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Spelling out wayang nationalism, pursuing virtual narcissism

Marto Art
26 August 2010



“Give me a thousand people, and with them I will move the Mountain of Semeru. Give me ten young men with passionate love for the country, and I will stun the world!”

—Ir. Soekarno’s speech in the Indonesian Youth Congress, 1932, in Surabaya.



WHAT IS mentioned in Sukarno’s statement above is enough to make me feel confident to define nationalism in a simple way as love for the country. Ir. Sukarno was certainly a serious figure, a strong pillar on which we can depend as we try to perceive what nationalism is. He was a man whose love for his country was beyond doubt. He was also a narrator of Indonesian Nationalism whose mind was by no means shallow.

The classic problem lies in our perception about the teaching of the founding fathers of this country. This perception might have taken a wrong turn somewhere, or perhaps it has never reached any conclusion because the situation keeps on changing with time. Among those misperceptions is one about Soekarno’s teaching on Indonesian Nationalism. As a result, the literary-bent propaganda of the Son of Dawn[1] became a mere old portrait in sepia, far removed from today’s youth. I am also a member of the generation who perceives Indonesian Nationalism as an old portrait; a portrait that has no ability to present the brightness of the Jas Merah,[2] the red jacket,which might make me wear it proudly. Or have we been made short-sighted? For example, it is mind-boggling how few of us realize that Indonesia once had a president named Sjafruddin Prawiranegara, albeit for a mere eight-month period (December 1948 – July 1949). Historians believe that the Republic of Indonesia might never come back to being had the Emergency Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PDRI) not been formed. Sjafruddin Prawiranegara received a direct mandate from Soekarno and Hatta after the Republic of Indonesia fell into Dutch hands after the Second Military Aggression by the Dutch. This means that Bukittinggi, in West Sumatra, was once Indonesia’s seat of government, besides Jakarta and Yogyakarta. This is only one example of the historical short-sightedness, with such a serious case regarding the president and the seat of government. How about the fragments and trivialities of history, then? And what about Indonesian Nationalism?

In truth, no one demands the youth to know all about it. There is almost no motherland-related ideological issues that encourage the youth to use history again as a point of reference, except perhaps due to some naïve  sense of respect toward the jargon of “Jas Merah” or “Jangan sekali-kali melupakan sejarah” (Never-ever forget history), or in the context of enforced ideology of the New Order regime through the obligation to defend the country and the doctrine of P4 (Pedoman Penghayatan dan Pengamalan Pancasila, or the Guidelines for Instilling and Implementing Pancasila), taught in hundreds of hours in total. And even such enforced ideology—fortunately—has failed to create a massive effect on the post-Reform generation. Traces of the effect can only be detected in the spur-of-the-moment sense of solidarity in the face of a perceived threat or when there is a prevailing sense of being victimized.

However, such spirit of togetherness as Indonesians that arises as a result of some perceived threat or one that takes shape instantaneously out of the feeling of being victimizedis not enough to keep the flame of nationalism burning. Instead of assisting the youth in stunning the world, the spirit either wilts or runs wild, exceeding the limits of nationalism. Social psychology has managed to reveal such excesses and show three patterns of the latest form of nationalism. The three patterns are not exactly new; they have been hinted at in the wayang narratives with the stories of Kumbakarna and Gunawan Wibisana in Ramayana, and the story of Karna in Mahabharata. The three of them are icons of certain spirits of nationalism with different patterns either in its implementation or denial.


* * *


To quote Wikipedia—a free encyclopedia with its attending limitations—about the definition of Nationalism is I think still pardonable, because although Wikipedia can be freely edited by just about anyone, itwill not sacrifice the accuracy of their definition of Nationalism by editing and transforming it into the definition of Chauvinism, for example. Besides, Wikipedia is also able to summarize the different meanings given to Nationalism by such thinkers as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johan Gottfried von Herder, Anthony Smith, and Sukarno. Although it does not necessarily constitute a solid agreement on the definition, this is what Wikipedia has to offer in terms of the definition of Nationalism:

“Nationalism is a doctrine that creates and maintains the sovereignty of a state (Nation) by forming a common concept of identity for a group of people.”

—id.wikipedia.org

Using that definition as the point of departure, I will transpose the three wayang characters I mentioned above to the present context of the throbbing nationalism in contemporary Indonesia.


