By invitation: julia I. Suryakusuma indonesian Perceptions Of The West

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Van Zorge Report, Vol. IV o. 2 – 4 February 2002
Indonesian Perceptions Of The West

Julia Suryakusuma is a sociologist and social commentator based in Jakarta. Her writings appear in a variety of national and international publications. Her Almanac of Indonesian Politics (API) Foundation published the Almanac of Indonesian Political Parties (1999) and the Indonesian Parliament Guide (2001).

Love-hate, ambivalent, distorted and the stubborn clinging on to views that are wrong: these characteristics apply not just to Indonesian perceptions of the West, but also vice versa. Stereotypes of the West range from being very positive—that the West has superior technology and scientific knowledge, that it is rational and open, that it has superior conceptual skills and more capable managers, and that women are more independent—to being very negative—that Westerners are crude, uncivilised, warlike, colonialist, promiscuous, and that they fail to take care of their elders.
Indonesians’ stereotypes of the West range from very positive to highly negative.
The West and Indonesia have a long history of engagement, not simply because of colonialism but also because of the open, almost porous nature of Indonesian society and the adaptability of Indonesians. This may not always seem to be the case, especially in the light of threats to ‘sweep’ Americans, because the assimilative character of Indonesians is never static. At times Indonesians are very open, while at other times they can be very closed and ‘constipated’, when they tend to make tight, even aggressively defined, boundaries. Indonesians seem to be in one of these latter phases at the moment, in common with many other peoples around the world.
Despite a long history of engagement with the West, Indonesia’s openness has varied depending on the historical period.
There are three broad ways in which Indonesians view the West: through nationalism, traditional (conservative) Indonesian cultural values and Islam. The last two draw on two longstanding tensions: the perennial East-West debate, and the global rivalry between Islam and the West that has endured for 14 centuries and has now been exacerbated by 11 September.
It is useful to view Indonesian perceptions of the West in three ways: nationalism, traditional cultural values and Islam.
The nationalist perspective
Nationalism was used by Sukarno to invoke anti-colonial sentiments and, in many ways anti-Western sentiments, in a selective way. For example, in the 1960s he once had an Indonesian pop group called Koes Plus banned because its music, which imitated Western pop music, was considered to have a corrupting influence. Sukarno was also famous for his “to hell with your aid” exhortation, for pulling Indonesia out of the UN, for the Bandung Afro-Asian Conference (attended by 29 states, positing Indonesia’s leadership of an evolving movement of non-aligned states) and for his ideological, political and economic closure to the West. But, at the same time, he and other Indonesians of his generation and class were fond of individual objects, countries or people of Western origin. Sukarno actually loved many things American (he is even rumoured to have had an affair with Marilyn Monroe), but he grew so disappointed with US policy that he turned to the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.
Sukarno used nationalism as a means of stoking anti-colonial and anti-Western sentiments. But he also maintained a strong affinity for Western people and culture.
The breast-beating nationalism à la Sukarno is perhaps a thing of the past, although a similar sentiment still exists. Currently, the feeling that Indonesia should do for itself and act as a leader of Southeast Asia is still very much at the forefront of Indonesian minds (and certainly the government’s). Accusations of Western interference in Indonesia’s internal affairs—especially in issues of human rights and security—have been hurled at Western nations, most notably the US, Australia and the Netherlands, on more than a few occasions. There is also a suspicion (manifested among others in Indonesia’s penchant for conspiracy theories) that the West always has an ulterior motive and that it is out to rule the world—if not directly then through indirect institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and Western-controlled multinational corporations. These theories stem directly from an ideological basis laid down by Sukarno’s anti-Westernism and anti-Nekolim, the latter term being an acronym for neo-colonialism and imperialism coined by Sukarno.
Similar anti-Western nationalistic sentiments exist today, with a mistrust of the West’s true intentions: there is a feeling that the West always has an ulterior motive and is bent on world domination.
