Being Indonesian: Not by Memorizing Pancasila

Pancasila state ideology has become a topic wiledely discussed, Ilith many expressing concern that Indonesia’s diversity is under threat and that Pancasila values have been forgotten. Many people are urging that the teaching of Pancasila in schools be strengthened.

Opening the congress of Fatayat, the women’s Iling of the Nahdlatul mama Islamic organization in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, early May, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani stated that people had to “love their country and not be drugged by radicalism.”

Minister Puan called for more balance between the teaching of nationhood and religion in religious-based and state schools.

All this is not unconnected to the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election, during which race and religion became divisive isusues. The incumbent governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian Chinese-Indonesian, was defeated by Anies Baswedan. A week later, Ahok was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for blasphemy.

A day before the n’rdict, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto announced that the government would outlaw Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia through the courts as it rejected Pancasila. Pancasila was also something that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo focused on when he addressed a large crowd of Indonesians in Hong Kong.

As in other functions with the public, he conducted a quiz, testing who could recite the tenets of Pancasiia, promising a bicycle to the winner. never forget Pancasila, the President told the crowd. I am from the generation that grew up during the New Order, ruled by the authoritarian Soeharto for 32 years.

At that time Pancasila was a sacred word, with its own power, and even feared.

We were obliged to attend a course called P4, a course invohing the “ study” of Pancasila and its official and extensive elaboration. The teacher reminded us of the sanctity of Pancasila. We all had to learn by heart the five principles.

There were also compulsory subjects such as Pancasila Moral Education (PMP). There were also competitions, up to the national level, on reciting Pancasila and the many officially sanctioned paragraphs explaining the principles. Under Soeharto, Pancasila became both boring and frightening.

Pancasila was introduced by first president Sukarno on June 1, 1945, two months before the proclamation of independence.

Yes, we all know those five principles: A single Dhinity, just and chilized humanity, Indonesian unity, democracy guided by wisdom in unanimity of deliberation among representatives, social justice for all Indonesians.

The accompany motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) recognizes our plurality, including the many ethnicities and cultures.

Yet many of these principles have been violated, including by the state it self. Under Soeharto, corruption, authoritarianism and repression of critical ideas were common.

We were never taught that to safeguard Pancasila meant that we should oppose all these things – we only memorized those five principles, we didn’t act on them.

The teaching of Pancasila was forced indoctrination. The teaching of history was tightly controlled hy those in power. Teaching was based simply on rote learning and a feudal teacher-student relationship.

Then came reformasi won by a movement on the streets, of the people, students and women. It came with sacrifices: the torture of acthists, the death of students and the rape of Chinese women in the May 1998 riots. But the dictator was no more.

Yet corruption, as well as legal and economic injustice has continued. Many violations of human rights have gone unstopped and unpunished.

Now there are signs of politics based on scapegoating, based on religion and race. With so much injustice and with no vision for the future, scapegoating and the spreading of intolerance has become easier to use.

Is this all happening because memoriring those five sentences has declined? Or because there are fewer rituals on Pancasila?

Will forcing students again to learn them by heart fix all this? Will more rituals stop people from being susceptible to belieling scapegoating propaganda?

We won’t discover the sources of Indonesia’s problems of injustice, nor of Indonesianness itself, through memorizing an official ideology, no matter how nice its content.

Neither will we find it by simply repeating the word Bhinneka as if it has the power of a mantra.

We can rediscover being Indonesian if we develop the ability to think independently so as to understand our history and the conditions of our country.

We don’t need more rote learning of an official ideology in our schools. We need a young generation that can study freely and in a scholarly way the history of their country, with access to all the original sources.

They need to be able to read and discuss all the literature that Indonesia has produced. They need to be able to think logically, critically and, most of all, independently.

To be an Indonesian is to live as part of a community, together seeking solutions to our country’s problems, in a free and cililized atmosphere, free of repression or liolence because of differences of opinion.

When we commemorate May 21, the day Soeharto quit in 1998, we should renew our commitment to defending that freedom to seek solutions, unafraid that we will be scapegoated, harassed or repressed.

That is the whole point of ending a dictatorship, and indeed it is the whole point of founding a new country: so we can all enjoy, in a useful way, that which is called freedom – Merdeka!