Kumbakarna
Kumbakarna is a native son of Alengkadiraja, the capital of a country that spoils him splendidly. Kumbakarna spends his days sleeping and eating. Indeed, to live a hedonistic life has been his creed—but then this blissful existence is ruined when Rahwana, his older brother, asks him to defend the country. Kosala, a neighboring country, is disturbing Alengka. Ramawijaya is planning to take his wife Shinta, whom Rahwana has kidnapped, back to Kosala. Kumbakarna is apprehensive for a moment, because this is a conflict of passion in which the state should not have been involved. The battle of carnal passions is not the same  as the battle of Carthage.

Of course, Rahwana is aware of that, just as he understands the creed of “Patria ou Morte” or “Motherland or Death” that runs in his brother’s vein. Kumbakarna’s patriotic passion lights up with only a little provocation from Rahwana, who mentions how the Kosala masters of the Aryan race enjoy torturing Tamil slaves, brothers of Alengka, throwing racial insults at the Tamils and calling them monkeys. Kumbakarna soon sets up the Army of Alengka and yells out: “Crush Kosala!”, and, to serve his interest, Rahwana does not fail to remind his brother that no one can be truly free from the intervention of the state if they still choose to live within the state. It means that the task given to him is not entirely detached from the affairs of the state. “Right or Wrong It’s My Country” soon moves Kumbakarna to action. Here the puppet master narrating the wayang story will say: Cancut taliwanda! Sadumuk bathuk sanyari bumi tan belani tumekaning pati! (Make haste! We must defend our Motherland, sacrificing our lives, even if it’s only about a tiny parcel of land!)

Indonesia is a country with millions of young men, and not a few of them act in the way of Kumbakarna. Here the dillema is similar: They perceive the act to defend one’s country as mostly physical because it is easy to bombard their minds with messages of physical struggle. It becomes a hobby of sorts to form militias, and almost a joy to join one. The civilian effort of forming a common national identity as Muhammad Yamin had falteringly taken is yet to become the preferred style in the face of the alluring camouflage uniform of the military. Indeed, Muhammad Yamin was one of the founding fathers of this country who had laid a greater emphasis in the unity of the country in its nationalistic struggle. He was the first one to propose the three important unifying elements, which would subsequently take the form of the Youth Pledge in 1928. According to him, in order to create such unity, five affirming factors would be required; i.e. the history, the language, adat or traditional law, education, and will. There was no mention of militaristic ideas such as the formation of territorial commands or the people’s unifying army. It has been very hard for Yamin’s ideas to take material forms and one can say that they were quite naïve and simplistic for one of the most internally-diverse countries in the world.

Meanwhile, for the young men with the style of Kumbakarna, the easiest interpretation of nationalism can be found in the masses and the camouflage uniforms. Today, the loudest thumps of their patriotic marches can be heard coming from the direction of such organizations as Pemuda Pancasila (Pancasila Youth), Pemuda Panca Marga (Panca Marga Youth, an organization for the sons and daughters of Army veterans), and Angkatan Muda Pembaharuan Indonesia (AMPI, the Indonesian Generation of Restoration, a mass organization). Lately you can also bump into Laskar Merah Putih (the Army of Red and White) and listen to their fervor on laskarmerahputih.com. There is also another version of the virtual patriots on the site of belanegara.net. This latter patriot, however, could not even defend him self from the hackers attacking his site and has thus been forced to reconstruct his site.

Kumbakarna’s version of nationalism must be revisited or at least reviewed, and the militias are yet to do it—but perhaps it is because they do not have enough reasons to challenge it. One can compare this with Kumbakarna’s restricted logic that fails to challenge the arguments of Rahwana as the representative of the state. At first, Kumbakarna held on to the principle that not all wishes of the country need to be defended and to love one’s country does not equal with being obligated to implement all the state’s doctrines. The Alengka Field Marshal, however, eventually chooses to become a robot. The same is true for the militias who defend the country but then the fight narrows down to becoming a blind defense for the government. During the era of the New Order regime, the militias served as the real fascist henchmen: as the foot that kicked the stomach of the challenging workers, the hand that closed the students’ mouths as they voiced their dissents. Here we can better understand Kumbakarna’s version of nationalism, albeit with the addendum regarding his obedience to the state’s doctrine of truth. In the same Ramayana story, such obedience is questioned by Kumbakarna’s younger brother, Gunawan Wibisana.