Another view is that the West is out to tear Indonesia apart and threaten its national unity. Any attempt by Western nations to speak up for the rights of minorities—Timorese, Papuans, Acehnese—is often seen through this lens. This perception stems from recent history, including the US involvement in among others the Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic (PRRI), the Permesta incident in which the US and other Western nations offered none-too-clandestine support to regional rebellions that gravely threatened Indonesia’s survival as a unitary state, and the belated inclusion of West Papua (formerly under Dutch jurisdiction) into Indonesia. The idea of federalism was also anathema, because it was introduced by the Dutch and seen as an attempt to break up Indonesia. More recently, the notion of regional autonomy (which is hoped to save Indonesia from disintegration) can be viewed as being in fact a form of federalism.
There is also a perception that the West wants to see Indonesia broken up, cut down to size. Western support for the rights of minorities in Indonesia is viewed in such a context.
The manipulation and distortion of information concerning the West is also a building block of Indonesian perceptions of the West, giving rise to impressions that all Westerners are individualists, have a materialist culture and are devoid of spiritual life. The perception is also cultivated that Western women are loose and that Western feminists are all lesbians and man-haters. These misperceptions, however, also originate from the West, with Hollywood’s dominance of television and cinema serving to foster misperceptions and distortions about true behaviour in the West and particularly in the US.
Many Indonesian perceptions of the West stem from distortions created by the media and the unrepresentative images conveyed. American media, in the form of its dominance of television and cinema exacerbates these perceptions.
More specifically, and potentially more dangerous, is the example of the story line that the daily Republika took about Jews being responsible for the 11 September attacks—an explanation that was assumed to be true by a considerable number of Indonesians. Another example is the conspiracy theory espoused at the time of the rupiah’s collapse in 1997-98, which saw the devaluation of the currency as being a Jewish (George Soros), US (IMF) and ethnic-Chinese (conglomerates) plot. Conversely, Indonesians see the Western press as doing much the same by publishing what they see as only negative and sensationalistic stories about Indonesia, and employing stereotypical categories to describe and ‘analyse’ Indonesians and events in Indonesia. To a degree, this perception is justified insofar as it is in the nature of the press everywhere to be that way.
Some Indonesian manipulation of the media is potentially dangerous and irresponsible. But many Indonesians feel that Western media reporting of events in Indonesia is also unfair and irresponsible.
The contemporary version of Indonesian nationalism is also based on the North-South divide. It is important to recognise that Indonesian perceptions of the West are based on a relationship that is unequal, and one that has been historically so in terms of political, economic and military power. More recently, this unequal relationship is seen in the context of the division of the world into ‘developed’ and ‘under-developed’ nations. The West is perceived as being extremely wealthy in terms of natural and human resources, and regarded as the world’s main source of capital and technology. However, similar to imperial and colonial powers in the past, the prosperity of the West in the post-colonial years is often regarded as being achieved at the cost of poor developing nations, mostly the former colonial territories that have obtained independence after the end of World War II, of which Indonesia is a part. For this reason, theories of ‘neo-colonialism’ developed in Asian and African countries and ‘dependency theories’ developed primarily in Latin American countries are popular in Indonesia.
The North-West polemic is also important in Indonesian perceptions, with the West (the ‘North’) seen as being extremely wealthy and acquiring its wealth through exploitation of developing nations, including Indonesia.
One of the most striking perceptions and, indeed, sharp criticisms made by Indonesians of the West is in its high level of hypocrisy and double standards. This is seen at both the national and corporate levels. This hypocrisy is institutionalised in many aspects of the relationship and is manifested as the two faces of the West. The first face is greedy, oppressive and exploitative, both towards people and natural resources. The second is the humanitarian face, advocating democracy, human rights and sound environmental practices. For example, Western companies often relocate their industries to Third World countries, including Indonesia, in order to take advantage of cheap labour and abundant natural resources. In the process, Western companies are perceived as engaging in exploitative labour practices, creating environmental pollution and displacing traditional peoples.
Indonesians also perceive the West as being hypocritical: being critical on the one hand but exploitative on the other.
