Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ants (by Lori)

We have alot of ants. Most are very small, and some are a similar size to what we had in Ontario. The little ones have a shocking ability to get into places that you thought were safe. We take care to cover all food that is outside the fridge. The minute a pack of cookies or crackers or even gum is opened, the leftovers have to be put in the fridge. After each meal we have to be meticulous about cleaning up, wipe tables (and kids mouths, and shirts) and sweep. Should we fail to do any of these, disagreeable are the consequences which we shall surely face. Here is one such story.

Yesterday I bought a bag of candy (of the sweet and sour variety) and left the open bag on the kitchen counter. Now, after my first paragraph you are asking, why would she do that? Because most of the candy one buys here comes individually wrapped, so that you buy a bag of individually wrapped candies (not the kind that you can open by stretching the 2 sides apart, but the truly, completely sealed kind). My daughter asked for a candy today after dinner, and I agreed. She took it herself and was asking me to open it, when she starting crying. While waiting for me to get the scissors, she had put the wrapped sweet in her mouth. By the time I got to her she had ants on her shirt, on both hands, and on her tongue! We acted quickly to get them out of her mouth first, and then took care of the rest. As soon as we got them out of her mouth, she was fine - no lasting distress. Not so true for me!

It is times like these that remind me that I am not at home. Sometimes I get very tired of constantly having to be on top of things - and its not just the ants - its checking the beds every night before we go to sleep, for bugs, its the foot long lizard in the back room, the mosquito larvae that live in our bak, the neighbour's dog which has a regular case of worms, the daily smell of burning garbage, plastics, and other toxic stuff, the reality of earthquakes, political sensitivity and the fact that we are very obvious foreigners living in a majority muslim country - the list goes on. No, I don't want to come home yet. Yes, I still enjoy living here. But every once in a while I crave the ability to take a walk outside without being an object of interest, drink water from household taps, to experience a good old fashioned snow storm that will kill off most of the bugs and share the road with people who have actually taken driver training.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Visit to the village

Today we went to visit the home of Ibu Wahl, the woman who helps us with our meals. She lives with her mother and sisters in a village just outside of Jogja. We had a good time visiting and being shown around the area. I will keep this short and recommend checking out the pictures.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bridge-building Conference

This past week, I have been attending a conference organized by the Religious Studies program (CRCS/ICRS) at Gadjah Mada University. The conference was the conclusion of a series of meetings that brought together religiously affiliated people that might not otherwise meet. There were Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. There were people from different parts of Indonesia as well as from the U.S., Europe, Chile, Egypt and Singapore. There were academics, social activists, journalists and politicians. There were also people from across the political spectrum ranging from self-identifying liberals to conservatives. In one respect, the actual topic of the conference was less important than the fact that such a diverse group of people gathered together over four days to talk to each other.

The topic was 'Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities For Religions' and included sessions on the media, youth and education, environment, poverty, religious symbols and identity. Presenters represented a variety of organizations including leading newspapers (The Jakarta Post, Kompas), NGOs (Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Humanitarian Volunteers Network [Christian]), as well as more activist organizations like the magazine _Sabili_ and the organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

While the aim of the meetings and conference was to bring together a variety of people in order to encourage conversations on a variety of topics, the conference was dominated by the issue of Globalization and Islam. In large part, this issue was the result of the presence of the editor of 'Sabili' and the representative from Hizbut Tahrir.

'Sabili' is an Indonesian magazine that is at the forefront of Muslim radicalism. It gives a steady diet of anti-Western, anti-Zionist, anti-Christian articles that are quite inflammatory. They have listed the names and addresses of Christian churches which are to be targeted by militants. In his session, the editor gave a presentation that told us how globalization was a tool of the West to destroy Muslims. He was also very vocal in expressing his opinions regarding the positions of others. It was inevitable, then, that at least part of the conference would gravitate towards responding to his position.

I had a hard time getting a read on this fellow. It was clear what he thought of the West and globalization, but his comments on other religions were far less extreme than what one finds in 'Sabili'. 'Sabili' is a business and needs to sell copies, and I had the distinct impression that what I was hearing was less personal convictions and more of a show, or advertisement. For example, at one point this fellow became so upset with how other Muslims were using the name 'Islam' that he stood up, shouted his objection, and threatened to leave if people didn't change. The response of the crowd, the vast majority of whom were Muslim, was to start laughing. My guess is that this was not a nervous laughter but laughter at the show of indignation. I suspect that many people read 'Sabili' not because they agree with the articles, but because they are entertained by the outrageous claims being made. This does not mean that 'Sabili' is innocuous, it had a role in the destruction of churches, nor is the editor a buffoon, his influence among Muslims is considerable. Rather, in my opinion, the role of extremism in Indonesia is not a simple one. A few people are inflamed by 'Sabili' leading to acts of violence but almost without exception these are clearly disenfranchised individuals. They are angry at the West, at Christians, at other Muslims, and are looking for someone or something to channel that anger. Yet, the vast majority of Muslims in Indonesia, while most likely sharing some resentment of the West, would reject the extremism of 'Sabili'. This would be something like people who read supermarket tabloids. They may suspect there are secrets and conspiracies, but most likely don't believe that world leaders are really aliens.

The other force at work in the conference was the presence of Hizbut Tahrir. HT is a Muslim organization working towards the formation of a Caliphate, that is, a transnational state of Muslims led by a single individual, a Caliph. HT is banned in a number of Arab countries but is being 'watched' by the U.S. and European countries. It explicitly rejects the use of violence against innocent people but, as someone put it, creates an environment where there are not many innocent people. Currently on its website, HT has articles explaining the plan of the West to destroy Islam as well as how India is an enemy state. A year ago, HT held a rally in Jakarta in support of forming a Caliphate and 100,000 people attended. (The free meals may have had something to do with the participation of many.)

The representative of HT gave the sort of presentation one might expect on globalization, but reserved part of his speech for urging the adoption of sharia by all Muslims. In particular, he emphasized that the Quran was very clear what was meant by sharia. This is important because there is a raging debate going on in Indonesia regarding sharia. Several parts of Indonesia have been given permission to institute sharia but the question is, which sharia? While many Indonesian Muslims are open to sharia, most disagree with some of its traditional forms. So the question people are debating is whether sharia has one universal form or is it always translated into cultural settings. In particular, the arguments center around the role of women, the nature of punishment, openness to conversion out of Islam, and the place of non-Muslims. Once the issue of sharia was introduced by the representative of HT, it repeatedly arose throughout the rest of the conference. At one point, as Muslims were debating, a Hindu friend leaned over and asked me when this became a conference on Islamic law. As the conference concluded, one participant explained to all the non-Muslims present that the truth of sharia was not just for Muslims, so everyone could accept it, which I thought was very generous of him. On the other hand, there were many Muslims who vigorously objected to this understanding of sharia and Islam. So, while listening to HT was a bit disheartening, the response was encouraging.

The conference organizers consciously avoided any reference to 'dialogue', a word that is anathema to some participants. Rather, the goal was to get people like those from 'Sabili' and HT, into the same room with people from other religions, with the hope that talking to each other might help overcome some of the distance between groups. I was told that there was some evidence of improved relationships and I would like to think that this is true. As with most conferences, the quality of presentations was uneven, but the event was well worth attending for the insight it gave me into Islam and Islam in Indonesia.