An Open Letter to Bali Indonesia

An Open Letter to Bali Indonesia

An Open Letter to Bali Indonesia

My name is Sri Purna Widari.

I am an Indonesian and a Hindu concerned citizen who was born and raised in Bali Indonesia and is passionate about human right issues.

An article written at the Indonesian version of Deutsche Welle - a German based international broadcaster about the visa dismissal by the Indonesian government towards the Israeli badminton athlete published on the 7th of August 2015 - has left me with disappointment.

Indonesia is arguably a nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, but never has been a Muslim country; and the racial discrimination undertaken towards one particular race has shown their failure at compartmentalizing the issues between government and its individuals and how it has disregarded the existence of other five religions and their rights to be involved in the decision-making process.

As a member of one of the minority groups whose island and its tourism industry have contributed significantly to our national GDP, I have decided to express my opinions publicly and choose to do it through international media because I am afraid that my writing will be banned from being published nationally. I would like to share my own personal experience to explain why I do not think that what my government did is fair and should be reviewed objectively.

I will never forget the shock, the fear, and the anger I strongly felt after the first Bali bombing tragedy in 2002 which killed and injured hundreds of people.

I had no family or friends who were the casualties of this atrocity but it had successfully blurred and tainted my perceptions about the Muslim community and their religion, Islam.

However, as the member of a minority group among the 80% of Muslim population in my country, I learned that our tourism industry was the only thing we have to make a living, how tolerance was one of our main strengths, and how it could backfire if I was not careful. In my way of releasing my emotions, I chose to prioritize peace and to avoid conflict at all costs by pushing my feelings aside and getting on with life, thinking that everything would go back to normal again.

Unfortunately, my expectation shattered into pieces when a similar terrorism act happened in 2004, and my anger turned into rage - not only towards the perpetrators but also to myself and our local government and community for our recklessness and our ultimate failure at preventing it. My fear became intensified and led me to paranoia and distrust directed towards the Muslim society.

I was so afraid to let my guard down and I recall several occasions when I met and talked to some Muslim fellows and grilled them with critical and cut-to-the-chase questions. I often did so in a fierce manner in the hope that the answers would help me understand the people who belong to the extremist group and the moderate ones who simply come to Bali to make a decent living.

Being deeply hurt and have not been fully recovered about everything that happened, my indignation grew worse.

When I first arrived in Holland, I told my Dutch ex-boyfriend that I did not want to look Indonesian because I had the fear that when I talked to his friends or family, they will associate me and my country with the radical Muslims and what they already did. I felt frustrated and ashamed, so I kept emphasizing that I came from Bali to avoid going down into that direction.

I also remember a heated argument I had with a French man (married to a Muslim woman) about this religion in Ubud when I loudly stated that I would rather die than be forced to accept Indonesia as a Muslim country. I am sure that Muslim citizens will have the same answer when being forced to proselytize, although the man was concerned that some Muslim participants who felt offended by my staunch conviction would contact the extreme group to attack Bali. I felt the urge to be firm in setting my boundaries because I thought that by doing so, it would prevent me from resenting myself if I stayed silent.

Suffice it to say, I was petrified that had I not used my voice as early as possible. I did not want to be left with a profound regret, and I wanted to be able to forgive myself for being naive, too careless, and too reluctant to do everything I could to prevent this from happening - especially knowing that one of the highest rewards the Muslim community can get is when they are able to recruit anyone else from a different religion to convert.

I still hold on to a particular memory of when I spoke to a Russian female acquaintance who persistently pressured me to accept that Indonesia is a Muslim country. She believed that this preconceived notion that she learned from the media and conversations she had with her friends in the international community was factual evidence.

I was very offended and perturbed by her failure to acknowledge that what she said made me feel as if my presence as someone who is not a Muslim and born and raised in Indonesia, did not matter and was not legitimately recognized.

And last but not least, when reading about the increasing number of Muslim female celebrities wearing hijab, I cannot help but wonder their true intentions. Is it purely obedience to their religion, a strategic move to attract a Muslim husband, a safety reason to prevent sexual harassment or, again, a slow and oblique movement to form a Syariah-law-based country I have been worried about all along?

I must admit that when I was engulfed with pessimism several times, I would consciously stare at a Muslim man who was selling fried rice next to a Hindu man selling pork satay. They were bantering and laughing with one another and seemed to care more about economic survival than being judgmental towards each other’s religion. I did this because, by doing so, it at least helped me ignite my almost fading hope that this country will stay this way.

You see, it is obvious that I have been scared, and repressing it for so long certainly did not do me justice. However, with all of these fears and ongoing concerns, do you think making sweeping generalizations about this community and kicking them all out from Bali was the wisest thing to do?

A few weeks ago, when I had lunch at the small restaurant that belongs to a Muslim couple, I chatted with their daughter, who - as I discovered - is still studying to obtain her bachelor degree at a local university.

After listening and being impressed at how adamant and disciplined she was about obtaining good grades as a way to appreciate her parents’ hard work, I then shared information about a national institution which can provide her a scholarship to pursue her Masters degree.

