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Faking The News | Week 1 Assignment 2

For this assignment, I already knew what "basic reality" that I want to work on, but I had a hard time trying to define it. What is this reality, exactly? Why is this a reality for some people, and why is it not for others? Why is it significant to me?

So here's an attempt to break down the basic reality I deeply care about:

/* Warning: it is unnecessarily long, please scroll to the TLDR version for the summarised version*/


Indonesia's Muslim Majority Under "Threat"

Indonesia is a country with 250-260 million people with a great mix of ethnic groups and religions. It has been championed as an example of a thriving democracy, co-existing with the moderate Muslim majority (87.2%). The national motto, established by the first independence fighters back in 1945, translates as "Unity in Diversity".

Indonesia's ethnic and race dynamics can be traced back to a few hundreds years ago. The country was under Dutch colonial rule for around 350 years, during which the colonials established the social hierarchy between the ethnic Chinese, Arabs, Indians, and the so-called local Pribumis. Certain ethnic group could only work in certain areas: the Chinese in trade and business, Arabs in textile industry, Pribumis mostly worked in the fields as farmers. However, having a common enemy to fight off of the land, the people could come together and plurality was championed in the early period of national independence.

Fast forward to recent years, the Muslim Javanese (part of the Pribumi blanket ethnicity) make up the vast majority of the population, and are the de facto political rulers of Indonesia (7 out of 7 presidents have been Muslims and 6 out of them are Javanese). One could also argue that Indonesia has been ruled by a few Javanese political-dynasties, all linked to previous presidents of the country.

You would think that living as a Muslim in Indonesia is all sunshine and roses, with practically nothing in the political, economical, and social system working against the religious group. But take one Muslim from any random town in one of the main islands, and it is highly likely you will find someone who is scared of, or angry at something.

But are these fear and anger founded? Or is the perceived-threat against the Muslim majority just imaginary? In the following sections I will break down the reasons behind this fear, and in the context of creating fake news, how existing sentiments and conditions can be used as triggers for the intended audience.

/* TLDR; it is somewhat founded, but rooted from losing political and cultural power. The Muslim majority should be okay with losing power because the status quo is at the expense of other ethnic and religious groups. */

Becoming Socially and Culturally Irrelevant

Many Indonesian Muslims fear the westernisation of their way of living. TV shows portray materialistic culture with women in skimpy clothing, people are having extra-marital sex, alcohol is sold on the shelves of local convenience stores, to name a few.

Perhaps the most telling sub-topic is the recent scrutiny of the LGBT community in Indonesia. It blew up when one of the conservative newspaper found an LGBT support group in University of Indonesia (UI), and few government and military officials (ministers, generals) publicly denounce the basic rights of the community members. Some things that have been said include:

  • LGBT people have no place in education institutions

  • being LGBT is an infectious disease

  • the LGBT movement is more dangerous than the communists

Now, putting aside the severity of these statements, the fact that people could think "the LGBT movement is more dangerous than the communists" perfectly encapsulates how a "fear of the other" can be blown up to ridiculous proportions.

A little context: Indonesians are taught that the Communists killed our generals and wanted to eradicate all religion.

Yet the reality is, the LGBT movement in Indonesia is far from overthrowing the military and even legalising same-sex marriage. It is still struggling to educate safe sex and eradicate discrimination against queers in workplaces and communities, because it is still legal and normative to do so.

This pattern of exaggerating things they don't understand can also be seen in how often they confuse cause and effect, or generalise multiple "others" as one common enemy. It is not rare to see staunch Muslims in public demonstrations carry signs saying "condoms propagate HIV/AIDS" and "down with Liberal Communists" (I have to insert a LOL here).

This is indicative of how seeing change in socio-cultural values trigger something in the community. Perhaps it is because of the local media, perhaps it is also because the western world keeps showing instances of Islamophobia. It is as if the "original" Muslim eastern values had become unimportant, irrelevant, and the children would grow up in an environment of sin.

But does the degree of fear correspond to reality? As demonstrated in the case of public denouncing of the LGBT community, the social change is most of the time blown out of proportion.

Economic & Political Insecurity

There are many recent examples illustrating how insecure the Muslim working class could be when it comes to their economic and political standing.

One thing to note is that the "culprit" is almost always China and/or the ethnically Chinese. It is not Muslims vs. Jakarta's Christian governor, it is Muslims vs. Jakarta's Chinese governor.

The political fear towards China / the Chinese, I would argue, stems from jealousy towards the economic power of some Chinese-Indonesians. Building upon that jealousy, they fear that the rise of the Chinese's political influence would mean that the country will be taken over and they will lose "even more" economic standing.

But here are some facts:

  • There are very prominent and ridiculously rich Chinese-Indonesian families, but there are many ridiculously rich Pribumi families too.

  • The "economic gap" between the ethnic groups was first created by the Dutch colonials (they segregated races and allocate them in different functions, see first section above).

  • While some Chinese (from China) holding companies have invested in local businesses and startups, no one could prove that the economic value and jobs created are not distributed evenly / meritoriously amongst the population. Also MNCs are essential to the economy.

  • The Muslim Javanese is still de facto ruler of the country (6 out of 7 presidents!).

Will China rule over Indonesia someday? I honestly think they will eventually rule the world. In this global context, perhaps the locality of Indonesia is irrelevant.

But will the Chinese-Indonesians take over the country? Highly unlikely. They are still a very much politically oppressed group.

When you count the number of ethnic-Chinese politicians or government officials, it is definitely far from proportionate to the actual population demographic. Even getting the government to acknowledge 1965-1966 Chinese killings, which is a very important issue to address and acknowledge (it is not on official history textbook), is almost an impossible task for them.

Inability to Separate Religion and State

Officially, Indonesia is a secular state that was founded upon plurality. It was very clear in the early days of independence, as evidenced by the national motto and the choice of using non-majority language as the official language (Malay instead of Javanese).

Unfortunately, for minorities in Indonesia now, most of the populace (including some state judges, even) could not differentiate constitutionality from moral values, which are often dictated by religious tenets. This is has resulted in lawfully questionable actions by the state and the people, like a loosely defined "religious blasphemy" law used to jail a Chinese governor, or in demonstrations demanding for a caliphate in Indonesia.

I would argue that this inability to separate religion and state serves as an enabling factor. It is not a stretch for the populace to think that if their religion is threatened, the country is also threatened. This kind of thinking then would justify forceful assertions based on religious values or considerations. It is as if the country's interest have always aligned with Muslims' religious interest.


But... why does it matter, anyway? Isn't it normal for identity groups to clash for power in a country?

Truth is: the State is Weak, the Majority is Extremely Strong.

In a country where the instruments of law (the police, the court) are the most corrupt institutions, and where nepotism is ingrained in the culture, it is highly important to recognise how easy it is for the majority to assert their will, no matter how unconstitutional it gets. It isn't rare for the majority to violently raid minorities' private residences, often even supported by the police. It is not uncommon for a thief to be violently murdered by an angry mob, instead of brought to a court.

Even the executive branch of the state does not have an incentive to fight for minorities or the underprivileged, as they have a quid-pro-quo with the majority.

So the majority needs to step up and stop fearing the change of values that is slowly but surely happening. And when they resist, they should realise that as the most powerful group in the country, their resistance is often at the expense of minorities.

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