14 Desember 2010

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Barongsai’ and Tifatulism threat

Almost every Sunday during the last two months of the year, our two children ask us to take them to Kampoeng China, the popular nickname for a small tourist trap at Kota Wisata, Gunung Putri, in Bogor.
Aside from other things, they want to see the barongsai performance, which is a kind of acrobatic and beautiful dance in which two men wearing a special colorful costume play as a lion.
The dance itself is a Chinese symbol for goodness, peace, prosperity and happiness, and also repels evil.
Aside from the attractive and powerful dance, one thing really grabs my attention: The fact that it is enjoyed by people from diverse backgrounds.
In every single performance we can see women attired in casual Western dress, as well as women wearing Muslim attire, including head scarves.
We can find spectators wearing crosses around their necks, and others with bearded chins and blackened foreheads.
They all enjoy the cultural performance that I am quite sure is also performed by artists from equally dissimilar backgrounds.
They are united by the grace of arts and crafts which are far removed from prejudice and hatred, from the sense of egocentrism that has the potential to trigger conflicts.
Barongsai has been the medium for those people to allow them to forget their differences and share one common thing: The world is a place to enjoy diversity in its most sensible forms.
Not far from Kampoeng China, at Raffles Hills, there is a Muslim boarding house for orphans and disadvantaged children. But, if we take a look at the list of the donors, we find many non-Muslim Chinese. If they are asked “why” they donate, their answers are jokingly simple, “hoki gue jadi nambah”, or it is advantageous for my businesses.
Yet, sociologically, we can easily see that what the Chinese are doing is a kind of mechanism to maintain social balance, rather than a payment for their own security; if the donation is understood partially to be an illegal levy.
In this case, we can also see that a “myth” finds its true meaning and use, i.e. to maintain order in society in accord with the belief held by its certain members.
Another positive consequence of this cross-cultural charity is its capacity to open the eyes of the people who previously tended to be prejudice against certain others.
In my discussion with the board of the boarding house, for example, I could sense their admiration for the Chinese and thus they become more conscious of how cultural differences should never be borders preventing social integration. It is about communication without infidelity or unnecessary interference, a sociability to be practiced by different segments of society.
Back to the above story about barongsai, my children and I will miss the great Chinese martial-arts based performance in the future if intolerance and suspicion spread and drive certain people to harm the show. And the reason is simple: There is now what we can call “Tifatulism”, referring to the current communications and information technology minister, in the way he represents his religious beliefs relating to sociability.
According to Tifatulism logic, a Muslim’s identity should be defined clearly by visible religious symbols and practices.
Similar to Puritanism, to a certain extent, pleasure or luxury are seen as sinful unless they are religiously and legally managed with symbolic procedures.
Consequently, religious discourse with its symbolic and legal-formalistic characters tends to be separated from practices done in the name of God in the real world. Simply put, there is an ambiguity; if it is not hypocrisy.
Yet, what might be very important to be taken into account are the devastating effects of such belief.
We have seen in the history of how cultural heritages were abandoned or even ruined for the sake of one’s belief when a leader had many followers behind him and was acting in the name of God.
We still remember how the Taliban  have destroyed statues, temples and other cultural heritages in Afghanistan because they were seen as not Islamic.
We also can read in history how religious wars devastated many cultural legacies following the coming of certain religions in Indonesia in the previous ages.
Second, if Tifatulism spreads in modern Indonesia, bans and destruction will be common. And we have seen some of this already.
Properness for women, for example, is not defined based on a sound mind, but more on one’s interpretation of certain religious texts of a dominant religion.
Women should not stay out late at night in some regions or they will be fined or legally sanctioned. Even the way someone has to eat is officially managed: He must use his right hand instead of his left one.
If Tifatulism spreads, the Chinese donors in Raffles Hills should stop giving their charity donations because the board of the boarding house won’t accept their money anymore because it is defined as syubhat, something dubious.
Social integration is limited and now the trend is more toward segregation, where people are socially (and therefore, legally) divided into separate groups. We would then likely live in suspicion toward one another.
But, it is about choice, hopefully. For me, I will keep taking my children to see barongsai and asking my friends to welcome any donations for their educational institutions. I believe there are millions of us who will do the same.

We can read in history how religious wars devastated many cultural legacies following the coming of certain religions in the previous ages.

Khairil Azhar, The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.