Gunawan Wibisana
Gunawan Wibisana is a young man who was also born and grew up in Alengkadiraja, the capital of Alengka. The land never has any problem regarding the physical conditions for nationalism to exist, because all of its supporting elements had been there from the beginning. Alengka grew out of a massive, almost-monolithical commonidentity in terms of the race, philosophy, and even region. (It is believed that Alengka occupied the region of today’s Sri Lanka, an island state.) Johann Gottfried von Herder, the German philosopher, called such country as a country with Romantic Nationalism. The opposite is true for its nemesis, the land of Kosala whose capital is in Ajodhya. In Kosala, Sri Ramawijaya must be able to unite and rally a diverse people with many factions, various ethnic groups, a range of races, and even different castes. Rama needs to be able to concoct a certain concept of common identity in order rally his people to face Rahwana. Such common identity can never materialize without relying on two factors: his own charisma and the projection of Rahwana as a common enemy.

The problem with Wibisana is precisely because there is no problem. Wibisana is perhaps the type of young man who studiously learns about policies and finally concludes that the concept of common identity is not important in nationalism; rather, it is the essential truth that he must uphold. Wibisana believes that such essential truth lies on Rama’s side, the opponent of his own brother, Rahwana. Without being truly aware—or perhaps he does not wish to know it—of the history of Kosala, the political arena in Ajodhya, Rama’s life history, the beliefs of the people there, and the existing philosophical conflicts in Kosala, Wibisana moves to the other side. He steps across the border without looking left and right, moving with full conviction in Rama.

Wibisana’s way is the path taken by some Indonesian youths today as they set their sight on Heaven. They discard their nationalism garb and don the robe of radicalism. These youths do not require any concept of common identity and instead embrace heaven-bestowed truth. The path becomes even more alluring especially because the concept of Indonesian togetherness is seen as faltering, while the truth from heaven is supposedly monolithic and meritorious.

Wibisana is certain that his path is the true path, and so are today’s radical youth who set their sight on the heaven. Wibisana there and Wahhabi here. Indeed, it is appropriate to use the Wahhabis to exemplify the youths having Wibisana’s conviction regarding the truth. They reside within an arena called “Conviction” in which there is no ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’, only Convictions; you are either ‘Convinced you are Right’ or ‘Convinced you are Wrong’. Wibisana is convinced that Rama, the reincarnation of Vishnu, “can do no wrong”, just like the Wahhabis believe that the Law of God is never wrong. This is akin to the convictions of the ultra right in other parts of the world: En Dios Confiamos. In God We Trust.

The ‘good news’ is, such conviction has surpassed the spirit of obedience that we see in Kumbakarna, which is restricted by the limitations of the country’s borders. These Wahhabis are never bugged by the debacle about the pendet dance or the patent right of batik. They are not moved by provocation to crush Malaysia or destroy Korea that takes fishes from Indonesian seas. The culture and the richness of the land are mere transient things; it is not their concerns whether or not such richness has been stolen by someone. The concept of brotherhood only applies to the skyward convictions shared by people of the same faith. Their sense of solidarity and concerns are triggered only when, for example, Israel strikes Palestine. The thing that operates here is not a humane sense of solidarity, but rather the perception of Palestine as the representation of Islam. It is about the brotherhood with people of the same faith.

The problem is, the actors of such faith-bound solidarity also repeat the mistake done by Wibisana, who does not move beyond the icon of Sri Rama. Like Wibisana who neither knows Rama inside out nor truly understands the history of Ajodhya, the Palestine-philiasare also ignorant about certain things. They are oblivious, or perhaps do not care, of the fact that their borderless sense of brotherhood is commensurate with the blurring boundaries of beliefs and territories. The Land of Palestine, for example, is home not only to Moslems. Christians living there experience the same oppression. Even more complicated is the fact that there exist bitter internal conflicts among the Palestinian Moslems; there are the Hammas and Al Fatah groups. Which Palestine are they actually defending?

In reality there will always be the same question about the slackness of the nationalism concept. That is also true for the case of Wibisana who is not ignorant about the concept of nation, but feels the need for a new nation. We do not have to explain more about the laxness in the concepts of nationalism believed by the two characters in Ramayana, neither do we need to dwell on the path taken by either Kumbakarna or Wibisana—and such stance is precisely what I perceive from the later style of nationalism generated by the youths who are unlike Kumbakarna or Wibisana, but rather exemplified by Basukarna.


Basukarna
Basukarna or Karna is a character from Mahabharata who exists in an environment that has the opposites of the psyche and homogeneous situation of Wibisana’s country of origin. Karna was born from a mother who feels reluctant to acknowledge him. He has been cast away but then nurtured and even honored by another ‘mother’. The no less complicated new mother is a land called Hastina, a rich but accursed country, rife with grafts and conflicts among the elites. There have also been incessant calls for independence coming from the colonies, commensurate with the oppression from the central government to its people. It is a land with a fragile unity held by thechain of violence.

