Blasphemy and Freedom of Speech

The deadly terror attack on French weekly Charlie Hebdo has put the debate over blasphemy back in the spotlight.

Although people across the globe condemn the attack, disagreement persists on whether Charlie Hebdo’s publication of religious caricatures itself was justified.

This disagreement is not alien to the Indonesian public. We had our own debates on blasphemy. The criminalization of Rakyat Merdeka online (2006) and The Jakarta Post (2014) over the publication of certain allegedly religiously offensive cartoons are but a few examples.

In such cases, we deal with the same question over and over again: Does freedom of speech include blasphemy? The answer proposed by some is a simple “No”. Freedom of speech does not include the right to engage in blasphemous activities.

There must be some limit to freedom. As convenient as the answer may be, it cannot withstand logical and practical tests. There are at least two reasons why a more reasonable answer to the question is actually an affirmative one.

Firstly, we cannot cherry-pick which speech acts ought to be free and which not. Something can be offensive only for those who believe in or identify themselves as a part of the entity being offended.
Continue reading Blasphemy and Freedom of Speech

To Bind the Nation’s Wounds

Published by the Jakarta Post on Sunday, August 2, 2014. Accessible on http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/08/03/to-bind-nation-s-wounds.html

There is a tradition among scholars of American politics to rank the country’s presidents based on their achievements. Surveys ask historians, political scientists and lay people to rate how great a president was.

Although consensus is a rare thing in politics, people interestingly seem to agree that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest president the United States has ever had.

Three of Lincoln’s qualities contributed to his high stature before the usually judgmental American public. First, he kept the nation intact during the civil war and maintained people’s belief in democracy. He repeatedly said that the US was an experiment of democracy, a test of whether people could be trusted to govern themselves without the iron hand of a king. He did not want the nation to collapse as it would have meant that the experiment had failed.

Second, Lincoln led the nation to confront and eliminate its darkest side: slavery. He believed that a free country could never be free as long as it allowed people to assume ownership over other people’s freedom.

Third, Lincoln was a man with a big heart. He forgave his political enemies. He even prepared a post-war reconciliation plan full of amnesties for the rebels. His famous saying was, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Continue reading To Bind the Nation’s Wounds

Democracy, Our Memory

Published by the Jakarta Post: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/06/22/democracy-our-memory.html

One of the founding fathers of the US, Thomas Jefferson, wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Such tyrants, Jefferson argues, must be constantly warned that the people are capable of resisting them. What Jefferson doubts, however, is whether the people will choose to resist the tyrants or remain quiet and lethargic.

Jefferson’s statement rings true to any democracy in the world. Democracy is not a static state. There is never a guarantee that a democracy today will be a democracy tomorrow. They die, perhaps more than authoritarian regimes do, and democratic progresses get rolled back all the time everywhere in the world.

Being a democracy means a country has to constantly choose between progressing and regressing. Even old democracies like the US and European countries have experienced this. After half a million casualties in the 1861-1865 Civil War to end slavery, the US had to face the fact that slavery was back in a new form: Southern racism. After the people forgot and politicians ceased to care, African-Americans were second-class citizens for almost a century.

The story of Europe is the same. Torn apart by World War II, Western Europe transformed itself into a bastion of democracy and human rights. However, the recent European elections saw the rise of far-right groups sympathetic to ultra-nationalist ideas. Sluggish economic growth and the decaying memory of the catastrophe ultra-nationalism once brought have contributed to voters embracing the stability these groups seem to offer.

Since no democracy is immune to these choices, it means Indonesia, too, will have to face the test. The upcoming presidential election on July 9 is probably it. We are asked to choose between two men, each with strengths and weaknesses and records of fulfilled and broken promises.

Continue reading Democracy, Our Memory

Tegas

Dimuat di rubrik Opini Harian Kompas, 9 Juni 2014.

Menjelang pemilu presiden 9 Juli 2014, perdebatan tentang sosok presiden ideal makin mengemuka. Selain kualitas umum seperti anti-korupsi dan jujur, beberapa pendapat menekankan pentingnya ketegasan dalam diri presiden mendatang. Pertanyaannya kemudian, apakah tegas itu?

Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (KBBI) hanya memberikan pengertian “1) Jelas dan terang benar; nyata, 2) Tentu dan pasti, 3) Tandas”. Definisi-definisi tersebut tidak terang, tidak menempatkan ketegasan itu dalam konteks. Definisi itu juga membuka peluang bagi dua wajah ketegasan: ketegasan yang mengayomi dan ketegasan yang mendominasi.

