Thursday, March 24, 2011


I did an amateur survey on Twitter.

In terms of friendship, if you had to choose, would you seek for kindred spirits or those who are able to give different perspectives?

Replies varied. Some argued that friendships need common ground and mutual field of experiences. Other argued that in seeking for solutions, you would need rational arguments - preferably ones you haven't thought of so that you make an informed decision.

Both stances made sense to me. The soft-in-the-head side of me thought of the possibility that both stances are valid and highly dependent on context. Maybe in certain conditions you would need friendships who confirm and in others you would need friendships that challenge.

After thinking, I decided we choose the people around us based on whether or not we want to be accepted for who we are, or if we want to be reminded of who we want to become.

Some of us are content with settling, that life is about being grateful, being secure and comfortable.

Some of us want to grow and be continually challenged to reach our utmost potential.

At the end of the day, we do what we have to to keep sane. The most important thing, then, is knowing what we want in life and how to get there.

And I guess that shouldn't just apply in our choice of friendships.

Oh, and thank you so much for those who spent time to reply such a trivial question. Cheers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Hapless Groupie

The nerd herd, to which I am a permanent member, see intellectuals as rock stars (we are indeed a very sad bunch). Some are in awe of their brilliant arguments and avant garde philosophical thoughts. I, on the other hand, have a soft spot on how some of my favourite academics have the mentality of a 'life-long learner'. Their diction, stance, and remarkable consideration of various oppositional ideas project the image (for want of a better word) that they realise they can never know for sure. That their task is to try and understand, then explain.

And, oh, how some of them go beyond the discourse and are active in civil society movements (one of these rare breeds I have met with is Cees Hamelink, who is also a talented pianist).

And today, on this sunny Saturday, this particular self-proclaimed nerd visited Stewart Hoover's blog. Then she couldn't stop reading. And reading.

I have read his books and journal articles but there is just something about blogging that reveals the personal thoughts of a writer. I found him extremely humble with not an ounce of arrogance (or perhaps I have grown heavily biased).

One of the posts I enjoyed the most was on the depiction of the Muhammad cartoons.

And I'll just go to read some more.

PS: My favourite Indonesian academic's (Merlyna Lim) blog is here.

Friday, March 18, 2011


How much does your life weigh?

Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things: the shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV.

The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack.

Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office. And then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend.

You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag.

Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises.

The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living.

Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans.

We are not swans. We are sharks.

Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air
(Jason Reitman, 2009)

One of my favourite film quotes of the decade (2000-2010)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Pushover

I have a dear friend who openly uses derogatory terms to refer to people and/or social groups who violate human rights and/or disturb public order. He said these people deserve it and that no other term could suit them better. Although I do agree that some people are menace to society, I still disagreed with the means. My argument was that it induces more hatred and the domino effect continues. We finally agreed that it takes various types of people to make the world go round.

Then last night, I talked to another dear friend about how, although we see eye to eye on almost every other thing in life, we respond in such different ways to the same 'stimulant' when it comes to offense. When being treated unfair verbally, she fights back. Not necessarily to inflict pain, more to defend herself from further harm. When someone does the same thing to me, I would perhaps apologise for causing pain.

Whenever I face an emotional conflict, I cannot help but think about how everyone, in-exclusively, are products of how they were raised. How we respond emotionally to certain things (as emotions are raw reactions to social stimulation - different from premeditated logical thinking), are inextricably linked with how our identities were (are) constructed. That some of us respond a certain way because it's the only way we know how.

Maybe they were denied education (or received too much of it to avoid becoming cynical), maybe they were never hugged by their parents, maybe they have seen too much suffering to believe in humanity. Or maybe, like my friend, they were just trying to protect themselves.

Considering all these possibilities, I cannot muster the will to harbour any resentment. I figure that like me, they're only trying to do their best in life with the tools they have and the perspective they've adopted.

And so I continue to apologise, sometimes rightly so, sometimes only to make things worse.

Because, perhaps, it's also the only way I know how.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rite of Passage

This was such a good read I felt the unbearable need to write. And this particular paragraph made me both laugh and think at the same time (in that particular order):

Our supposed great heroes in movies always seem to walk off into the sunset at the end. In a discussion on men, Richard Rohr humorously asks, "Where the hell are these guys going?". Somehow it looks cool as they do their thing in the story line, and walk off into the sunset, but seriously where are they going?

Media scholars, anthropologists, psychologists, what-have-yous have argued that entertainment is the space within which our collective subconscious, as we practice (or deny) them socially, emerge. It is mundane and it is leisurely nature but at the same time it is difficult to explain why we voluntarily 'consume' them.

I am inclined to believe that this argument is valid. That whatever is repressed by structure, our responsibilities and conformation, will emerge in what we do in our free time. Because it's our means to regulate stress.

