Indonesians were angry at the latest social clash filled with racial slurs. Allegedly started by poor intercultural communication to resolve some sensitive conflict, the dispute between West Papuan students and some locals in Surabaya Indonesia, escalated to reach national and international media attention. Through social media, provoking info spreads sporadically. The anger, however, did not last long, thanks to widespread social and political elites’ genuine yet firm responses and apologies regarding the incident.
People see that mistakes have become valuable lessons learned. People are not learning the hardship to develop social harmony until the clash emerged. That discrimination will never be accepted for any cause is also learned and emphasized. Some individual, organizations and media, unfortunately try to stir up provoking coverage over the incidents, but Indonesians, including West Papuans do not buy it.
Here’s what happened
On August 15, 2019, a West Papuan student association, well-known as Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua or AMP, held joint prayers and rallies alongside other organizations like the FRI-WP Front across various cities in Indonesia like Jakarta, Malang, and Surabaya to voice their opinions like rejecting the New York Agreement and promoting West Papuan self-determination. The next day, negative news circulated through Whatsapp about the story of the Red and White, Indonesian flag discarded by Papuan students, which the credibility and validity of the report was and has not been known yet. This allegedly triggered anger and considered unacceptable by some CSOs and the people of Surabaya.
Claiming that they defended the unity of the country, on August 17, a demonstration by some people from different CSOs and alleged local people representatives emerged in front of the Papuan Student Dormitory Kamasan III Jl. Kalasan No. 10, Surabaya. The strike, unfortunately, came with some negative statement of “monkey” to students.
On August 18, 2019, the negative statement was exploited by some irresponsible provocateurs and quickly spread on social media, triggering an angry reaction of the West Papuan people through social media, home and abroad, alongside the statement from the Governor of Papua Lucas Enembe stating strong rejection of the negative comment.
This critical situation unfortunately was used by provocateurs, mostly individuals like some self-proclaimed human rights activists, to ignite emotions and call for demonstrations to take to the streets. Some hoaxes have also circulated about the death of one Papuan student who was beaten by security forces and the issue of the abduction of two food delivery people to Papuan student dormitories by the National Police in which the two issues have been clearly validated as fabricated aka hoax.
The next day (19/8) the Governor of East Java, Khofifah Parawangsa, conveyed an apology on behalf of the people of East Java for the negative statement that occurred in Surabaya, which caused the anger of the West Papuan people, which was followed by riots in Manokwari and Sorong. The Governor of Papua Lukas Enembe conveyed his statement and appeal to all parties not to prolong this incident and re-establish brotherhood and peace.
The Indonesian Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs regretted the incident of harassment of the red and white flag in East Java, which was followed by a negative statement by a person who disturbed the harmony and unity of Indonesia. The Minister also ordered a thorough and fair investigation of lawbreakers and appealed to the entire community not to be provoked and influenced by negative news that can damage Indonesian unity, peace, and togetherness.
Things that went wrong
As a society, Indonesians uphold some of the sacred symbols of their identity. One of them is the Red and White flag. Given the Indonesian high context society, meaning that they take much pride in their identity, customs and cultures, dishonor to symbols of those aspects can trigger social anger. At some point, the circulated news about the flag thrown in the ditch was enough to fuel any horizontal conflict, which in the end unfortunately happened.
However, the circulated info was and has yet to be validated until now or at least until this piece is written. Related authorities claim that investigations are underway, but the public already understood that they would never find an end, meaning that no results can be expected. Security forces, especially the police took long to calm down, let alone anticipated the riots.
Furthermore, it can be seen that no on-duty security forces nor West Papuan students could sit back, relax, talk, and negotiate like gentlemen. Both parties could have toned down their agitated emotions and been gentlemen and had a discussion like ones. Moreover, the students seem to have poor communication with locals, let alone the security personnel, and vice versa, the security people could not seem to understand that they were and are tied to specific procedures to handle such a situation.
You may argue, why on earth should they, students have contact with these local leaders? Well if you live in America or Australia, you may ditch that suggestion, but if you live in Indonesia, you need to do that. With that weak interaction, these groups ended up having a violent confrontation, started with people yelled at each other, where some negative statements emerge and resolved nothing!
More mistakes to understand
The unwanted incident seems to be also the result of failed social cohesion within the community in Surabaya, especially. Both West Papuan students and locals seem to have poor contacts where regular meetings between both are a rare occasion. This stems from poor understanding of both groups about their cultures and their statuses as Indonesians!
The former means that both West Papuans and locals seem to have no clue whatsoever about the characteristics of them. The poor communication makes them end up with judgments that are based on assumption that either group just does not want to mingle for some reason. The latter aspect reflects that both communities fail to understand that as Indonesians, they should have understood that cultural diversity is something they need to comprehend. That Indonesians, everyone that has KTP (Indonesian ID) as theirs, have different ways of lives and diverse forms of seeing things. That situation leads to the next alleged cause of the clash, which is weak mutual understanding among different ethnics in Indonesia.
In this case, locals especially East Javanese and the West Papuan students kind of fail to establish mutual understanding between them. East Javanese people are those who are an open-minded, yet blatant society. By that term, we mean that yelling at each other is sort of how people communicate. Some Indonesians call the way they talk as if they are always angry at something. But yelling for them is a sign of closeness, friendship, and kinship.
On the other end, West Papuans are a great society that is a host of heaps of wisdom and customs, but they are mainly shy people. They are not going to hang out with you until approached. However, once some connection and friendship are developed, they are your friends forever. You may now understand that mutual understanding is critical, or otherwise, Indonesians are always in chaos which the Surabaya case shows the early sign of the calamity.