Tahun 1962, George Wallace mencalonkan diri sebagai gubernur Alabama. Ia berjanji mempertahankan segregasi ras dan tak membiarkan murid kulit hitam belajar di sekolah kulit putih. Setelah terpilih, ia menepati janji. Bersama Garda Nasional yang ada di bawah komandonya, Wallace menghalang dua murid kulit hitam yang hendak mendaftar di Universitas Alabama.

Di Washington, John F. Kennedy melihat semua itu dengan marah. Sebagai presiden, ia menjamin kesetaraan hak warga kulit hitam. Bertekad menepati janjinya, Kennedy mengambil alih komando Garda Nasional dari Wallace. Ia pun memerintahkan Garda Nasional membuka jalan dan melindungi kedua calon mahasiswa kulit hitam yang haknya terampas oleh rasisme.

Hampir tiga dekade kemudian, di belahan dunia lain, seorang kulit hitam menghirup udara bebas setelah 30 tahun di penjara. Orang itu, Nelson Mandela, tidak lama kemudian terpilih sebagai presiden Afrika Selatan dan harus mempersatukan negara yang dikoyak oleh rasisme.

Continue reading Tegas

Voters’ Homework Ahead of Polls

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/01/18/voters-homework-ahead-polls.html

With the 2014 election on the horizon, more party elites being suspects of corruption and the public perception of parties and politicians at an all time low, one may justifiably wonder if the next election, or any election, can bring real change.

If elections are competitions among parties and if parties are corrupt and untrustworthy to advance society’s interests, how can one expect something good to emerge from them?

Interestingly, that the parties are perceived as untrustworthy cannot be more different than what early theorists of democracy predicted. Early thinkers such as Alexander Hamilton and Henry John Bolingbroke were very worried that parties would be so committed to their constituents so as to ignite hostilities between social groups and collapse the state.

Parties, thus, are evil things that must be halted by installing a magistrate of supreme virtue as ruler whose justness will overcome all conflicts in society.

In Indonesia, we need to look no further than the people who champion a religious state. They believe that a divine law or ruler will solve all the country’s problems. Unfortunately, since mankind is fallible, giving freedom to humans entails giving them opportunities to make mistakes both in their actions and opinions.

No law or ruler, no matter how just or good, can prevent the emergence of disagreement and conflicting interests. Consequently, parties as political vehicles of societal groups will always be different from one another.

Continue reading Voters’ Homework Ahead of Polls

Konvensi Demokrat dan Isu Minoritas

http://satuharapan.com/index.php?id=109&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=10362&cHash=1

Menyambut pemilu 2014, Partai Demokrat menyelenggarakan konvensi untuk memilih calon presidennya. 11 Peserta konvensi telah diumumkan. Ketua umum partai, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, pada awal Juli juga telah menetapkan bahwa pemenang akan ditentukan bukan oleh segelintir elit, tapi oleh survei opini publik. Penggunaan survei ini diharapkan dapat membuka mata partai terhadap sentimen masyarakat dan meningkatkan elektabilitas calon dari Demokrat.

Banyak yang meragukan efektivitas dan intensi konvensi Demokrat tersebut. Beberapa pengamat memandang konvensi hanyalah usaha Demokrat untuk secara instan mencari tokoh. Pengamat lain menilai konvensi sebagai upaya membangun citra partai. Karena konvensi merupakan tradisi yang baru di Indonesia, cukup sulit menilai seberapa terbuka dan serius Demokrat akan menjalankan konvensinya. Namun demikian, bukan berarti kita tidak bisa menetapkan kriteria-kriteria sebuah konvensi terbuka dan melihat seberapa dekat konvensi Demokrat dengan kriteria tersebut. Sejarah panjang konvensi partai di Amerika memberikan kita setidaknya satu indikator penting untuk menilai apakah suatu konvensi benar terbuka atau hanya drama politik.

Konvensi pada dasarnya adalah usaha mengurangi pengaruh elit dan membuka partai terhadap suara pengurus yang lebih rendah dan aspirasi publik. Tujuan utama peserta konvensi dengan demikian adalah menjaring simpati publik serta akar rumput partai dan bukan mengamankan dukungan elit. Sebagai entitas yang lebih besar, aspirasi publik tentu akan lebih beragam baik dalam jenis isu maupun spektrum politik dibandingkan aspirasi elit. Sekalipun elit tidak menganggap penting suatu isu, pasti ada kelompok masyarakat yang menganggapnya penting.

Continue reading Konvensi Demokrat dan Isu Minoritas