Furthermore, Western nations sometimes attach conditions to the provision of aid, such as the maintenance of satisfactory human rights records. Once again, this is seen by many Indonesians as an example of Western hypocrisy, bearing in mind the past human rights violations in the treatment of African-Americans in the US and aborigines in Australia, and the Indonesian perception that these violations continue today. For instance, while the majority of Australians are not racist, the historical legacy of the cultural genocide of aborigines lingers, and the land issue of aborigines continues to fester. Indonesians observe that John Howard also never condemned Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party, actually adopting its stance by appeared tough in defending Australia from the Asian hordes. It was the turning away of a refugee ship (the passengers of which were Muslim) that won Howard the election. While the US is a nation that staunchly upholds civil liberties, African-Americans still experience racial profiling (questioning or searching those who might commit a crime). Other problems include the high proportion of incarcerated blacks—ridiculously high when seen in comparison to the total black male population. And of course, African Americans would also say job discrimination is something some still experience. In the context of international relations, another example of Western hypocrisy might be viewed in the way in which the US and its allies can bomb areas considered to be terrorists’ havens, but still criticise other countries when they engage in military action in their own troublesome domestic areas. In these cases, other countries are accused by the West of oppressing minorities, for example in actions against the Muslim Uighurs in China and the Acehnese in Indonesia.
Indonesians view the attachment of human rights conditions to aid, coupled with perceived racism towards minorities in the US and Australia and criticism of military action against separatist minorities, as an example of Western double standards.
But while Indonesians are critical of the West, they also engage in a common contradiction exhibited by former colonised peoples: they long to acquire the knowledge and abilities of the West; they seek to emulate the lifestyle of those they consider to be superior, in other words the neo-colonisers; but, at the same time, they are resentful of Westerners’ power, possessions and control of resources. Indonesians’ penchant for blaming and scape-goating the West, which is the dominating ‘Other’ in the Indonesian view, is often the result of feeling inferior, insecure, envious, defensive and frustrated. This is especially the case at difficult periods in the country’s history, not least during the current, chaotic, transitional period.
But while critical of the West, Indonesians also aspire to things Western. They also engage in scape-goating the West because of a sense of inferiority.
Today, Indonesians look to the West for so many things: their political and economic systems, technology and science, mass culture, popular ideologies, life-style and, sometimes, handouts. But an undercurrent of resentment still exists because these imports are a constant reminder of Indonesia’s own relative backwardness. Yet Indonesia is clearly a champion of Western style democracy and also welcomes aid, investment and loans from anywhere, including the West. Partly because of disillusionment (or perhaps contempt) with so-called ‘Pancasila democracy’, the models that are being looked at now are Western democratic models. The first thing that the reformasi movement demanded after the ouster of Soeharto in May 1998 was a free and fair election. There were also demands for free political parties, a free press, the implementation of trias politika and a revival of the role of the legislature and judiciary. While the reality is that this current transitional phase is still messy, with rampant KKN (collusion, corruption, nepotism) and a danger that the country could slip back into authoritarianism and militarism, still Western-style parliamentary democracy and a constitutional government are unquestionably what Indonesians are striving for, whatever their political camp.
Currently, Indonesians look towards the West for a wide variety of reasons, while still resenting their own implicit backwardness. The majority strives towards Western parliamentary democracy.
Especially since the reform era, the pouring in of funds from donor agencies has been welcomed by government and non-government bodies alike, although not always for the right reasons (sometimes the money has not been utilised for the right purposes). However, the ambivalence remains, whereby the efforts of these funding agencies are seen as being part of an imperialistic scheme, imposing conditions that create both political, ideological and bureaucratic burdens for the recipient NGOs, which in some cases impact upon their constituents. The larger issue here, of course, is the governmental issue, which is also more easily played up. For example, in order to placate international lenders, the Indonesian government has been compelled to enforce fuel price increases. To many Indonesians this is a concrete and costly manifestation of international (perceived to be Western) ‘interference’ that hurts ordinary Indonesians in their daily lives and reinforces negative perceptions of the West.
Funds from donor agencies are welcomed, but with a degree of ambivalence. There is a concern that, once again, aid is part of an imperialistic scheme to undermine Indonesia’s independence.

