Editorial: Pettiness

Editorial Omong-Omong

4 min read

In a move only a drifter and one with petty character can do, Indonesian Foreign Ministry has summoned British Ambassador to Indonesia Owen Jenkins to convey its protest over the embassy’s hoisting of rainbow flag, known as LGBT+ flag, as local condemnation from political elite groups are mounting against the flag hoisting.

To commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on May 17, the British Embassy in Jakarta flew the rainbow flag along with the Union Jack inside the embassy complex, and then posted its pictures on the embassy’s official social media accounts.

As if they had nothing more important to do or comment on, the foreign ministry’s overreacted move is the latest move against the flag hoisting, following scores of condemnation and concerns voiced by scores of Indonesia’s ruling elites from Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia Council of Ulama (MUI), Islamic political parties as well as officials and lawmakers against the embassy’s flag hoisting despite the fact that it is within the British embassy’s legal rights to fly the flag, or any other flags inside the embassy’s premises.

The international law has clearly stated that the embassy’s premises are part of the country’s territory, and the host country can’t do anything to control what happens inside. The United Kingdom is not like it is living in a dormitory or rental room, and can be kick out by its landlord anytime. The law has clearly guaranteed the rights of the Britons.

The foreign ministry knows this well, and it’s not a good diplomacy at all to try to control and force its will against such a foreign envoy because a summoning like this is a humiliation, especially when the embassy believe they’re fighting for something nobles, like supporting the basic rights of the marginalised groups.

This is not like the UK suddenly just want to bother Muslims in Indonesia. They believe the flag hoisting is part of a necessary step to get closer to a more humane and inclusive world. It’s part of the UK’s laws.

Shutting down freedom of expression like this will further create more doubts on Indonesia’s democracy, and Muslims’ capability to live within democracy, especially when conservatism continues to rise in this part of the world.

With this move the foreign ministry has played local politics at the expense of its diplomacy, which is its main and only duty.

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Strangely, Muslims in general do not make a fuss over the flag hoisting, most of them have not even heard of it, as they are already busy fighting for their survival to make ends meet recently when they are facing rising prices of food, fuel and electricity. This is what matters to them most, not a flag hoisting of a foreign embassy.

How important is it to waste energy, time and attention of a flag hoisting done by other countries in its own premise because they believe something some Muslim don’t share?

Does the UK government deliberately want to insult Islam and Muslims in the archipelago? They absolutely have no reason to do so.

Have the flag hoisting belittled Islam and Muslims? Certainly not

Are Muslims suffering because of the flag hoisting? Far from it.

Don’t these important people and elites need to focus more on many other far more crucial problems, such as spike of electricity, fuel and food prices, worsening quality of education, weakening corruption eradication efforts, and increasing control over the country’s resources by few elites? Absolutely.

These elites, including the foreign ministry, have packaged their comments as if it is in the interests of whole Indonesian people or Indonesian Muslims that the British diplomats to express their regret, an that they are humiliated as a revenge for their insensitivity as the foreign ministry puts it.

Is it what the people really want? No, it’s not. The issue has been politicized for these elites’ interest and popularity.

Then, we come to another recent pettiness.

When Indonesia’s Islamic preacher, Abdul Somad Batubara, known as UAS, was denied entry to Singapore, it’s like a giant injustice has been inflicted on him. He turned to his social media accounts, reporting his anger to millions of his supporters.

And instead of asking himself why a small country like Singapore, which has less population than the number of his social media followers prevented him from entering its territory, or wondering that he must have done something terrible that forced the city state to deny him, he demanded explanation as if he was entitled to it.

Such a personal experience became a national incident when aside from the preacher’s supporters, minister, officials, lawmakers and even celebrities wasted no time and quickly jump in to comment in an attempt to score points, or to push their own popularity and get sympathy from the country’s Muslims, or to be precise, from the country’s conservative Muslims.

Many Muslims in Indonesia quickly voiced their condemnation against Singapore, asking all Muslims to boycott anything related to the city state. Supporters of UAS even staged demonstrations in front of Singaporean embassy in Jakarta and its consulate general in Medan to express their anger and protests, demanding the city state to apologize.

As a popular preacher, teacher and scholar who holds professorships in a number of universities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam and boasts Prophet Muhammad’s wisdom in every way he talks and moves, he should have taken the high road and should have covered or hidden the humiliating personal experience or himself.

UAS should have just laughed at himself or ridiculed the Singaporean authorities, or otherwise felt proud that he was considered so influential and big that he could be perceived to have single-handedly posed a national threat to a whole country.

Instead, he blew his personal experience out of proportion by going to social media and complaining to his followers as if asking them to do something for him. So, rather than measuring up to his greatness, he becomes small-minded, pushing his followers – average Muslims – and some Indonesian officials to become even pettier.

Why must Singaporean authorities apologize for doing their job? What’s UAS personal experience got to do with Indonesia and boycotting Singapore? Why must Indonesia ruin its relations with Singapore for one person, who happened to be denied to enter the city state for vacation?

While Indonesian power-hungry elites busily capitalized on petty issues, a new president in a small neighboring country confidently delivered an eloquent speech, detailing his vision to include and protect LGBTQI people as part of the nation’s family.

Jose Ramos-Horta who was sworn last week as Timor-Leste’s new president on a vision of inclusion, tolerance and lasting peace for his people, sending signs that Indonesia’s former colony and the Catholic-dominated nation has move way beyond its former master in term of democratization and protection of human rights.

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Meanwhile Islam and Muslims in Indonesia are still suffering from lack of confidence and pettiness, feeling threatened every time by even the smallest incidents and provocation, rather than focusing on what matter most: how to eradicate poverty, getting smart and mastering science and technology to be able to compete with others in a globalized world.

Indonesia and Muslims here should feel they are too big to be provoked by Singapore’s rejection against one conservative preacher, or one flag hoisting by a foreign embassy in Jakarta. It’s time for us to say that we have so many other much more important things to do than commenting and reacting on pettiness.

Editorial Omong-Omong

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