If you are not friends with the regular, middle to lower class Indonesian, or if you are completely oblivious about whatever happens in Indonesia, then the name Saeni might just be a villager’s name for you. But for an average Indonesian, that name right now, represents everything that is wrong and everything that is promising about Indonesia.

A conservative, thick, stubborn country that is slowly moving forward.

The word tolerance and Indonesia who are supposedly goes inline, has never been so far away from each other with the holy month for the biggest Muslim country in the world still on its way.

To give you a little recap, Saeni was raided by civil service police unit (Satpol PP), for opening her little shop (warung) during the day, while most of the Muslims in the country are fasting. Apparently, the regional government for her area (Serang, Banten) has issued a temporary regulation that restrict shop owners from selling food during the day, because it would distract the Muslims from fasting.


Using tolerance as an excuse, the regional government enforces the regulation by seizing foods , stalls and other shop facilities, accusing them of not being respectful towards Muslims who are doing their religious rituals.

Whether what they’ve done is right or not, whether being the biggest Muslim country in the world is enough to justify that or not, is frankly up to your own judgement. As because religion is a very personal thing for me, and to understand its teaching and embrace it, as far as I can understand, will always differ from one person to another. Although, the word tolerance shouldn’t be different, shouldn’t it?

Anyhow, what I would like to emphasize instead is on how people react towards it.

Being viral, Saeni’s story has of course attracts a lot of sympathies. Since the story broke, about $20.000 (an amount of money that of course exceeds her needs) has been raised to help payback for the money that she used to buy ingredients for food later wasted by the civil service police unit. A reminder that some people do embrace differences, and see respects not only as acknowledgements of one’s existence, but also an acknowledgements of different values and beliefs.

On the other hand, we have bunch (and this is sadly the majority of the Indonesian people) who can relate more towards the civil service polices, who sees Saeni’s decision as disrespectful, and condones other religion that visibly eats in front of them as being intolerant.

Now I don’t think I have to explain my definition of tolerance to you. There’s a reason why I write my entries in English, and that very reason should also be relevant to the kind of reader that I am writing to (if there are any).

Anyway, like it or not, although as a country we have seen some good progress moving forwards (With new infrastructures being build inside and outside Java, with better public leaders, with increasingly educated middle class). We are still yet to see Indonesia as a country moving forward socially and intellectually.

Out education system is very outdated, poorly standardized, and underfunded, that we have a very different standards of education and basic general knowledge from one city to another. The only standard thing that most people can get almost anywhere in Indonesia is religious knowledge. And that is mainly Muslim. Of course it shouldn’t be strange, when the country have an entire ministry devoted basically just for one religion’s ritual (Haj).

Compared to other countries that has taken religion out from their curriculum, and instead put their effort on science, history, literature and culture; It is fair to say that Indonesia as a society relies more on “biased religion-based judgement” than basic humane and social value.

So it is only understandable that we have a really visible extremes that contradicts each other, living in a well juxtaposition, with bits of sparks every once and a while. Of course, if history ever teach us anything, the extremes are, more often than not, wrong, and the middle way is always the best bet for the society.

Balancing those extremes then, is (for me) the biggest task that the government should immediately tackle, through good education system and unbiased regulation that doesn’t take specific religion into account.

Yes, infrastructure and healthy economy are important for a country. But as a society that consists of hundreds if not thousands of different ethnicity, Indonesia needs to learn how to handle conflict sober-mindedly by choosing what’s best for the society, not for specific person or groups. And that might only be achievable, through a good education system.

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature. – Voltaire


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