The perspective of traditional cultural values

Viewed from the perspective of Indonesian traditional cultural values, the West is often seen as a corrupting influence. Western liberalism, both political and personal, is seen as undesirable, and even abhorred. While there is great respect for the scientific and technological achievements of the West, Indonesians deplore ‘pengaruh pergaulan bebas Barat’ (the influence of liberal Western social norms), which in essence means socialising too freely among the sexes, leading to pre- and extra-marital sex and other immoral practices. Why this should be pinned so specifically on the West is strange, as Indonesia has its own indigenous brand of pre- and extra-marital sex. As such, it appears to be a way of projecting Indonesia’s own permissiveness and ‘immorality’ on the dominant ‘Other’, this being the West. While periodically there are protests against programmes on television that are considered to purvey Western (im)morality, no serious action is ever taken.
In terms of Indonesian cultural values, the West is often seen as a corrupting influence. But there is a degree of ‘projection’ in this view.
Indonesians hold the principle of respect for elders very highly, considering the informal behaviour of children in the West toward their parents (or other adults) as being disrespectful—calling them by first name, talking back, and touching their parent’s head (which is taboo in Indonesian culture). The general rule that most Western children are free of parental supervision or approval by the age of 18 is not the case in most Indonesian families. Public decorum is also considered very important, as well as norms of propriety, such as the ways of dressing and behaving, especially by women. The loud, boisterous behaviour of some Westerners, especially when under the intoxicating effects of alcohol, makes them appear barbaric to most Indonesians. Then, of course, there is the much-maligned individualism of the West, which implies selfishness, immorality and a lack of social commitment. This is contrasted with Indonesia’s notion of community spirit (gotong royong), which Indonesians view with a sense of pride and often mention as being one of their virtues.
In terms of cultural values, there is a wide gap between norms of behaviour in Indonesia and many western countries.
Cultural presentation is also not to be underestimated, usually defined in terms of kasar versus halus (coarse versus refined). Western-style directness is seen as rude, but then even within Indonesia there is a cultural divide on this issue between different ethnic groups. For example, the divide exists between the more straightforward Bataks and other Sumatrans, in sharp contrast to the more indirect and masked behaviour of the Javanese. While this may be a problem with government officials and the older generation, it is much less of an issue with the younger generation (up to 30 or even 40). Body language is also another criterion for measuring the degree to which a person is civilised. Besides head touching, arms akimbo, pointing with feet, pointing directly at another’s face, sitting or propping oneself against a desk or a table, and some other body gestures which Westerners consider normal, are also considered to be rude.
These cultural differences are important, and create the perception in Indonesia that Westerns are unrefined and even plain rude.
All these outward manifestations of cultural difference are not seen by Indonesians as just being dissimilar, but also as a sign that Westerners are uncouth and rude. This might be seen as a compensation for Indonesians’ inferiority complex, but it would be too simplistic to reduce the view simply to that.
The cultivation of cultural disparities offers Indonesians some compensation for more general feelings of inferiority.

