Peace Be Upon Us

I have always been fascinated by the idea of peace, whether if it is peacemaking, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, or anything related with the condition of absence of violence (at least at the surface level). People who are considered to be pacifist such as Mahatma Gandhi or Dalai Lama, those who lived through implementing the idea of inner peace, opposing violence whatsoever, are the people I admired the most while at the same time creating various questions left unanswered: for whom are they doing it? For what cause? Is the any particular interest behind their action?

I learned quite a few things about peace and its performers. I know that defining something, including peace, is basically absurd since everyone has their own meaning of something. Some realist literature said that peace is simply a condition where there are no open conflicts between human beings. They emphasize on a concrete, tangible conditions of human interactions and argue that if one individual does not injure other individuals then one could say that peace has already been achieved. By all means, thus, the condition of peace is not perpetual, but rather it is a brief condition extended along a particular timetable; peace comes in a split second. In my wildest imagination, such explanation of peace reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984. Not in the part where the Nation is constantly going to war of course, but in a sense that the People are fabricated to put their labor to cultivate materials that could support the Country and therefore allocate their time to only one activity: work. The people just do not have the time to confront each other as their time are spent to make weapons, or newspapers, or infrastructures, and later on get some rest. Not to mention that they are constantly being watched by the Big Brother who main purpose of existence is to maintain security for the people.

The realist point of view was then criticized by those who adopt a more optimistic standpoint. The optimists believe that peace should be mankind’s primary desire and therefore human being’s final destination. Peace should not be a momentarily process. On the contrary, peace should be the eternal condition of our lives. The notion of ‘peace is the way’ than emerges as the primary equipment for the optimists to convince people that to achieve peace, one has to manifest peace in their daily lives. Accordingly, one formula that has to be fulfilled in the first place is inner peace: the psychological condition of every being to allow peaceful principles to occupy the self altruistically. Briefly, the mind is the tool of peace. As John Lennon and Yoko Ono once said: give peace a chance.

For me, it is interesting to see how the two major perspectives offer a distinct process to a similar goal. Realist approaches, as represented by its name, offered a highly realistic way to create peace. They accepted the existing world as it is, where everything – especially when we are talking about the bureaucracy – seems extremely intertwined and complicated. Therefore, they offer a solution that have more chance of success. Meanwhile its counterpart offered a highly idealistic way to peace. They argue that even though the world we known today are very complex, but if every single human being embody peace within themselves, than a perpetual peace can absolutely be achieved. The idea of cooperation, walking hand-in-hand, and mutual respect are the values held firm by the optimists.

Bigger picture, boys. Bigger picture.
Bigger picture, boys. Bigger picture.

Nevertheless, the two perspectives have a common ground whether you realize it or not. For me, their common ground is that both realists and optimists are agreeing to accept the world as it is. For me, both are neglecting the question “why are we not living in peace at the first place?”. It seems to me that both approaches ‘accept’ the outcome of the existing world structure, especially horizontal conflicts such as racial discrimination, religious conflicts, or social and economic disparity, and they departed their analysis from there. For example, Joseph Nye’s Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History. In his book, Nye gives a descriptive analysis on how the Pelopponesian War, World War II, Gulf War, and many other case studies happened in the first place. He then wrote some suggestions on how to avoid such thing to reoccur. For me, the more important question to be addressed is not about steps and sequences to prevent World War III, but more about “why should we accept the already erected structure that has proven not capable of creating peace?”.