At first, our conversation were focused on empowering and encouraging her to improve her English proficiency and how we both agreed that she should redirect her energy from a broken relationship with her ex-boyfriend, to better her education level and to aim higher at her career prospect.

After a while, when we both felt comfortable enough to divulge more about our personal lives, she told me about one of her personal experiences in which she once asked her parents to relocate to Java because she was tired of being a member of the minority group. She was bullied and intimidated by some of her Hindu peers while she was in high school.

I was appalled and did not see it coming. I actually felt sorry for what she had been through.

It was even eye opening to hear such hopelessness coming from someone whose community dominates the country and it made me feel guilty to assume the worst.

I then asked her to elaborate how it happened and she told me that her peers expressed their anger and frustration at her (and all people who share her race) because they could not stand the growing number of Javanese people who were mostly Muslim live in Bali. They believed that these people take almost all the jobs and earn money they can use to buy lands back in their villages, while the minimum wage they receive every month is not enough to keep up those properties.

A few days later, I stumbled upon an article written at the Guardian Australia about how a German TV presenter sparked debate and hatred when she uttered her astonishment at how it became socially acceptable for the German natives to demonstrate jarring racial slurs towards the refugees.

I am not going to lie that after reading it, I became anxious with the thought that if it is not addressed as soon as possible, a small incident like what my Muslim friend has experienced could exacerbate and escalate into contempt and even hostilities, and not just between individuals. It could be between races.

In the past, I have read and been aware about the frustration of some of my friends from the most developed countries like the United States, European Union, and Australia who are concerned by how more and more multinational corporations gravitated towards using cheap labors from South America, Eastern Europe, China, India and other Asian countries.

They also felt disappointed by how the generosity of their government uses the money from their tax payers to help the refugees who seek for safer and more prosperous lives compared to when they are back in their home countries - where they were abused and taken advantage of.

Now, would you believe me that this particular phenomenon has direct and indirect impact to bigotry in Balinese society towards other races?

Living in Western countries has proven to be inevitably expensive - even for their own citizens. Some who are good at what they do and are able to maintain a sustainable income and lifestyle will stay, and some who feel burdened by its nanny state rules. They feel stifled by its competition, and refuse to be paid as low as what the immigrants receive, and they choose to work and live precariously in developing countries with modest cost of living - like my island, Bali.

Those with sufficient earnings and strong work ethic will insist to play by the book and some others who merely rely on their social security and limited amount of money which were not enough for launching a business venture, paying the expenses of their compulsory working permit and consumed by their vanity to show their peers back home that they live in a paradise like a king and a queen would do the opposite and compromised their integrity.

They collaborated with the corrupt system and enjoyed its lack of law enforcement, exploit the desperation of some local citizens who would do everything to escape poverty who often refuse to comply with their own laws, and at the same time have long been the curious and frustrated audience, who were sometimes agonized with envy and wanted the taste of hedonistic lifestyles which were mostly introduced by foreigners.

As a result, not only will the Balinese people have to face the rivalry with their own fellows and the Javanese people, but also with the unscrupulous foreigners from developed nations who usually vie for the management positions. These positions were initially prioritized for the local citizen, but foreigners are likely to receive unequally higher salary, and the citizens of ASEAN countries who are about to have the opportunity to work for free in Indonesia.

I can imagine and empathize with how they feel overwhelmed and threatened by this reality. At the same time, I cannot deny that we also have roles in letting it happen.

And my guess is that those who feel the most insecure, incompetent, and are emotionally inept are the ones who started using the attitude of xenophobia instead of exposing their vulnerabilities and reflect on their own shortcomings.

I tried to explain the above illustration to the parents of the young Muslim woman that I have befriended, in order to let them understand the possible cause that propelled the strong armed tactics done towards their daughter.

In exchange, they involuntarily disclosed their own predicament. When they heard rumors about how some Balinese groups planned to boycott the Javanese soon after the bombing calamity, they realized how their community wished to be granted the right to behead the bombers for destroying their financial resources, dishonoring their religion, and instigating a potential misunderstanding between religions.

From these personal experiences, I would like to say that racial discrimination and social prejudice should be overcome. Some of the most effective solutions can be done through in-depth and comprehensive travel, like what Brandon Stanton (the founder of Humans of New York) did because he he has succeeded in creating compassion in a large community. He has shed light about personal struggles both in his city and overseas, which often got biased perspectives.

As an Indonesian, I truly believe that the Indonesian government should start practicing what they preach. It should prove its democratic system by consulting the decision of whether or not the Israeli and Jewish citizens deserve the permit to enter Indonesia. 

As a Hindu, I also understand what it means to have solidarity and empathy to those who were the collateral damages from the war, and, at the same, time choose to listen to both sides and give the benefit of the doubt that the Israeli citizens are not always the representation of their government.

And in the end, I would like to say that since Indonesia is NOT a Muslim country, I do not accept that I should suffer the consequence of not being allowed to travel to Israel due to personal or religious issues which never happened in the first place.

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