The Islamic perspective
Perceptions of the West growing out of Islam in Indonesia often draw on the global rivalry between Islam and the West (which is seen as being identical with Christendom), with the West perceived as being against Islam and Muslim countries. This is also the reason for the hatred of many Islamic groups for Israel (which is not Christian, true, but which is seen as being supported by the West in a conflict against the Palestinians), and Indonesians’ support for other Islamic nations, most recently Afghanistan, when they are attacked by the West. If for Westerners the basic unit of organisation is the nation, for Muslims it is their religion. So while they may have their own internal fights among Islamic groups in Indonesia, there are also some fundamentalist groups (only a small minority) who passionately volunteer to fight a jihad against the US invaders in Afghanistan. This is partly because of a true belief in Islamic brotherhood, but is also because of the primordial and categorical hatred that some (minority) Islamic groups in Indonesia have towards the West.
Many Indonesian Muslims view the West in the context of the struggle between Islam and (Western) Christendom. The West is also seen as supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.
In Indonesia, as in many other Muslim countries, Islam is seen as a means of resistance against globalisation (which is perceived as being Western) and Western arrogance. The struggle against modernism and secularism is, however, not only waged against the West. It is also directed against other groups in Indonesian society that hold more secularist and modernist views, or more moderate forms of Islam that do not see themselves as being incompatible with the West. There is a feeling among many Indonesian Muslims that the West underestimates and even looks down on Islam, regarding Muslims as backward and inferior. In the growing awareness of the weakness, poverty and underdevelopment of the Islamic world, of which Indonesia is a part, this gives rise to anger and resentment, sometimes ferociously so. The so-called Islamic revival in Indonesia, which is in part a response to Westernisation, exists at different levels of society. Among so-called fundamentalist groups it expresses itself more violently, for example in the raiding of Western-style bars (which serve alcohol). Among the upper class, and also notable lately among artists, the revival is manifested in the increasing importance and prevalence of wearing Islamic attire.
Globalisation is seen as a manifestation of Western arrogance, which promotes modernism and secularism while eroding Islamic values and traditions. This has helped to stoke a Muslim ‘ revival’ across all layers of Indonesian society.
One also needs to take into account the current context of political Islam in Indonesia, in which most top positions in government are held by Islamic political figures—an unprecedented development in the nation’s modern history. Before Abdurrahman Wahid ouster’s last July, the Indonesian president was a kyai (Islamic cleric), prior to which he had been the head of the nation’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). The chair of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), Amien Rais, is a Muslim scholar and a former chair of Muhammadiyah, the nation’s second-largest Muslim organisation. The chair of the House of Representatives (DPR) is Akbar Tanjung, formerly a leader of HMI, an Islamic student organisation. Hamzah Haz, head of the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP), became the country’s vice-president in July 2001. Although President Megawati Soekarnoputri is ostensibly a secularist, she has nonetheless been forced to embrace the aspirations of moderate Islamic groups in order to safeguard her position. This precarious balance makes the president’s tap-dancing since the 11 September understandable. A natural foe of lawlessness, Megawati initially condemned the terrorist attacks on the US. However, upon her return to Indonesia, facing escalating protests, she was obliged to offer none-too-veiled criticisms of the US bombing of Afghanistan.
Indonesia’s current world-view is also moulded by the fact that most of the country’s top positions are held by Muslims.