Furthermore, Indonesia has been claiming that it is undergoing heaps of bureaucratic reforms to advance and improve equality in many fields. However, the progress seems slow. Experts believe that when managed and navigated well, diversity will help creativity and the strong mentality of the people emerge. But if not, social calamity may be already in the way. The inadequate, halfhearted bureaucratic reforms, in the end, take their toll on the failure of the people alongside its leaders and security forces to understand the pluralistic and diverse lives of Indonesians, let alone establish harmony and mutual understanding on top of those.
Understand Indonesia as is
So as the Surabaya clash happened, let’s understand Indonesia as it is now. That country has been working hard to enable social cohesion within its diverse population. Everybody will agree that it is not a simple job that can be done in, say, five to ten years. However, that does not mean that Indonesia is doing nothing, that there is no progress at all. Many organizations are struggling to enable inclusive education where students from different backgrounds, of course including West Papuan kids, to study together. Economic development in Indonesia is now focused in West Papua. In the last decade, the region also enjoys a special autonomy where all local and regional leaders are Native West Papuans.
A basic thing to understand is that Indonesia consists of various tribes and cultures including Papuans, Bugis, Javanese, Madurese, Sambas, Sasak, Sundanese and many others. This indirectly influences different sense of humor standards. Utomo and Diponegoro (2017) explained about factors influencing someone’s humor sensitivity are knowledge and social-cultural background, the type of personality, certain condition of self-disturbance, and maturity. These diverse ethnics share also a variety of appreciation regarding humor material in a sense that the ‘funny enough level’ also varies. That reflect that there is always unique sense of humor in each tribes and cultures. So if you want to know Indonesia, you can start from getting to know the tribes and cultures.
So why discrimination is still happening? Well, you may want to ask yourself, where in the world is there no such discrimination? Even in developed worlds, they are still there. They past was even worse. For example, Americans used to enslave people and Australians used to rule native by such an animal law.
But now they are advanced. Some irresponsible media from such countries, though, keep trying to weigh in what is happening in Indonesia using their advance standards. For example, on one occasion, an RNZ reporter attempted to ask some comments from Indonesians about West Papuan issues. When the man interviewed could not give answers, they quickly judged that that man is under government pressure not to talk anything about the issue. In fact, the man was just like other developing world’s people that are not used to things like having an open discussion with some ‘white man,’ or they are not able to communicate well in English.
Choose what to read
Even West Papuan leaders have published their statements on the recent incident in Surabaya that Indonesians are all family and avoiding provoking info is what they need to do at the moment. Their account is clearly directed to some individuals, organizations, and media that deliberately use the incident to provoke others. Some provoking individuals quickly seized the moment and used this to gain attention as if they are struggling for West Papuans, while they actually just sit back and relaxed, and employed their fingers and smartphone to write upload provoking statements. Organizations and media like ULMWP, the Guardian, and ABC Australia soon poorly took the provocation as evidence that West Papuan conflicts are escalating.
Meanwhile, many Indonesians are overwhelming the media and their social media with apologies and supportive statements. For the moment, you may see many Indonesians say “We are sorry” for and “we have learned” from what happened in Surabaya. They realized that it is unfortunate that the Indonesian brotherhood needs more attention and the kinship spirit had to be unfortunately awakened by such a saddening event.
These Indonesians are both the general people, local leaders, and public figures. As mentioned previously, the governor of East Java and the governor of Papua province quickly released statements that they were sorry for the incident and asked people to uphold the Indonesian unity and strengthen the people’s brotherhood regardless of where they live and their skin colors. Public figures like Najwa Shihab, one of the most influencing public figures in Indonesia, quickly responded that Indonesians are all those who live in the West, Center and the East. When the east is hurt, those in the West and the center is hurt either.
Harmony is in West Papua for years. In picture, a volunteer teacher in West PapuaSo now you all have options to hang on to those provoking entities or those who came up with calming and way more positive and supportive statements?
What to do now?
Firstly, all Indonesians need to calm down. By all we mean West Papuans, Javanese, and all ethnic groups in Indonesia. Social clashes are some inevitable consequence of living in a plural society. Harmony cannot be reached until you ameliorate the possible negative result of diversity. As a family, all Indonesians have been seen to be optimistic about the unity of the country. As some fights and little chaos happen, one should ask, tell me one family in the whole world that never experiences even just a conflict? If it is hard for you to answer, ask your mom and dad, or your friends that have a family to help you find the answer.
Second, all Indonesians should now have understood that they always need hard work to work with their diverse society. That means people need to focus on helping each other and see others as true brothers and sisters. People need more gathering events among different ethnics. Local leaders are expected to hold more intercultural dialogs to enable and strengthen social cohesion within society.
Thirdly, avoid reading provocateur’s views and their provoking statements over such Surabaya incident. Some individuals seem to irresponsibly choose to release some provocation to gain attention. Such individuals and media discussed above seem to be craving for publicity that to some extent they pretend to be caring, but actually, they are looking to financial gain they can produce from the statements.
Last but not least, social cohesion enablers need to take more action. Organizations like Kitong Bisa, Indonesia Mengajar, Wahana Visi Indonesia have shown real activities by assisting the arrival of many educators and health practitioners to West Papua. They help better West Papuans’ access to knowledge and healthcare voluntarily. Moreover, other organizations like the Islam-based Nahdlatul Ulama should also now see that their influence to promote inclusive and moderate perspectives among the people should manifest in programs like inter-cultural dialogs and camps to help people of Indonesia from different ethnic groups can understand the benefit of keeping the society in harmony. (*)