As far as absurdity goes in my daily job, this certainly beats looking Sri Mulyani right in the eye or sleeping under a highway.
Wondering if the pillars ahead are real or cardboard, it struck me that this is the first time I have ever been inside a church. No, there was that time back in high school when I accidentally walked in before a mass was about to start, but that was because I mistook the place for band’s rehersal studio.
This is not a mass, but still the awkwardness feels tingly; more so because the gentleman speaking to the audience, which now includes myself, starts to talk about Islam, the nation’s largest religion in terms of followers.
Being one of those followers, I have always been somewhat enclosed in a cocoon separating us as Muslims from ‘the others’ Christians, Catholics, Buddhists and so on. ‘We’ are engrossed in our own discussions about ‘them’, ‘the others’ whose beliefs differ from us.
It is not rare for these discussions to evolve into a game of point-the-finger; it is easy for people to point out the mistakes of others. I have always felt a tad disturbed when someone refers to Christians or Jews or other faiths as scheming undertakers of the world. Sadly these references cross my path every now and then.
But never have I known what it felt like to be on the other side until that particular gentleman told his audience about how this ‘massive’ group is out there mustering their strength and strategizing with frightening precision.
These unnerving ‘others,’ whose shadow constantly looms over apparently everyone present in the room, except me, are those of my own religion. I sink deeper in my seat hoping no one will notice.
Indeed, by common sense there is really no need for me to feel intimidated. The mass will not jump on me, should they find out about the little infiltrator, whom was invited to the event by the means of the glorious fax machine, by the way.
Yet it is almost impossible not to feel uneasy about this whole situation. Its similarity to what I often encounter was overwhelming. The fear of those other than us, the assumptions, the suspicion…the only difference is where I am placed in this whole mind game. This time, I am the outsider
For decades Indonesia has been priding itself on ‘Pancasila’, the pluralistic ideology that guarantees religious tolerance. Primary school textbooks set out examples of respecting those of different religions, and politicians, of course, are constantly blurting out reassuring words of peace.
Then why is this fear so entrenched in our minds? Why do we fear some monstrosity that is out there to get us? A friendship is tainted when you constantly suspect your friend is trying to steal your cake.
Does it really matter, though? The mere existence of me realizing all these things? Naively I will say yes. Try going to a church, mosque or whichever place of worship of religious you claim to have nothing against and get your dose of squeamish thoughts.
After that, perhaps you can put some ice cubes in your burning ears before thinking about how distanced you are from the ‘others’ and how much you really love your cake.