Historically, political Islam in Indonesia has long been trying to gain a foothold on state power. The transitional period has given it a chance to do so, following the reawakening of Islam as a true political force. This is a natural catching-up process, following Islam’s global revival during the 1980s and 1990s, which had been restrained or co-opted under the Soeharto regime. What seems clear is that many groups are now using the symbols of Islam to further their own interests, of which hatred, or at least hostility towards the West, is one. External events, including 11 September, the US invasion of Afghanistan, not to mention the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, have all helped to galvanise anti-Western sentiments in Indonesia. Muslim hatred directed specifically towards the US is caused not only by American support for Israel, but also by the perception that American politics and business are dominated by Jews.
The post-Soeharto era has allowed political Islam to gain more of a foothold on state power. Recent world events are sometimes used in domestic politics to rally support for political Islam.
However, even the heads of the major mainstream Islamic groups, such as Muhammadiyah and NU, condemn Islamic extremism. They point out that extremist acts taint the image of Islam and create the false impression that Muslims are aggressive, cruel and violent, in contrast to the image of Islam they would prefer to project of a tolerant and peace-loving faith. Since Soeharto’s fall, there have been debates over the imposition of syariah (Islamic law) in Indonesia (syariah was recently implemented in Aceh) and the reinsertion of the Jakarta Charter into the constitution, which would require the government to ensure that all Muslims follow Islamic law. Thus far, however, those attempting to expand the limits of the Islamisation of the state have been easily beaten back by a loose but large coalition of moderate Muslims and nationalists.
Nonetheless, Indonesian Islam remains predominantly moderate. The mainstream Muslim organisations distance themselves from extremism and do not support the Islamisation of the state.
Whatever may be happening at the level of the political elite, Indonesian Muslims remain generally very moderate. This is evidenced for example by their attire, with women wearing mini-skirts and figure-hugging clothes, sometimes even while they wear the jilbab, the Islamic headdress. Similarly, social behaviour allows male-female association, although not to the point of public displays of affection seen in the West, and life-styles that tolerate the consumption of alcohol, albeit in moderate amounts, and dancing, whether of the disco or home-grown dangdut variety. In many cases Indonesian Muslims do not adhere strictly to basic Muslim precepts, such as fasting or praying five times daily. Despite the rhetoric of Islamic and Eastern values, most Indonesians are essentially sensual, epicurean and aesthetic, and love sex (and also talking about it), good food and beauty. They are generally not at all stern or austere in their approach to life. Of course, this varies from one area to another, with major differences even between different areas within Java, in addition to even more strict Muslim regions such as Aceh. But generally Indonesians are tolerant, especially of foreigners. Their negative perceptions of Westerners (for example, that they are uncivilised and coarse) may actually help Indonesians to make more allowances for the behaviour of foreigners—as they would to children—because they feel that foreigners do not know any better.
Within Indonesian society, mores remain very moderate and even Muslims do not adhere strictly to Islamic teachings. This depends on the region in Indonesia, with Aceh being the most strictly Muslim.
Abdurrahman Wahid has been known to say that Indonesia should practice secularism without calling it secularism. If 80 percent of the Indonesian population is Muslim and only 50 percent of those are strongly practising Muslims, this means that only 40 percent of the population is made up of strongly practising Muslims. This means that those Muslims who agitate for a more Islamic form of government are certainly in a minority. As for the so-called fundamentalist radical groups such as the Laskar Jihad, estimates say they are only 5,000 in number, but because of their vociferousness and militancy they appear to be very prominent and give a false impression to the outside world.
A false impression is created outside Indonesia concerning the true strength of and support for the more radical Islamic groups, due to their vociferousness.

