Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Grey Matters: Between Puritanism and Pluralism

"The word 'to tolerate' is about power. By saying 'I tolerate you', you show of having a higher position than others."*

Philip Kitley, via Endah Triastuti

An article on Hanung Bramantyo's newest film ?, which portrays religious tolerance and conflict in Indonesia, provides an interesting insight on the debate that surrounds the issue. I followed several conflicting views expressed on social and institutional media and, more as an observer and less as an activist, I realised that in this public debate views have polarised into two.

The first view, voiced by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) advocated for the director to apologise for propagating an 'impure' means to practice Islam. Representatives of the clerical body, which comprises of the largest and most vocal muslim organisations in the country, advised Bramantyo to practice Quranic recitation (mengaji) instead of speaking of an issue he had no competence in.

The second view, voiced by Bramantyo himself, condemned violence in the name of religion. His expectation is that the film may send the message that Islam is a religion of tolerance. The film is a humanist one, attempting to establish the idea that every human being, despite the religion they have chosen to practice (correct me if I'm wrong, no atheists and/or agnostics were present in the film), are all trying to find God.

The first view is a theological one (puritanism), the second view more on the socio-cultural practices of religion (pluralism). Both views, although part of the same discourse, are arguing on different levels. That is why, I think, the debates between individuals and/or groups in social and conventional media becomes too heated to reach a civil (dis)agreement, let alone a consensus. In order for the ideas to converse, both would have to focus more on the socio-cultural practices of religion - not on theology.

I had a discussion yesterday with several very intelligent (young!) people and one argument caught my attention. He said, 'The debate has been over-simplified (mengerucut) to a contestation between 'radicals' and 'liberals'. It's difficult not to think whose interest and funding is behind such black-and-white views and whether or not they are trying to sway us from the actual grey area within which we can converse.'

My argument would be for the importance of focusing our energy not debating about how other people should practice 'religion' (how can you logically argue about something that cannot be rationalised, like 'faith'?), but more on how to respect that the process is a relative one. Liberals would say 'do not let our discourse be hijacked by radicals' and radicals would say the exact opposite thing. But as long as different ideas interact, and that 'the public' (whoever the hell that is) is willingly and consciously part of the 'grey area' - it becomes a tougher job for anyone, whatever interest they have, to hijack the discourse. And the moderators here, ideally, is the state - who should only intervene when the debate has turned violent.

I am fully aware that the issue is much more complex than what I've argued here. That (global and national) political economy works on such advanced levels I may never have the capacity to fully understand. That religious conflicts are commodities for the media industry. That the public is absent because we are scrambling to survive, let alone think. That religious problems have such a long history that it has become rooted in our collective subconscious.

But I cannot help but hope, that the ball is in 'our' court. That as long as disagreements are 'media'-ted, it can be civilised. That if we ask hard enough, the state will protect those who are vulnerable and not 'tolerate' violence.

That it is the responsibility of everyone who can afford to think, to say something.

Albeit in menial ways, like writing this post.

* I was curious because Kitley continued the quote with "And there is an interesting philosophical question about the word 'to tolerate'", so naturally I googled the etymology of the term 'tolerate'. Turns out in the 16th century, it means 'to endure' or 'to put up with'. So in line with this idea, 'to tolerate' does mean that we are above others because we are putting up with the presence of others. As if it is annoying to do so. In ideas of pluralism, I suggest instead to use the term 'respect' which means 'to look' or 'regard'.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Revolution and Social Media (Lim)

Here is a presentation on the revolution in Egypt and the role of social media by Merlyna Lim. I highly recommend anyone who is interested and/or professionally involved in the discourse of (Middle-Eastern) revolution and social media to read in thoroughly.

And below are my thoughts on her ideas:

Dear Teh Mer,

I’m inclined to agree with your assertion (Network, Narratives, Claim-Making). I’ve been reading your writing for years now and I both enjoy and agree with how you always attempt to draw a comprehensive historical view in approaching a phenomenon that is fueled (dilumaskan) by social media. I just had a long discussion with several of my students on this and my own temporary conclusion is the same. Social media provides a tool for human agency that is triggered by a socio-political and economic context that is framed by a larger global flow. I emphasise on global flow in relation to the idea of a ‘clash of civilisation’.

I’m really concerned about the aftermath of the current uprising in the Middle East. At the moment, the people have a common ‘imagined’ enemy. And the collective movement is a false one, as they’re motivated by fragmented social identities and ideologies. I fear that what will happen in Egypt and Libya is what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Maafkan, I’m rambling a lot (kalo kata mahasiswa ‘nyampah’). I really look forward to working with you one day.