August 7, 2012
A nation without trust is a nation without a future
by Karim Raslan@http://www.thestar.com.my
“In Indonesia, I’m impressed by how different faiths engage in a mutually-respectful, two-way dialogue and how they interact on a regular basis. It’s something I don’t feel in Malaysia… A nation without trust is a nation without a future.”
IT’S Ramadan. I’m in Jakarta, driving through Menteng when I spot a large banner hanging outside a church: “Selamat Menunaikan Ibadah Puasa.”
There’s a small church logo in one corner but we drive off before I have time to check whether it’s a Protestant or Catholic congregation. Wherever I am in Indonesia however, I’m impressed by how different faiths engage in a mutually-respectful, two-way dialogue, how they interact on a regular basis. It’s something I don’t feel in Malaysia.
With another Merdeka Day around the corner we seem to be still debating about what it means to be Malaysian. As always, I find myself comparing our concept of national identity to how it exists in Indonesia.
South-East Asian stories on the struggle for independence and nation-building tend to focus on how the majority communities have coped with these transitions.
As such, figures from these communities tend to dominate their histories.In Thailand, the heroes are generally Buddhist (and royal); in Malaysia, they’re Malay-Muslim and in the Philippines, they’re Catholic.
Indonesia, however, bucks the trend: their heroes come from all hues and creeds and in a recently released film, titled Soegija, we’re presented with a quintessentially Javanese figure, a Solo-born Roman Catholic priest who earned the respect and friendship of senior Republican figures while ensuring that his “flock” were at the very core of the national narrative.
Born to a Muslim family in 1896 and initially named Soegija, he later added “Albertus” and “pranata” (i.e. “prayer” or “hope”) after his baptism and ordination respectively, becoming Albertus Soegijapranata (right).
According to novelist Ayu Utami’s biography, Soegija converted to Catholicism when he was 14 and was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1931.
He rose meteorically up the church hierarchy to become apostolic vicar of Semarang and later its archbishop – the first indigenous Indonesian to hold such exalted positions.
Soegija won wide respect for his courage during World War II, working to protect the church from Japanese persecution. Prescient and bold, he also chose to side with the Republicans during the Indonesian revolution, winning the enduring trust and friendship of President Sukarno, among others.
Soegija also championed the use of Bahasa Indonesia in local services. He witnessed the election of Pope Paul VI and participated in the Second Vatican Council, which heralded unprecedented changes in the church.
The years of tireless work caught up with him however and he passed away in the Netherlands on July 22, 1963. His body was returned home where he was declared a national hero and buried in the republic’s pantheon at Giri Tunggal.
Soegija blended his Catholic faith with his Indonesian identity.Indeed, his credo, “100 percent Catholic, 100 percent Indonesian,” still resonates with Catholic Indonesians today.
He saw no contradiction between his indigenous heritage and his faith: being equally comfortable playing the gamelan for Mass as he was reading St Albertus Magnus (from whom he took his name).
Examining Soegija’s life, I cannot help but feel that Indonesia’s approach to race and religion is far better than Malaysia’s. Catholics are clearly in the minority in both countries: they are less than 3% of the population in Indonesia and officially just over one million in Malaysia.
Still, Catholic Indonesians are woven into the fabric of national life. Figures such as the Wanandi brothers, Soe Hok Gie and his brother Arief Budiman, as well as military heroes like Agustinus Adisucipto and Slamet Riyadi highlight the breadth and depth of the community’s contributions.
Of course, Indonesia has had its history of ethnic and religious persecution. But Catholics like Soegija – with his very Javanese-like humility and good humour – are unmistakably Indonesian and respected by all.
It’s hard to think of a Malaysian counterpart for him. Indeed, the sad fact is that many Catholic Malaysians are still, more than half a century after our Independence, regarded as outsiders, even alien.
All the same, it’s sad when non-Muslim Malaysians in general are still regarded with hostility and suspicion by some quarters.A nation without trust is a nation without a future.
How did this happen? It’s to do with the choices we make as a nation. Indonesia chose to make its national identity available to anyone who would take the name of “Indonesian” without any cost to his or her ethnicity or religion.
Malaysia, too, gave formal citizenship to its diverse peoples, but race and religion still made a difference whether one was embraced or excluded from the national life. Which approach is better? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.