* * *
The three perspectives of nationalism, cultural tradition and Islam mentioned above as a means to view the West from an Indonesian perspective are not necessarily distinct categories and in many instances overlap. In different combinations they lead to negative perceptions and most Indonesians are liable to be influenced—to one degree or another—by all these currents of opinion. However, these various opinions provide Indonesia with an identity and a self-definition, and do not mean the negation of the ‘Other’, including the West. The acceptance of the West—its life-style, political and economic systems, aid, and certainly its investment—can be seen in so many aspects of the daily lives of Indonesians that the negative perceptions Indonesians have of the West are merely a completion of the overall picture.
Negative perceptions of the West are only one part of the overall process of self-identification. The acceptance of much that is Western is seen in a many aspects of daily life.

* * *
What exactly does Indonesia consider to be the West? Certainly Europe, then Japan (for economic reasons) and also Australia (for geopolitical reasons). But it is the US that Indonesia is obsessed with, both positively and negatively. This is strange when one considers that in cultural terms the US is a very young culture compared with Indonesia. But there is also a ‘new’ culture in Indonesia that is at odds even with its older culture. This ‘new’ culture is visible in the narcissism, immaturity and materialism of ‘modern’ Indonesian culture. It corresponds with the narcissism, immaturity and materialism of the US, which nota bene is also that country’s source of world recognition, domination and power. This helps to explain ‘modern’ Indonesia’s need and desire to admire and emulate the US in so many ways. However, the US so conveniently positions itself—by virtue of being so visible and dominant—as an easy target for being demonised and scape-goated. These acts are defensively aggressive, yes, but for the most part political, indulged in by elements of the government and by Islamic fundamentalist groups who can create disruption but who, in reality, hold no great sway over Indonesian society.
While Indonesians may view the West as including Europe, Australia and even Japan, their main obsession is fixed on the US. Because of its dominance, the US inspires the most desire for imitation and also attracts the most demonisation.
No other country quite compares with the US, either in similarity or by way of contrast, with the possible exception of the former Soviet Union and its satellites, with their attendant Communist ideology. But even if the Eastern bloc still existed today, would it have the appeal that Hollywood, Disneyland and the Coca Cola culture provides for the younger generation of Indonesia? The extreme Indonesian bi-polarism towards the US can perhaps be represented on one side by the hostility of the fundamentalist Islamic groups who recently (after 11 September) threatened to bomb the US embassy, issuing death threats to then Ambassador Gelbard (threats that they may have never intended to carry out). On the other side it is represented by the ‘MTV’ generation (25 and younger), who only know the latter stage of the New Order with its gross emphasis on material development. At the same time there was a de-emphasis of political activity and activism, and actively engaging in systematic pembodohan (‘stupidisation’) by curbing the press, prohibiting student activism and propagating a centralised system of state education, which was not adapted to local needs and riddled with indoctrination. The influx of American mass culture aided greatly the New Order’s programme of de-politisation and stupidisation. This is what the Indonesia’s reform era has inherited. But due to budget cuts in the US, the cultural programmes organised by the US Embassy, which could have provided some alternative quality in American culture, have decreased over the years.
The policies of the New Order government aided the influx of American mass culture into Indonesia. This is what the reform era has now inherited.


Perceptions arise from historical developments or rather, interpretations and distortions thereof, stereotyping, prejudices, projections, desires, hopes, expectations and frustrations. While Westerners may find it uncomfortable and even unsavoury to hear some of the perceptions that Indonesians may have of them, they are nonetheless accurate representations of Indonesian perceptions of the West. Such perceptions are very real, in the same way as ideas are real and have a real effect on people’s behaviour and lives. That these perceptions exist has to be acknowledged. They exist for a reason, not just by projection but also by interaction.
Perceptions are to do with identity, which is provided by mirroring. As with a mirror, the reflection changes, according to conditions and what is being reflected. In the case of perceptions, they obviously change according to historical conjuncture and who the actors are. One’s definition of oneself is provided not only by oneself and by the other’s definition or perception of one, but also by one’s definition of others. It is a dialectical relationship. If the West has a certain perception of Indonesia—that it is a Muslim country, that it has fundamentalist groups that are dangerous (a notion that CNN helps to propagate when it only depicts the riots and the violent acts) and even that it harbours terrorists, this also has an effect on the Indonesians’ perceptions of the West, which would naturally tend to be negative.
Once a perception exists, it is only too easy for it to rigidify into a stereotype, especially in the context of a chaotic situation such as Indonesia’s current transition (and perhaps the world at large as well, after 11 September). People increasingly need straightforward definitions, so it is easy for both sides to operate on stereotypes and prejudices that are a natural projection of fear. From both sides there is a great need not to fall into the trap of believing too much in the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ theory. In the case of Indonesia, it is best to believe in the country’s adaptability and assimilative nature towards the West. After all, the West has for centuries been part of Indonesia’s history and it will most certainly be part of Indonesia’s future.

Julia Suryakusuma was the driving force behind the compilation and publication of the Indonesian Parliament Guide in 2001. The following is a short review of the Guide.

Panduan Parlemen Indonesia. Jakarta: Yayasan API, 2001. XVI + 1,418 pp. With CD-Rom.

Price: Rp 80.000
The Indonesian Parliament Guide (IPG) is the most comprehensive reference to the Indonesian parliament to date. The IPG provides readers with both information on current representatives and knowledge of the workings of Indonesian parliament.
The main section of the Guide is the directory, containing profiles of 700 DPR and MPR members. This is followed by a section on parliamentary standing orders and a section of essays, including contributions by both Indonesian and foreign observers on matters such as the role of a parliamentary opposition, pluralism in Indonesia, the electoral system, the Indonesian constitution, the role of the military in parliament, regional autonomy and the role of DPRD, affirmative action for women in parliament and the history of parliaments in Indonesia.
The IPG is in written in Indonesian and is available in major bookstores in Jakarta.

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