“It is hard to be different. In this program I was literally forced to be together with a group of people I did not know beforehand in a demanding environment. Most of us came from a very diverse cultural and academic background, though still not as diverse as last years’ delegates. Naturally, those different ingredients, while mixed together, created a fusion of flavors, something one can found enjoyable while others cringe and avoid. My case is more or less the same. USIPP made me realize that we can debate on every single thing in our lives, high pressure, yet surely will be missed. Differences are not there to be fought on, but rather to be understood, and every person can teach us to come to that understanding.”
On religious pluralism
I am a Moslem in Indonesia, a country that is said to acknowledge all religions and facilitate six of them. However, I had almost zero chance of learning other religions, though I was extremely interested in others since elementary school. My father, who is a devoted Moslem once told me that learning other religions is extremely dangerous. In one hand, it can give you knowledge sufficient enough to understand others and build peace, while on the other, you can lose your faith. By that principle, religious studies in Indonesia base their teachings like a horse’s eye coverings. You can only see what is in front of you, while ignoring others so you can walk a straight line.
When I joined this program, I was very skeptical on this point. I thought that it would be like our normal interfaith dialogues, which mostly do not talk about the issues really happening and focus more on diplomatic meetings. In truth, though, it was far different. I was surprised that we had the chance to share a sensitive topic with an open approach. We did not only talk about the legal-formal on-paper religious pluralism, but also on real issues in the field. The one thing that I found most enjoyable in this program is that we had the chance to experience being Jewish, Christians, Moslems, Buddhist, Hindus, and many others all at the same time. It is an exceptional experience that I doubt would ever come again—reciting Jewish prayers, going to Christian sermons, and many others. And from that point, I realized that we are not too different, we are all only looking for solace from the Divine Being.
On democratic society
What is democracy? I am not a Marxist as to believe that forming democracy’s pillar formally would ensure equality and security. I share the same beliefs as Lenin and Nietzsche, that the road democracy leads to is not fixed, be it eventual wider gap or Marx’s utopia. It is all depends on the one leading and the ones being led. On paper Indonesia might be the utopia people longed for, but in fact there are several black holes tried to be covered by the governments in everyway. The saddest truth is that they focus more on covering it rather than actually fixing it.
Conflicts in differences are normal. As Galtung said, peace in a pluralist community cannot be uphold without going through conflicts first. The most important thing is to reduce the level of violence in between these conflicts happening. Conflicts, in some ways, can result positively as well.
The saddest part I found from this program is the fact that many government officials failed to even acknowledge conflicts that had come to the surface. They kept saying that there is no potential conflict in any case that can potentially harm Indonesia’s pluralist society. And, as it is in any pluralist democratic society, politics are deeply influenced by the different backgrounds of the people. Those who will win in politics are the ones who can sympathize more with the citizens, the one that can see the light in a similar perspective as they do, the one that came from a dominant background. If even the ones in charge are turning a blind eye, then how are we supposed to overcome the conflicts?
In truth, the main reason I, a Communication Studies student, joined this program was to learn on Americans and Indonesians democracy with media as its pillars. I did not join this program to learn on legal-formal democracy, but to see the truth of the people reflected in social movements and media. Both countries formed their history mainly by its media, with Indonesian independence based on radio broadcasts and movements by newspapers. However, throughout this program, the one thing that I kept hearing is that any form of media is bad. There had been this high level of media skepticism in the two countries that it is most developed in. For that reason, many of the discussions went one-way, while not seeing the other way around, only from the speaker group’s perspective.
I do hope that this program will be continued next year and includes all democracy’s aspects, including the people and the media, instead of only highliting the ones in high politics.