Assuming so, then these heroes that walk into the sunset is a result of how men are repressed structurally. The writer continues:

Rohr goes on to say that the fruit of any retreat, or travel, or whatever else you want to call it, is the return. It is when the person goes out, acquires something new, and brings it back to others. This is something that most people have no concept of these days, because we've abandoned meaningful initiation rites.

You can argue that this is a (post)structuralist view and that our (global) society is slowly leaving behind such rigidity. But, although I am not a man, my personal response towards traveling (I travel around 1 to 5 times a year for work) is similar. My leave is only as meaningful as the home that I return to.

I refer to my last post where I argue that I use my head most of the time. But when it comes to 'regulating stress', I think it's a universal virtue that all human beings seek for comfort. In the peak of depression, most of us go in a fetal position in reference to our pose in the womb. That after all of the adjustment, challenge, adventure, our 'rite of passage' so to speak, we have a need to feel secure.

But for some, although not myself, it may be for the sole reason of recharging for the next adventure.

[Insert shot of man walking into sunset here. To which I would ask, 'Dude, where the hell are you going?']

Thursday, March 10, 2011

That Sandstorm

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn.

Haruki Murakami

Part of life is not knowing. That endless doubt that follows us around like a stray cat, no matter how sure we are of our choices - there is always the 'what if'. That suppressed thought in the back of our heads.

I've grown into depending on my head most of the time. Instead of dwelling in the doubt, I simply do a cost and benefit analysis (eye-roll permitted, it actually works). I refuse to dwell if it is not worth my while. I figure life is hard enough as it is, why wallow. If I've made a choice consciously, what I can do is deal with the consequences. I am not in control of anything aside from my own thoughts and actions.

But once in a blue moon, I listen to my heart. I stand still in the sandstorm and accept that sometimes I cannot even control myself.

And in not knowing, there is a sense of surrender that I know my head can never fully grasp for the sole reason that logic is limited - but my heart is not.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Global Islam: Between Images and Reality

By Dr. Muhamad Ali

Globalization has made the world of Islam more heterogeneous than homogeneous. It continues to shape Islam identities and moralities, imagined or real, at both global and local levels. What is conceptually homogenous is Islam itself, but what it means differs.

Globalization in its broadest sense is not new, and early Islam normatively preached trans-racial, trans-ethnic solidarity of the community of the believers, although information technology today has made them even more aware of the world.

Islam emerged as a local path of Prophet Muhammad and his followers, but with the power of the Koran and Arabic, Islam has ever since become increasingly global, crossing non-Arabic Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas. From early times, Muslims have been politically divided into the Shiite and the Sunni, the Khawarij, the Murji’a, the Mu’tazila, and so forth, although the efforts to unify them have never ceased.

Of course, Muslims read the Koran, commanding them to be united in the rope of God, not to be divided into sects, but there is neither linear nor teleological history of Islam, as if all Muslims are progressing from the chaos to the orderly.

Elements of the old and the new, the normative and the practical, the just and the unjust, have interacted in ways that vary from people to people and from time to time. There is no one direction of Islam today, as was the case in the past.

The lack of one global leadership of Islam has been felt as a challenge to the unity by some of the believers reviving the caliphate when this same deficiency is cherished by most other Muslims scattered in and working through their nation-states, ethnicities, social or political organizations.

The phrase “the Muslim world” itself is problematic if it means there is real, effective, face-to-face unity among most Muslims in the world today.

Of course, in Islamic sermons and publications, prayers are recited for Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other conflict areas where Muslims suffer from war.

But when people talk about global or transnational Islam, or Islamic revivalism, they refer to the fundamentalist, “Islamist”, “jihadist”, very little to the progressive, sometimes liberal orientations and expressions that exist.

Being socially and modernly constructed, the labels are felt necessary in people’s attempt at simplifying complex realities, but the perception of Islamic fundamentalism as the main player in global discourse and politics has not become weaker.

Thus, people today are not used to pointing to the Turkish Fethullah Gulan Movement, the Indonesian Muhammadiyah or the Nahdlatul Ulama, progressive Muslim networks, which have become increasingly no less global than hard-liners such as al-Qaeda, Jamaah Islamiyah, or the more diverse Muslim Brotherhood.

At the same time, much ignorance and instant information about Islam and Muslim societies: with so much information and variables available in TV programs, films, novels and the Internet, Muslims and non-Muslims alike do not necessarily have the knowledge to comprehend the complexity. Thus it may be easier to find a claim that Islam is an intolerant religion among the Islamophobic societies or to read another that claims it is a tolerant, peaceful religion among the devout preachers and committed leaders.

With other religious and secular leaders, Muslim leaders from Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and other countries have been promoting global tolerance, balance of power and peace, searching for a common ground, although still limited to the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, albeit still exclusive of other faiths.

