Writer's Block: On Being Free

By : Desi Anwar | on 10:54 AM January 25, 2014
Category : Opinion, Columns

Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World 2014” report, which classifies a country as "free," "partly free" and "not free" based on both political rights and civil liberties, lowers Indonesia’s status from "free" to "partly free." The reason for this drop of status is “due to a new law restricting the activities of nongovernmental organizations.”

I would add, we are ‘partly free’ because we have no idea what to do with the freedom that we have. The inability of the state to follow the Pancasila ideology is whittling at the country’s democracy and freedom, not to mention the country’s foundation. Being the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, we pride ourselves of our brand of Islam, which is moderate. In reality, we already have Shariah law in Aceh, while more and more local governments around the country are leaning toward laws and regulations favoring the religion of the majority rather than respecting equally all the other religions as stipulated in the Pancasila ideology.

Indonesia willingly makes herself less free when she allows herself to be highjacked by a majority of people who see their fellow countrymen as less equal before the law if they are deemed not equal before the eyes of God.

Moreover, although we have achieved democracy, in that we have an elected and democratic government, there is a consensus that Indonesia, as a country, is still not free. The word for Freedom is Merdeka which contains within it the spirit to fight against injustice and oppression, initially against colonial rule. Indonesia has successfully freed herself from foreign rule and later, from an authoritarian regime, and yet, until now she has not entirely freed herself from poverty, injustice and inequality.

On other things, however, there can be too much freedom around. Another word for freedom is kebebasan , which can have a negative connotation. (For example, in seks bebas — that horrific idea of having sex before and outside marriage, as practiced by immoral Westerners and now rampant in Indonesia).

Kebebasan yang kebablasan or ‘freedom out of control’ is often decried by those who long for the ordered and more predictable state of things during the autocratic Suharto era.

Then there is the freedom to abuse one’s power, seen in the parade of lawmakers and public officials who blatantly exercise their appetite for greed by enriching themselves and plundering the state coffers, just because they can. In this democracy, with power comes not responsibility but the ability to do as one pleases.

Conversely, the government also often complains that the freedom of the Media in this country is out of control, simply because of the plethora of unwelcome criticisms and complaints directed at the rulers. While the Indonesian Press is good at being the country’s watchdog, the cut-throat competition and the sheer number of media players means that sensationalism often passes itself off as journalism.

More worrying is the government’s often weak stance against those who are willfully intolerant, in the name of allowing freedom of expression. Silenced in a more oppressive regime, these groups use their freedom in a democratic environment to put their prejudices and discrimination into action by bullying and depriving the minorities of their equal rights and curbing their freedom, just because they can and can get away with it.

Too much freedom is also given to ignorant and short-sighted lawmakers who impose their narrow values on the country through silly policies. For instance, despite the increase in education budget and all sorts of educational reforms, Indonesian 15-year-olds come bottom in the international PISA tests on science, math and reading, as educators prefer to improve the quality of the people through religious education over the acquirement of practical knowledge.

As it is, we fail miserably. Not only do we rank as one of the most corrupt countries, we also rank as the most stupid.

Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV. She can be reached at desianwar.com or dailyavocado.net.

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