Basukarna is the personification of today’s youth of Indonesia; the generation that experiences the tangled regulations of the power that be. These young people were born out of New Order’s womb and have been damaged by over indulgence; they were babies who have been abandoned, thrown into the great sea of capitalism. One day, the waves became too big and these babies were transported into the lap of a new mother: the order of half-hearted reforms.

Like Wibisana and Kumbakarna, Karna was born with a certain prowess. Their differences lie in their angst. Wibisana has a religious angst; Kumbakarna, philosophical; while Karna is anxious simply because he is anxious. The narrative of Ramayana is one of an escalating conflict and its resolve, while in the story of Mahabharata, the existing conflict is dampened by means of perfect dialogues of transitions, as evident in the dialogues between Karna and Kunti, and between Karna and Krishna (as well as between Krishna and Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita). Karna is a young man who cleverly disguises the real problem by presenting purportedly legitimate arguments that stupefy his mother Kunti and his cousin Krishna. Karna defends Hastina to the death precisely by keeping the flame of the Bharatayudha war ablaze, which acts as a means to defeat the Korawas’ malevolence. The war also provides him with a safe path to arrive at the end of his life.

The story is not far removed from the tendency of nationalism as revealed by the new generation of Indonesians. They are the youths who skillfully navigate the path of nationalism by avoiding potential conflicts while garnering many friends along the way. Many calls thus arise in the way of ‘Teh Botol’ or the ubiquitous bottled tea, the drink that many Indonesians love to have no matter what the meal. There have been calls to unity, to love Indonesia-made products, to maintain one’s health, to help the education for the poor, to plant trees, to be concerned about natural disasters, et cetera. If these youths want to look heroic at all, the furthest they would go is the antigraft movement. The key word in this movement is ‘populist’, which means that the messages they convey are popular while minimizing the presence of conflict elements—be it conflict regarding internal laxity such as the fact that Palestine does not only consist of Al Fatah, or the conflict from the outside, which is avoided by rejecting any discriminatory stance.

Such showcase of nationalistic concerns—Virtual Nationalism—thrives in the virtual world; a world that is quite comfortable and relatively free from clashes, at least physical clashes. It is a simulated world where it is easy to find friend and define enemies—who are also virtual. The call of “let’s not be afraid” by Indonesia Unite to fight the virtual terrorists seems heroic, but if the actions of Front Pembela Islam (Defenders of Islam) who attack the cafés are not seen as acts of terrorism in the vein of Nurdin M. Top, or if the act of blocking the streets to make place for the Majlis Rasulullah (The Prophet’s Council) sermons is not considered as an act of public disturbance and thus enemy, it is all for nothing. I still await for the activists of nationalistic site such as indonesiaunite.com to take a stance regarding the scheme of supporters of Islamic state such as the Hizbut Tahir. The latter, after all, supports the idea of an Islamic state that clearly clashes with the stance of nationalistic unity held dear by the fellows of Indonesia Unite.

Or does the substance become unimportant here? It is okay if the muscles are strained to the max as long as on the surface the skin remains intact and tight. It is okay if other sites encourage people to topple the government, as long as the red-and-white icon is waving proudly along with the avatars or as wallpapers. I found such a simple, conflict-free intention humbly conveyed on kepakgaruda.wordpress.com, a blog that provides free wallpapers containing pictures and messages of inspirational figures. They write on their blog:

“There is no special expectation that lies at the basis of the choice to embark on the project of ‘Kepak Garuda’, other than simply a wish to share and to leave some slight and tiny traces for Indonesia”.

—Kepak Garuda!

I also found a website of another Karna traveler: indonesiabertindak.multiply.com and hiduplahindonesiaraya.wordpress.com. Both blogs present creative campaigns through visual works. The main idea behind them is to bring back the positive image of Indonesia in the world. So far, however, I still find it difficult to name such positive images of Indonesia, but apparently they have found them. Indonesia Bertindak (literally: Indonesia Takes Action) responds to the bad image that Indonesia has as a country that is not worth visiting due to the threat of terrorism. One of their famous works is their “Travel Warning: Indonesia – Dangerously Beautiful”. Visually, the presentation of the message is just so-so, but this precisely strengthens the text itself. It is a sharp but also cheeky rebuke to those who have affixed a bad label on Indonesia. At the same time, however, the message might obscure the real enemy: the local terrorists with next-door indoctrinations.