Within the global religious markets, Muslim leaders and scholars, often along with non-Muslim counterparts, have thus been more preoccupied with correcting the images or what they call misperceptions about Islam and Muslims, but they generally are not interested in acknowledging the degree of diversity and complexity of Islam and Muslims. There is an obsession with image-correction.

The conspiracy or global makar theory, neo-imperialism, clash of civilizations and cosmic war have remained crucial parts of global public discourse.

But it is more difficult to find individuals and people who seek to understand both the complexity of Islam and the complexity of other religions and faiths, including secularism and liberalism.

Global Islam is the world of diversification, democratization and polarization of religious information and authority; no group represents or has the authority to orient all the Muslims across the globe, toward a real, unified community of believers.

The homogenization of the world of Islam has always been prayed for and preferred by many leaders, driven by both scriptures and real disunity, but problems and issues have endlessly polarized Muslims everywhere, not always as Muslims but as members of particular ethnic, national or political groups. Their immediate concerns are far more urgent for them to be addressed in their localities.

As minorities, some Muslims have just started to debate how to be French Muslims, American Muslims, Australian Muslims and so forth, and as majorities, many Muslims continue to negotiate their place in an increasingly pluralistic society. Even within the nation-states and provinces, Muslims are divided into various factions, political or non-political.

At the national and local levels, it is not so obvious for global citizens to recognize that many Muslim networks and organizations locally have contributed to addressing not so much Islamic problems but shared problems, such as governmental corruption, poverty, illiteracy, injustice, health, environment and violence.

Such local efforts in dealing with immediate problems with or without collaboration among Muslims, or between Muslims and non-Muslims, strengthen the diversification of Islam, rather than unifying it into a single global management.

There is no global or local, social or political engineering that would be effective enough to homogenize the world of local Muslim societies everywhere. Muslims have long been active participants in localizing their “universal” worldview, thereby pluralizing the world. Perhaps it is God alone who knows best the mystery of human unity and diversity.
The writer, author of Bridging Islam and the West: An Indonesian View (2009), is an assistant professor in religious studies, University of California, Riverside.

Retrieved from one of my favourite blogs:

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Pekom 2011

I have always known that I loved teaching.

I love seeing the spark in the students' eyes when they've figured out something new. I love not being able to answer tough questions, which makes me read more. I love the interaction, the generation of ideas, the challenge.

I don't even care how cheeky I sound.

Today was just one of those days where I was reminded of that passion. Seeing them openly disagree and argue touched me in ways I can't describe. I look forward to the day when they will outgrow me. And I know when that happens that I didn't do such a crappy job in transferring knowledge.

After all:

One repays a teacher badly if one only remains a pupil.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Running in Circles

I was reading a book on Ancient Egypt to my son (I swear he chose the book) when a friendly sentence caught my attention. Paraphrasing:

We call the Egyptians ancient because they lived as a society since 8000 years ago. They were good farmers, established complex court systems and was led by Pharaohs. Can you imagine what people 5000 years from now would say about the way we live today?

Last night I did some obsessive-compulsive Googling about South Asia and I couldn't help but wonder. That all of us, in-exclusively, are part of a great power play. Our belief system, our religion, the language we speak, are shaped by those who are in power. It has happened for thousands of years and it will not stop unless the world does.

I remember reading somewhere (at some point I lose track) that if we were born in pre-Islamic Middle East we would worship the sun, if we were born in 10th century Rome we would believe in Catholicism, and if we were born a 'mere' 500 years ago in the same exact place I am in now we would believe in either Kejawen, Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism.

I have in fact been aware of this reality since I lecture about it as well. And this is just one of the moments where I realise the more I find out, the more I realise it's true. The more I realise it's true, the more I feel the need to establish my own belief system - one that is apart from who has power over my mind on a socio-economic and political level.

And I end this inner dialogue with a recycled quote from Kierkegaard (which just goes to show that I'm just running in circles most of the time).

Our life always expresses the result of dominant thoughts. That's why people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

Have a good Sunday.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Learning to Be

This semester I'm teaching one of my favourite classes: Critical Analysis on Indonesian Mass Media. We were talking about Frankfurt School's Erich Fromm and his idea on 'to have or to be'. We talked about how in a capitalistic society, we have a tendency, that we are built, to possess. That in purchasing things, consuming things, we have no other notion than to possess everything else in life.

It extends into how we treat our loved ones. That they, too, are our possession. That if they are not within our reach, they are not there.

I see my son and how he's growing into his own person. I imagine the day when he decides to experience his own journey and make decisions I might not have expected him to. And I refer to Fromm's idea that he is not mine.

Nothing is essentially ours.

What we have is the experience. The journey, so to speak. It's a depressing thought, to think that everything is temporary - but it inevitably is.

And I think only by letting go can we truly be.