Jakarta’s Gridlock

What’s today? 4th of November.

You knew something was about to happen if you live in the second largest metropolitan area in the world on that day. Jekardah.

It’s the day your world turns into another coin: one side is the people who would do whatever the Qur’an says and would rather punish someone who doesn’t quite understand it than to forgive that person, and on the other, the people who hate the idea of extremism and like to rub it in these extreme believers’ faces with their liberal jokes. It’s the day your corporate friends don’t have to go home after midnight again. No school too. It’s the day your expat friends get warned a few times from their embassies. It’s the day they put wires at all gates in Plaza building, BCA tower, Kempinski. It’s the day you don’t see anyone doing yoga on Friday night. Starbucks and McDonalds in Sarinah are not 24/7 alive anymore. It’s the day Jakarta’s hedonism in Grand Indonesia and all malls dies. It’s the day your Chinese friends tell you that their cars were destroyed on the street after 8pm. It’s the day you don’t have macet on Friday. Indeed, it’s a weird day, I thought.

What happened?

Did it all begin by something Ahok said? Perhaps. But it didn’t seem to end there. Something else must’ve provoked over 100,000 men and women of all ages to march on the street of Thamrin yesterday. I was one of them though, except I didn’t wear that white uniform after Friday prayers and yell “Allahuakbar send him to jail or kill Ahok.” To my surprise, it came from a young girl’s mouth.But still, I let my curiosity lead my feet from Sarinah to Bank Indonesia and blurred into the white ocean.

Why was I there? I was intrigued.

I wanted to have a different experience than just watching what was happening from 25th floor of one of those towers or from the screen of my smartphone and TV. I got what I wanted. I got to see this chaos from the inside. A few helicopters flew above us, people shouted, “I see snipers hiding there. And there too.” And young girls shouted, “Kill Ahok! He is evil” and some people waving Palestinian flag (this I don’t get). I still don’t know why but assuming I live in one of the world’s most democratic countries, you just can-do-anything. And as someone who values democracy, the moment I sank into was a sure sign that my people were making such a significant improvement in translating ‘democracy’. The show I was a part of for a while was spectacular. The protest went extremely well and I was just as impressed as everyone else. Then most people went home around 6ish pm. So I left.

True. It was peaceful. Until a few hours later.

Things had changed.


Why extremists or mad muslims? Why not Islam warriors?

If you’re one of the people who have been a little offended by the way I choose to call this group of people, I’d like to clarify. I’m only using this term on anyone who still lives in a cave that the only way to defend God is by going after someone and his race. If destroying someone else’s property and vehicles sounds the ideal way of defending God to you, then you are an extremist. And I cannot program myself to like it. I condemn violence. I condemn everyone who believes it’s the only way to deal with a problem. I condemn people who don’t believe in the act of forgiveness. And I’m desperately hopeless to see my friends ruining the color of Bhinneka in my world.

Why am I bothered?

I could care less about what happened and continue to do be the best Carlos I can be. But I am bothered by the way we define ‘defending God’. I don’t know how you define it, but to me, defending God is when you pay your Zakat accordingly, be the good humane muslim that you already are. Never had I seen God this angry that He wants his people to threaten someone else’s life. I’m afraid if we’ve failed to grasp this now, we might fail again tomorrow, and our kids, their kids.

How I learned about minority:

I had the easy way. I was born and raised in a Muslim family, the same as the other 202 million folks. Everything is convenient for whoever belongs to majority whever you are in this world. I grew up learning that it was okay to judge the way how my Hindu neighbors pray with the burned incense. How Christians sing to their God. Seen through the lens I used forever ago, it was somehow strange how they prayed, ‘to a statue?’, i used to ask myself. I forgot to look at myself from the outside too, that, maybe all these moves during Shalat may seem a little strange to them. My point: whatever we do OUR way is the only thing that seems right until we step outside. I want to always be reminded that we were raised in different houses, grew up hearing and speaking different languages at home and school, and learned about God in different ways, or maybe not at all. Most of us didn’t get to choose what to believe in. We do it mostly because we are told to. We hate things too much, things that are different, things we don’t understand yet. Maybe it’s time to question ourselves again if it’s the best act of tolerance we need to show the world.

I didn’t learn how it felt to walk in ‘minority’ shoes until 10 years later when I had the privilege to study abroad in a country where millions of islamophobes live. I strived to understand that it was damn hard to be the minority, to pray alone on the grass in front of Lincoln Memorial and being watched because time and place didn’t allow me to do it elsewhere. It was always hard and easy, hard because you’re always alone looking for a place to pray, asking the teachers if it’s okay to talk to your God for 10mins during her class. Easy because my family was beyond supportive when it comes to finding places to pray or prepared Muslim-friendly food for me. Being minority is hard. Recognizing their existence is harder.

That’s how I began to try to listen more to anyone labeled as minority. The great experience I had inspired me to start something small. I was fortunate to have been able to manage interfaith group discussions in my country. I’m glad I could bring students from around the world to discuss what we call as ‘faith’ in our society over a mature discussion. I’m pleased to see Pope pictures with Imam Bashar. I’m happy to see those colors unite in ways we can’t describe. And I’m proud I still do that today because it gives me hopes. It helps me to see the world as an indivisible whole. It just happened that ‘God’ was introduced in different names, in different books, by different people, according to where you live.

My point: say what you wll about accusing Ahok of insulting our Al-Qur’an but if you choose to look at the big picture through a much more mature lens, perhaps that’s not even what he meant to say. And anyone could be wrong. It could be me, or you, misinterpreting something on the Bible in Italy for instance? And if anyone ever made mistakes, what else is left other than apologies. And I swear I have not seen anything wiser and more beautiful than the act of forgiveness in this entire universe. My dear friends whose love I constantly feel, maybe learning to forgive is not the hardest thing afterall, if we try. My God and yours wouldn’t ask for more.

Forget about the political agenda behind the scene. I still can’t seem to accept that going after someone AND his race violently is the best language we know just to tell someone ‘hey you’ve messed with my Qur’an now let me send you to jail or even kill you.’ Just because there are anti-Islam movements elsewhere, doesn’t mean we have to do the same. If we’ve failed to understand each other, there must be other ways to address that to ensure we don’t pass this hate onto the next generation, and generations after. Imagine what we all could achieve if we put this aside. We could cure cancer together. We could find ways to send everyone to good schools. We could find ways together. Only if we could evaluate ourselves. Instead we’ve let hate grow inside of us.

The sole reason why I’m writing this is to get my message across. That I’m terribly saddened. Nothing else. These were my friends who yelled on the street or raged on their social media wanting to punish someone, someone they barely know, fueled by anger around them, seasoned by hate. I was ashamed to call it a peaceful protest when things started to go terribly wrong that night. I hated to see cops and wires as if we’re all under attack.

We’ve been trying hard to maintain that harmony. There’s a reason why we’re called great a thousand times every time someone walks over the Cathedral and be stunned by that great Istiqlal at the same time. The fact that the world’s largest Buddhist temple is in this beautiful country. That in Lombok, there are Hindu temples Muslims can use to pray, to talk to the Islam God.

We’ve come so close to losing that harmony I’m afraid.

By now, I’m sure everyone who’s been annoyed by the news has been removing and blocking friends. I know I should be careful of what I choose to write, or the way I speak my mind on topics I give a damn about. I’m not trying to win an argument over who’s judgemental or who needs to read Al-Maidah again.

Allow me to leave this piece here for anyone who cares enough about what the future may look like if we didn’t learn from what’s happened yesterday.

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