Last night I had a rather annoying little nightmare. But first, some background. The day before yesterday, I learned something rather upsetting from the Jakarta Post. Since Indonesia has six state religions and Indonesian schools have a lot of religion education, I had taken for granted that all children get to learn about all six state religions.
The day before yesterday, I learned that this is not the case. On the contrary, all children learn only about the religion of their parents. They are actually barred from learning about the other five state religions!
What if a child’s mother and father belong to different religions? Well, then the child is probably not allowed to go to school in the first place: The parents are not permitted to get married without one of them changing religion first, the hospitals are reluctant to give birth certificates to the children of unmarried parents, and schools are getting stricter and stricter with demanding birth certificate from the students. If the child gets to go to school, he or she will still count as the illegitimate child of one of the parents (usually the mother) and be defined as belonging to her religion.
So, anyway. Each child gets to learn only about the religion that the child is considered to belong to. Not learning anything about the other religions. And the education is all about making the children believe in the religion. Thus, including children of other religions could be seen as an attempt to make them convert to that religion.
This was news to me when I read about it I The Jakarta Post, so I asked several of my Indonesian friends and coworkers about it. They all confirmed that yes, that’s the way it works here. And they have never really given it any thought, because to them it’s simply how things are. One of them had even taken for granted that it works the same way in Sweden, and in all other countries. It does not. On the contrary, religion class in Swedish schools teaches about all religions. This is considered important, because if we don’t know about a religion we will be prejudiced and suspicious against the people who follow it.
This was also the main point of the article in Jakarta Post: If the current system doesn’t outright make people prejudiced and hateful against each other (which it probably does), then it still fails to help them overcome prejudice. The children need to learn about all religions, and learn in a way that teaches ABOUT the religion rather than teaching IN the religion. Trying to convert them to six different religions at once would indeed be confusing and pointless, but they need to know about what others believe. Know about it in a neutral way, not a way that portray one culture or religion as being superior or inferior to any other.
Dividing people, making them identify with their own group and keeping them from knowing about the other group… There have been so many psychological experiments that has proven that this is a sure way to create conflict and mistreatment, a sure way to make people mistrust and dislike each other. It goes against the basic teachings of Pancasila, the national philosophy of Indonesia. This country is trying it best to live up to its motto of “Unity In Diversity” and to be a good democracy. Why would such a democracy create a destructive system like this. Well, to put it simply: It didn’t.
As I asked around about the origins of the policy, I was told it was created by the Suharto regime. The bad old dictatorship, ruling by “Divide and conquer”. It stayed in power by turning its victims against each other, and this education policy was one of its tools for that. However, Suharto and his lackeys didn’t cook this up on their own. The colonial regime laid the groundwork. Not only for the use of “Divide and conquer” policies as such but also of misusing religion education as a way of dividing the people. I the colonial regime, their lackeys went to catholic schools and learned only about Catholicism, while the most of the people didn’t get to go to school at all. Some boys (but not girls, until Kartini) were allowed to attend Islamic pesantren schools, where they learned only about Islam.
Please note that except for the part about Kartini, the entire last paragraph is just hearsay. Things I have recently heard from various people who I have reason to believe that they know what they are talking about. I would like to know more about these issues, and I’ll keep looking for more information on these topics. Your opinions, experiences and any credible written sources you provide are all much appreciated.
Back to my own life. Yesterday I told one of my friends about the article in Jakarta Post. But we were sitting in a restaurant, so she simply asked me to change the subject. Afterwards she explained that education of religion is a sensitive topic, so she had been afraid that some other visitor would overhear us and launch a physical attack for talking about such a topic.
The night between today and yesterday, I dreamt that I was defending someone in court. It didn’t matter who I defended or from what charges, this was just business as usual. However, the prosecutor refused to talk about the case. Instead, he built his argument on trying to convince the jury that I am worthless and evil, so if I’m defending someone then it must mean that this someone is guilty. It didn’t matter to the prosecutor who I was or who I defended from what charges, this was just business as usual.
Waking up from this dream, I was feeling very tired of my life. It has been very long since the last time I felt that way. The problem is that the dream is true. To challenge the expressions of categorism – prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, marginalization, certain kinds of conspiracy theories and so on – is to make oneself a target.
When you question categorism, people will attack. And they will not attack your arguments, since they would not win an honest debate. People who cling to their expressions of categorism will say that they are right because you are evil (or any specific label they bother to come up with) and that they are right because they will beat your worthless little head into ground meat. Some who use this method will use it to persuade themselves and others that they are right and that you are wrong. Others will not bother with getting emotionally involved. They will simply go through the motions because it gives them power or because it is the job they are expected to do.
Many will also try their best to avoid finding out what your position is: If you are not with them then you are against them. There are always a lot of conflicts where people on both sides will demand that everyone hate the other side. If you argue against this, aggressive people on both sides will take for granted that you are secretly a member of the other side. In Sweden, it is currently becoming more and more mainstream to hate either Jews or Muslims. People who fight against antisemitism will spread antimuslimism, and vice versa. And if you don’t share the hatred, you will be labeled as a “Kulturmarxist” (“Cultural Marxist”), a word invented by Hitler’s Nazi Party.
This week, my future has seemed so clear. And it still is. The dream was an important reminder that the path I have chosen includes having to deal with a lot of bullshit. Hatred, personal attacks, accusations of all kinds, and so on. But it doesn’t change anything. I already knew that I need a strong network of allies, and I have that already. It just has to keep growing stronger. And I already knew that I need to be careful to minimize the risks and to pick my battlegrounds. I am trying to do that, within reason. Limiting my life or work simply because some people might take offence or find an excuse to attack me is to give them power they don’t deserve. I don’t want to distribute more than necessary of such rotten power. The balance is a thin line to always walk on.
Most importantly, we should all try to understand each other and dare to talk about things. We need mutual respect, not merely “I won’t tell you how much I hate you, and I expect you to shut up as well”. Knowing about different faiths and systems of belief is a good start.