looks the same. Burgat believed that all cultures support the same values even in polar opposite cultures. The difference is in the superficial appearance is due to the difference in the symbolic systems that define culture. The symbolic systems of Indonesia are different from the United States, because the Indonesian culture is based around an Islamic symbolic system while the American culture is based around a Christian symbolic system (whether Americans will admit to it or not). Since an American is grown up in the Christian symbolic system and American culture, this can create a major barrier for understanding the form of democracy in Indonesia and vice versa. I believe Burgat was trying to show the democracy of America will not be exactly the same as the democracy in Indonesia or any other country, but that is okay as long as it is a form of democracy in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

After this lecture, we returned to UGM for another series of lectures. The first was Dra Agustine Prasetyo Muniati, Ma, she is a renowned multiculturalism activist. I found her definitions of interfaith dialogue, faith, and religion very interesting. Ibu Nunuk stated that dialogue is not only talking but a commitment to action. It is a promise to work towards the facilitation of interfaith dialogue. For interfaith dialogue to be successful, the participants do not need to unite under a single religion, but under our faith. Religion is the institution, ritual, practice, and teachings of God, while faith is the belief and personal understanding in the mystery of God. By separating these parts of interfaith dialogue theology was very interesting. It showed that dialogue is not only respecting another religion, but responding to the problems of humanity. We all have the same problems and need to work together to solve these problems. Ibu Nunuk was insightful and inspiring with her opinions of interfaith dialogue.

Following Ibu Nunuk, from the Ministery of Foreign Affairs elaborated on the Comprehensive Partnership between Indonesia and the United States.

In the evening, we attended a traditional Indonesian Gamelan rehearsal. This was absolutely breath taking to listen to the rehearsal, we heard a contemporary song and traditional song. The traditional Gamelan song was slow and tranquil, it was almost a soft lullaby that was comforting and smooth. In comparison, the contemporary song was fast paced and exciting. It began with a powerful and dramatic opening and finished to an ever increasing tempo. Both were magnificent, unique, and unlike any other music I had heard before.

The more time one spends in a different culture, the more one is able to appreciate the beauty of the culture. Every day we spend in Indonesia, the more I realize how incredibly blessed I am to be here and how blessed I am to have this brilliant experience.

Selamat Malam!

Anne Marie

Ps. “Ibu” is a term of respect used for an older woman. It is similar to “Mrs.” in English.

June 8: “After Jihad” – Muhammad Najib Azca, Ph.D.

“After Jihad” – Muhammad Najib Azca, Ph.D.

June 8th: Relay Lectures!

Selamat malam! It’s been another day of fun and excitement for the USIPP participants! It all started with a very bright and sunny Wednesday morning. As we intended to show many varieties of food in Indonesia, the menu of our meals should always be different. The menu this morning is Bubur Kacang Ijo or Burjo. It really was a really different type of meal in comparison the the others we had, and too the comments on it from the US students were slightly different: “interesting…”. We also showed Salak, a tropical fuit that existed in nearly all parts of Indonesia, one said: “well this is definitely not my favorite food”. Which is a good variation, since they’ve been saying that everything is good the moment they came here! So the day’s agenda was basically a relay of lectures from well-known and respected people in their scope of knowledge, and Indonesia to an extent. The fist lecture was by Muhammad Najib Azca, Ph. D. Mr . Najib is a is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology and researcher at the Center for Security and Peace Studies (CSPS) University of Gadjah Mada . He has just received his Ph.D at Amsterdam School for Social science Research (ASSR) of Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) working on the issue of religious violence and social movement. His dissertation then was published into a book entitled “After Jihad”. The topic of the lecture was “Radicalization and Deradicalization of Islamic Movements in Indonesia” which means the process through where people become less and more committed to radical social change actions/movements. He explained the microsociology of radicalization: that people become terrorist through Radical Reasoning (moral shocks, cognitive opening, act of identity). Many other terms and concept were introduced by Mr. Najib, including the kinds of radicalization, the streams of Islamic radicalization, the sources of it, and also it’s genealogy. An important part (and one that catches my interest most) is the concept of deradicalization. Especially the process of doing it. As for what I understood the participation of a certain someone in such big activity reaction group (eg: Al-Qaeda) makes them part of some sort of contract, making it hard for them to be able to cross the ring. On the other hand, if we do manage to deradicalize them what happens if the people from the group starts attacking the deradicalizors? And so forth. This question is answered by Mr. Najib later on, and he explained that in order to have a safe deradicalization we have to involve the police officers and authorities, and this is a must. The second is, when we deradicalize it is not only an act of an individual but also collective. Thus the rebellion would not be as harsh. The next lecture is by Ibu Titik Firawati, who obtained her Master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame and B.A. degree from International Relations UGM. She is a researcher at CSPS, UGM. Her lecture was about peacebuilding. The main discussion was regarding the factors that contribute to conflicts and how to resolve and face these sort of situation. One result of research actually proves that many conflicts are resolved well without a high number of death. It may only be the glasses of prejudice used by the community to perceive what was happening that makes everything seen subjectively, thus it may seem like every conflict ends into a total disaster. Another thing that is very interesting is the fact that the spread of conflicts and the resolution to it is not spread equally across Indonesia. As an example, the area with the highest number of conflicts is West Java, but the number of the highest death rate occurs in North Maluku. It was indeed great to see that there were evidence to a different and positive perspective. The last lecture of the day was by Ibu Siti Musdah Mulia. She is a great women’s right defender. Her most favorite quote, I noticed, is “humanizing humans”. She keeps repeating that most humans do not realize that they are human, that all are not equal. Thus men thinks they can be harsh and violent, and on the other hand women thinks they have no right whatsoever to defend themselves. This is what Ibu Siti was trying to fight for. In order to do this, the people that are dealt with must be not only people with legitimacy, but also from the grassroots. Thus everyone understands thoroughly. Each and every one of these speakers has great perspectives and has done many great deeds and contribution to the community. For me, what matters are not the rights and wrongs to what they are saying and doing. After all, what is right and what is wrong are subjective. What matters most is that these people care enough to see the reality outside their own world and enhance the things that was nothing but a headline of an article. These are great examples of people who will be renowned all their lives for trying to make a change. So everyone, heads up, get yourselves together and lend a hand for a better Indonesia.