Something sinister is happening in this country as the presidential election draws near. It is not just smear campaigns, mud slinging, concocted rumors, slander and fear mongering being thrown around in unprecedented proportions in every possible media and communication outlet. It is rather as if a vicious war is being waged between two sides in which the two presidential candidates have become nothing but symbols.
A war that is more about the state of mind of the followers and supporters of either symbol, where the idea of losing is a fearful and unthinkable outcome, rather than a joyful exercise in democracy that normally accompanies this five-yearly exercise.
Instead of a sense of anticipation, the feeling of unity in determining the fate of the nation together, and the optimistic belief that the future will be a better one for the country and the people, there is only growing hatred, panic, desperation and fear in battles being fought, particularly in social media where the battleground is limitless and the ammunition, in the shape of hateful words, is inexhaustible.
What is being fought for here is not the promise and dream of democracy, but who we are and what each of us stand for in this behemoth of a country. A complex search for identity, revealing our confusion and uncertainty at this crucial crossroad of our history.
That there is profound love for this country is unquestionable. How that love is manifested however, differs depending on whether it stems from a source of fear or a source of hope.
It is no longer about Joko Widodo or Prabowo Subianto. It is about the psyche of the Indonesian people whose demons are being forced into the daylight for us to confront. One only needs to ask one’s friend or neighbor, or better still, follow the bitter exchanges on Twitter and Facebook, to know that we are split between two ideas of a great Indonesia.
The first has us fighting against the rest of the world which is trying to steal our wealth, belittle our pride, and make us feel inferior.
It is based on nostalgia for an era of rhetoric where our hearts would swell at the beat of the drum of patriotism. Where life is orderly with a forceful authoritarian figure at the helm, giving us a sense of control and security because we doubt our own ability to shape our destiny.
For this we need the symbols of power, the military uniform, the knight on a horse leading the way. Symbols that perpetuate the positions of the elite. For here is a strong man who can protect you and further your interests in return for your loyalty. For the masses, there is something reassuring in the promise of pride, dignity, strength and identity. It is an opium that makes one feel comforted and important, even if one has nothing to give or contribute to world.
The second idea stems from a desire for change. To have a clean break from the past. To strip away the false pride, the rhetoric and the inferiority complex stemming from hundreds of years of being colonized and subservient, by seizing the future through a complete Mind Revolution and being thoroughly honest and sincere with ourselves.
This vision for a great Indonesia is not an abstract concept nor does it require us to live in denial and delusion. It does not revive the demons of past fears nor succumb to the weaknesses of prejudice and mental laziness.
Instead, the second vision is one of honest hard work. Of building roads, bridges, ports, and markets one at a time. Of correcting mistakes one at a time. Of strengthening democracy and taking responsibility for our freedom one person at a time. Of developing the Indonesian people one citizen at a time.
So the country can truly play a role among the family of nations as equals, no longer with anything to fear.