Thursday, February 24, 2011

Breakin' Rocks in the Hot Sun

Well it's been a somewhat less than enlightening time in Indonesia over the last couple of weeks. The Youtube video of the Ahmadiyah killings certainly gave me a few nightmares and made me wonder about the new religious orthodoxy sweeping the nation in a scrum of white robes, wispy beards and incandescent rage ready to boil over and be directed against anyone who has the audacity to hold different beliefs.

The philosophical argument that orthodox religion makes people less, rather than more moral is one that I, as a card-carrying infidel, fully subscribe to. Given that our morality, like our physical bodies, has evolved and is innate, we should have the courage to rely on our own convictions and judgements.

In contrast, dogmatic beliefs demand that the faithful follow rules strictly, like automatons, without thinking or questioning why they are taking certain courses of action, or why certain acts are either moral or immoral. Fundamentalists lack moral finesse and depth as a result. Their morality is merely reactive. What Nietzsche dubbed a slave morality.

Well that's enough from Atheism 101 for another week. The president is quite rightly copping plenty of flak over the incident. As the philosopher Hegel pointed out, the most dangerous ideology to any government is its own. For example, despite the still stubbornly persisting anti-communist rhetoric, I think it is fair to say that communism is not a major threat to Indonesia these days. There certainly aren't any on the political scene, as there still are in other countries.

 No, the real threat to Indonesia’s elites is the ideology that they actually pledge their allegiances to, namely secular democracy. It’s a threat because people might have the audacity to expect their leaders to live up to these ideals, and actually do what they say they're going to do.

So will the Indonesian public at large rise up once again and walk like Egyptians? Well they are certainly down with the whole social media thing that's supposed to be so potentially insurrectionary these days, although I'm not sure that for the most part it actually stretches much beyond taking a picture of the ‘soto ayam’ that they had for lunch on their Blackberries and then posting it up on Facebook under a status update that says, "This is what I had for lunch, yummy!"

And what of the actual forces of law and order, the police, what were they doing during all this mayhem? Well they were standing by in their ill fitting brown shirts, with epaulettes the size of Korans, and watching it all happen it would seem. Possibly they have sympathies with the rioters, I mean there are plenty of circumstances under which an Indonesian policeman won’t think twice about kicking seven shades of crap out of somebody, you just ask Amnesty International.

Ultimately though, what the apoplectic critics of the police force that have filled the media over the last week have failed to grasp, is that the actual law is largely irrelevant to most things that happen in this country. The police force has been essentially privatised here, and the public can avail themselves of a full range of law enforcement services, which can be bought for an easily payable, interest free fee. Simply pop into your local police station and pick up a price list. I believe there's a 30% discount this month on having a bothersome business partner arrested on the flimsiest of pretexts and then banged up in the slammer.

Thankfully, I've never enjoyed the edifying experience of having an Indonesian policeman’s size 9 wrapped around my ear hole. Although, over the years, I have been stopped more times than I care to recall in those classic, late night ID checks. If the policeman rejects your photocopy, the only way out is, as the British euphemism goes, to "Buy a ticket to the policeman's ball." God knows when this Indonesian policeman's ball is actually going to take place, but they’ll need to hire Gelora Bung Karno stadium on the big night in order to accommodate the crowds.

The main reason for such late-night tappings on the driver's side window in any normal country would be to administer a breathalyser test. However Indonesian law enforcers generally seem unusually unconcerned about being confronted with a motorist driving with one eye open, who greets them with a hiccup punctuated, "Malamat Salam." Strange really, as our brave boys in brown could surely rake in a fortune if they attempted to actually enforce drink-driving laws here.

My most recent run-in with the cops here came after I executed a U-turn I apparently shouldn't have.
"Mister, look at the sign, no U-turn."
"Ah, I see now, yes there is a sign there, not the most visible of signs it has to be said, what with it being unlit and at night time, and I also see that it's been deliberately bent behind the tree in front of it so that no one can see it."
"You can help me Mister?"
"You pay now."
"Just enough for one packet of cigarettes, come on Mister!"
"Lord almighty, have some dignity man."
Thus it ever was and ever shall be. Amen.