Hiduplah Indonesia Raya (from the chorus of the Indonesian anthem, meaning “Long Live Great Indonesia”) distorts the famous work by Milton Glaser “I Love NY”, transforming it into “I Love RI”. This is also a popular visual campaign. It is expected that the message will inspire the T-shirt wearer or the reader to think positively about Indonesia, and then grow to love her. Of course, it will not be strategic to add the text “I Hate Bakrie” as it might create conflict, although the corporation has been evading taxes.

It is all right: apparently the selection of enemies and the categorization of issues have become a kind of political stance adopted by these Karna travelers. Like Kepak Garuda, Indonesia Bertindak and Hiduplah Indonesia Raya similarly say:


“A tiny effort to help create a great Indonesia.”
—Indonesia Bertindak


“[...] to take some positive actions from the smallest things to help Indonesia victorious.”

—Hiduplah Indonesia Raya


Basukarna’s philosophy is indeed the safest one compared to the previous two concepts of nationalism held by the two Ramayana characters. It is the philosophy that perceives the love for the nation as an act of returning kindness instead of an obligation to pay an I.O.U note à la Kumbakarna, or the denial of obedience in the way of Wibisana. These Karna travelers have of course moved beyond the desire to ask for the state’s attention. They prefer to do what they can. In this case, they have already answered John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s entreaty of “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.

Instead of desiring to be noticed by the state, on their site they clearly state their independence from the power that be. They seem to realize that the power holders often meddle in the creative affairs of the young generations instead of supporting them.


Virtual narcissism
Avoiding conflicts seems to be a good intention, but one can also use a sarcastic perspective to view it as an attitude of taking the easy way out: an attitude that will not necessarily give rise to peace. Rather, it will only buy time before the real conflict occurs, while covering the proverbial smoldering coal with chaffs that will naturally heighten its capacity to burn. At the same time, there is also another generation who has become so passionate in their wish to take assaults because they had not been given any space during the previous era; they are the generation whose smoldering religious fundamentalism wascurtailed by the New Order regime. They had knelt down under the oppressive army’s boots but are now able to yell passionately, seemingly backed by the same military officers that had oppressed them before. Meanwhile, the remnants of the old fascist generation that falteringly perceived nationalism with a militaristic outlook are still waving the flag of Indonesian nationalism while gingerly sharing a territory with the supporters of the “skyward nationalism” or nationalism with an eye set on the heaven.

I think it is not too much to say that the situation represents a three-partied ‘cold war’ among the followers of Basukarna, Wibisana, and Kumbakarna, with the virtual arena as their battle field, their Kuruksetra. Indeed, threats and insults are often thrown there, but the three characters have the same patterns of existential combats and image-making efforts. The narcissism of visual wars and showcasing victories has been more prevalent. Apart from that, I just realized that there are efforts to re-process the fading portrait of nationalism in the darkroom of contemporary spirit but using excessive developer. Understandably, the resulting portrait looks “kebrangas”, a Javanese word that describes the skin of a fruit that looks too bright although the flesh is still raw. I do not wish to be involved in this party, albeit involuntarily enjoying the flows and currents of their comradeship. This is because I honestly prefer the sentence that comes after the famous quote from JFK’s inaugural address presented on January 20, 1961:

“[...] Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Perhaps it is a good idea to replace the word “America” with “Indonesia”; but certainly the replacement does not have to represent any state at all. Essentially, “what together we can do for the freedom of man” is what interests me most. I hope for the ‘Freedom of Man’ to manifest as a borderless land, a country with no territorial boundary. Even if this is a utopia, constituting a search without the expectation of finding anything, it will still be a fascinating journey. With or without enemies.

Long Live the Freedom of Man! ***




Jakarta, August 2010





MARTO ART is a writer and illustrator, resides and works in Jakarta. His articles and visual works can be seen on http://martoart.multiply.com.




 


Illustrated by Marto Art


Pemuda Pancasila's logo                            Front Pembela Islam's logo


Kepak Garuda's logos

"Travel Warning" by Indonesia Bertindak


"I love RI" by Hiduplah Indonesia Raya




Translator's notes
[1] Sukarno’s epithet, given because of his time of birth.
[2] “Jas Merah”, which literally means “Red Suit”, was Sukarno’s characteristic play of words, an abbreviation of the Indonesian clause of “Jangan sekali-kali melupakan sejarah”—or “Never-ever forget history”.

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