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Moral Politics of Nationhood: Four Lessons Learned

Bart Barendregt, Ratna Saptari, and Annemarie Samuels co-organised a two-day workshop on "Moral Politics of Nationhood: Constructions of Sexual, Political and Religious Others in Contemporary Indonesia". For the three organisers, it was an extremely motivating and inspiring event that has raised intriguing questions relevant for studies of Indonesia and beyond. They share their learning in 'Four Lessons Learned'.

Lesson 1

Annemarie Samuels: "It is crucial to analyze exclusionary processes from a historical perspective. An important case in this respect concerns the recent anti-LGBT sentiments in Indonesia. Presentations in this workshop confirmed existing reports that show that many LGBT people in Indonesia have to be increasingly secretive about their sexuality and that they are subject to exclusion and violence. Dédé Oetomo reminded us that while public sentiments may be increasingly anti-LGBT, behind the scenes a lot of diplomatic work is still being done to advance human rights, and also that we should still be hopeful for future change. Sylvia Tidey showed how LGBT rights activism has been increasingly aligned with activism for sexual and reproductive rights. While this has brought much good, she argued that we should be careful to attend to the inclusion of all LGBT people – not only those groups who matter for reproduction and HIV transmission".

Lesson 2

Bart Barendregt: "It struck me once again how big and extensive Indonesia is. Especially in discussions about the Indonesian motto (Unity in Diversity), we will have to keep putting diversity first. But the broader geographic and social-political context remains important too, for example with respect to changing Indonesian values, which are often at the expenses of minorities and vulnerable groups. It does make a difference whether you are homosexual in Jakarta, with all the facilities and possibilities that come with residing in a capital, but also the critical views of those who have difficulties with them, or in the East of Indonesia - far away from the capital and the delusions of things in the metropolitan area, where you may have fewer opportunities to experience homosexuality, but won't be displayed as the big Other. The same applies to many of our social media analyses in which we see how the Other is placed in a corner by hoaxes and hate speech. While much of our analysis is focused on the metropolitan (read Jakarta) use of social media, we know much less how social media facilitate these kinds of processes of "othering" in places outside Java". 

Lesson 3

Annemarie Samuels: "Anthropologists are in a unique position to empirically explore the ways in which boundaries between self and other are made, and we can use this knowledge to qualify our socio-political analyses. It was deeply moving and disturbing to hear from, amongst others Ratna Saptari and Herlambang Wiratraman how discussions of communism, the massacres of 1965-1966 and the consequences for the relatives of those labeled “communist” are still extremely difficult to have in Indonesia, and how this “labeling” still goes on in dangerous ways. Grace Leksana showed us how in a village severely affected by the massacres, school children did openly discuss the past in history lessons – offering an interesting observation of the relation between public silence and a relatively non-public space for discussion that people locally carve out. Similarly, Ferdiansyah Thajib offered a relatively hopeful example of queer Muslims, who against the odds find ways to both practice their faith and explore their sexuality".

Lesson 4

Bart Barendregt: "A final observation was that in a room full of academics and activists there is often sympathy for the oppressed Other, and rightfully so. But, we also portray the oppressor in question as the ignorant mass, hate-gripped, populist in nature and poorly taught. To prevent that we do not subject the other camp to processes of Othering, there is a great need to also study populists, fundamentalists, radicals, and hate preachers in their everyday context: what is it that drives them, what are they, besides a set of objectionable ideologies? In order to not depict them as the ignorant and hostile masses, we will also have to study the Other ethnographically".

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