I do realize that such question is extremely hard to address. I do realize that in order to answer my question, I firstly have to define the definition of ‘peace’ that I wanted to achieve. I also have to define the definition of the ‘existing structure’ that I have mentioned over and over again and give evidence on how such structure has failed to build peace. But, one thing I do believe is that no one should ever define what peace is. I am a firm believer of subjectivity: that every single definition of truth, articulated by every single individual, shall be appreciated equally especially in the academic realm. Therefore, for me, the answer of peace lies within the notion of subjectivity. It is highly depending on whether one could value difference or not. The thing is, there are too many conflicts out there that are rooted from difference. Majority of religious conflicts were lit by difference of beliefs. Similar formula also applied on racial conflicts. Another example could be seen on how dictators had produced more victim compared to a democratic state. Characteristic features of a dictatorship is that the state’s policy is led by only one group’s or individual’s idea. It does not cherish differences in the decision-making process, leave alone the voices of the people. Rudolph J. Rummels’ Death by Government shows that Joseph Stalin, the once dictator leader of Russia, killed approximately 42 million lives, Adolf Hitler killed about 20 million lives, and Pol Pot killed about 2 million people. All three of them are considered as dictators in their respective countries.

I went to Russia a couple of months ago. There, I had a chance to meet fellow Indonesian students and discuss about what we can do to make our country better. We discussed variety of issues that needed to be addressed by the government, ranging from politics, economy, security, as well as education. When we were discussing about the role of education in shaping Indonesia’s future, the majority of the delegates agreed that Indonesia education system, especially in the elementary level, is still lacking on promoting democratic values and human rights. We believed that only through the promotion of human rights that horizontal conflicts in Indonesia could be reduced. Unfortunately, a couple of delegates[1] opposed such idea. They said that democracy is a ‘western product’ and therefore not suitable to be implemented in Indonesia. They are a firm believer of Pancasila as the one and only ideational and constitutional anvil. One of them even said, bluntly, that the ever long process of discussion and brain storming are tiring and inefficient. He suggests that the next meeting should give more power to the chairmen of meeting so that decision-making process could be shortened.

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It was evident, therefore, that the idea of singular dominion to create a ‘better’ Indonesia is still being considered as an option amongst the people. More ironically, the idea was nourished by fellow students that supposed to be the cornerstone of the Reformation process. Whereas, for me, one way for Indonesia to be a more peaceful country is by moving forward and stop walking down the memory lane; through the social propaganda of ‘Penak jamanku tho?’[2] with the face of Soeharto in it. For me, the reason why squeezing the values of human rights into our education system is important is because Indonesia has long sank under the condition of negative peace during the Soeharto era. We may never experienced a mass demonstration on the street. We may not also seen riot in public spaces. But underneath them all, mass killing happened, kidnapping by the authority happened, and lives after lives were taken by the government to produce an image of ‘stable society’. Remember that there is a reason why Joshua Oppenheimer created The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence at the first place. In brief, Indonesian people have to learn to be friend with differences; to familiarize oneself with diversification that exists.

I once did a community service in a district called Kolo, in Bima, Nusa Tenggara Barat. I spent approximately two months in this remote area. It was during Ramadhan back then and one of the routines that Moslem has to do during Ramadhan is Taraweeh prayer. For those who did not familiar, Taraweeh is a prayer that is conducted during the night of Ramadhan. One day me, my friends, and local kids were preparing to go Taraweeh in a mosque nearby. In my unit which consists of nine people, two of them are Christians and they both women. So when we were about to go to the Mosque, the two of them stayed at home and wanted to lock the door. One of the kids then shouted, “Why are you not coming with us?”. I then explained that both of them have different beliefs with ours and they pray in their own way. And the kid added,

Ah, I see. So they’re Kafir then?”.[3]

I was completely struck by this kid’s statement. Even though at the end me and my friend tried to explain about how people should be free to choose their own beliefs – and how each one of us should cherish such differences – it still left a very strong lesson within myself. Is this really happening in my country?

[1] Name and country of representative are concealed due to ethical reason.

[2] Translated as ‘Better in my era, eh?’, referring back to Soeharto’s authoritarian regime.

[3] Kafir (كافر) is an Arabic for ‘Infidel’. The literal meaning of this word is someone who does not believe in Allah as their God, and Muhammad as the final messenger of Allah. In Indonesia, it often used as a mock or slur to address non-Moslem individuals or groups.

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