Racial Tolerance in Indonesia

The Chinese, despite their economic success are still not accepted in Indonesia. It's time for change in Indonesia.

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Tolerance and not acceptance, has been running high in Indonesia during the recent Lunar New Year celebrations.

At least that is what the country’s largest circulating newspaper, The Jakarta Post reported recalling the experiences of a certain Sumira who was hired as a domestic helper at the Amurva Bhumi Temple in Setiabudi, South Jakarta, six years ago. As a Muslim, she had feared she would need to cook a dish that contained pork for the visitors to the temple. As much as she enjoyed working at the temple, she admitted she would be uncomfortable cooking pork dishes, an ingredient that is considered haram (forbidden) in Islam.

Like every other Chinese New Year celebration known locally as Imlek, the temple provides provides food for the Chinese Buddhist community and also for general visitors.

The changing face of Indonesia is more visible than plainly what it presents as symbolic. As matter of fact it more than symbolic than when the heady when the heady days falling the abortive communist coup led to tens of thousands of Chinese getting massacred.

The dark pages of the nation’s history also meant a new kind of pogrom. Chinese festivals were banned, the Chinese could not adopt their vernacular names, their language could not be spoken openly and jobs were made scarce for them. In other words, what it meant was a complete denial of their place in history and thus of their identity.

But all of these came to a head in 1998 and the revolution that dismantled the ruling Golkar Party, ushered in a new era of acceptance and politics of accommodation aimed at erasing or at least, attempted at erasing the unpleasantness, the division and the climate of bile and hatred between pribumi and ethnic Chinese.

What was simply not imaginable even some twenty years ago, now fronts a rapidly moving face of the Indonesia telling the world and itself that lessons of the past are a lesson in objectivity and though tolerance has to begin somewhere in society, acceptance will take more time.

For acceptance to begin it must start with having the kind of institutions and a complete change of mindset beginning first at schools, in communities, the breaking of racial and religious barriers and maybe even a South-African type Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the larger benefit of healing the bleeding wounds in the country.