Indonesia’s Religious Violence

Nov 2nd, 2011, in Featured, News, by

Andreas Harsono on whether Muslim journalists cover up or distort stories of religious violence.

Andreas HarsonoJournalist Andreas Harsono says that his fellow Indonesian journalists have a tendency to downplay religious violence against minorities.

In “Indonesia’s Religious Violence: The Reluctance of Reporters to Tell the Story” Andreas says after the Cikeusik, West Java incident, when villagers belonging to the “Cikeusik Muslim Movement” attacked a home belonging to an Ahmadiyah sect person and beat three people to death the coverage of the event locally and internationally was quite different:

Jawa Pos, Kompas, Pikiran Rakyat, Republika, and Suara Merdeka, five of the largest newspapers in Java, as well as TV One and MetroTV, Indonesia’s most important news channels, used the word bentrokan or “clash” in describing what happened, leaving the impression that it was a fair fight. The channels broadcast the first part of the amateur video—showing villagers throwing stones—but they did not show the killing.

On the other hand:

Al Jazeera, ABC Australia, Associated Press Television Network, BBC and CNN used the verb “attack” in their reporting, and this word helped them place the news story in the context of the rise of Islamist violence in Indonesia. They blurred the brutal video scenes, but they broadcast them. Al Jazeera even broadcast a report on Islamist attacks against Christian churches and Ahmadiyah properties in Indonesia.

Similarly, when two West Papuan men were filmed being tortured by Indonesian soldiers in 2010, local tv did not broadcast the videos, he says.

There is a persistent pattern since the downfall of the New Order, where there have been:

  • 430+ attacks on churches since 2004 (when SBY came to power)
  • 180+ attacks on Ahmadiyah properties since the 2008 decree against them


Given the frequency of such attacks, the international news media took up the story of Muslim violence in Indonesia.

Local media on the other hand are conflicted and practise a form of self-censorship when dealing with Islamic violence; a survey of Indonesian journalists found that:

  • In an average Indonesian newsroom, most media workers identify closely with an Islamic and nationalist identity. Asked to complete the sentence, “Above all, I am a(n) …” the primary identity cited by about 40 percent of respondents was “Indonesian” (40.3 percent) and “Muslim” (39.7 percent). Only 12 percent said they were a “journalist” first.
  • When asked if they supported banning the Ahmadiyah sect, 64 percent of the surveyed journalists said yes.

As an anecdote, Andreas says he has heard of a Muslim chief editor of a newspaper telling an editorial meeting:

Our policy is to eliminate the Ahmadiyah. We have to get rid of the Ahmadiyah.

And that in other cases news chiefs avoid screening certain news events because they do not wish to create a negative impression of Indonesia (Papua torture case) or incite further violence (Cikeusik), or because they wish to avoid upsetting Muslim clerics.

Meanwhile, on the ground, ordinary journalists

continue to use their religious and nationalist reflexes

to sometimes twist and distort the perception of events, Andreas says.

52 Comments on “Indonesia’s Religious Violence”

  1. Oigal says:

    A fair telling of what is occurring although I would raise a couple of points:

    Al Jazeera, ABC Australia, Associated Press Television Network, BBC and CNN used the verb “attack” in their reporting, and this word helped them place the news story in the context of the rise of Islamist violence in Indonesia.

    I would question the use of the word ATTACK was a deliberate ploy to raise the notion of raising the Islamist violence issue rather can anyone honestly say the word was a misuse of a verb to describe what occurred.

    Secondly, I would question the integrity and creditability of Indonesian journalists in general (with some notable and all too often dead exceptions) covering not just Muslim issues. Seriously, the current crop of Presidential Candidates indicate the complete failing to the press to call so call leaders to account. Bakrie, Prabowo, Kalla hardly Muslim as such but by their very ability to be considered front runners is a condemnation of Indonesian Journalism.

  2. rustyprince says:

    Sounds to me that PANCASILA has a fight on its hands. So, I wonder could this be an elite divergence in Java where Islam is being shaped to marginalise the overly-represented Christians and strongly nationalist who only nominaly adhere to the Koran?
    Overall I’m still optimistic about Indonesia and i believe that the majority are tolerant. I’ve spend alot of time in the Maluku’s and I can state categorically that the majority of both Christians and Islam are very mindful to show respect and understanding to eachother. A note of warning I’d make to any Islamic element still desiring that Indonesia will in a few decades be cleansed of the ‘Kafirs’: well Christians have no-where to go and going against the sterotype of the pious, radical follower of Muhamed, I find the average Christian here to be scarily devout and martydom is now engrained in their psyche.

  3. Lairedion says:


    A note of warning I’d make to any Islamic element still desiring that Indonesia will in a few decades be cleansed of the ‘Kafirs’: well Christians have no-where to go and going against the sterotype of the pious, radical follower of Muhamed, I find the average Christian here to be scarily devout and martydom is now engrained in their psyche.

    Too true. Sometime in the 90’s still during Orba I remember my aunt (RIP) stating it was a test from God after we heard news about a church being burnt down in Situbondo, like she almost was enjoying her faith being put to the test. According to her it was a clear sign God did care about her and fellow Christians. I replied to her while I respect her religious beliefs I find such an attitude worrying, Out of respect I didn’t say what I really thought (complete nuttery).

    With regard to the article I’m not surprised. The last decade has shown we don’t really need Islamic political parties to pursue an increasingly Islamist agenda. The so-called nationalists have contributed their fair share as well. If you only look in West Java where several mayors from nationalists parties have done nothing against the rise of FPI and other thugs, not to mention the many implemented sharia bylaws. In this kind of atmosphere the media but also the average Indonesian are indifferent or ignorant to what happened in Cikeusik, probably out of fear being labeled as kafir themselves, or outright supportive.

  4. ET says:

    Journalists being politically correct and adhering to the ideological line of their employer is not a phenomenon typical to Indonesia only. It happens all over the world and makes those with a critical mind suspicious of everything written in print or being pronounced by talking heads.
    Even avant-garde media like YouTube don’t escape pressure from above. The video about the Cikeusik killing that had been uploaded only survived a few days on the net before it was suddenly withdrawn. Unfortunately for the censors there are applications abound to quickly save controversial truth to one’s own hard drive.

    I wonder how long blogs and other social media will last before they come under attack from those who consider it is their duty to placate and ‘educate’.

  5. Oigal says:

    ET, I think you are correct however I think it safe to say in most democracies (if that is the term we must use for Indonesia). Scandals such as Lapindo, the child dying after being turned away by supposed care givers, murdering citizens on international carriers with impunity would be front page news for weeks until Ministers and/or governments

    I have always held the view that if SBY really wants to clean up corruption and make the country truly accountable to the people. Forget the Corruption commission, forget the nonsensical musical chairs. Just issue the strongest possible press protection laws.

    How long would idiot governors from West Java last in the hard glare of unafraid press, the FPI (seriously uneducated clowns), Police Chiefs on the take? Would a known terrorist get sentence reduction with the official comment of “we are not going to tell you why” in country with a aggressive unafraid press?

    I have never held the view that Indonesians are more corrupt or intolerant than others, its just here no one holds the thieves, bullies and cowards to account.

  6. Andry says:

    You are right but all jurnalists in the world tell the story with different words for their own markets. Aljazeera and ABC Australia used the word attack because it sells in their markets and Kompas and Jawa Pos tell the story with different words because the words sell their products. They do not do it because afraid of Muslim clerics. it is right Muslim clerics would clash with them but that is not their points. The wrong words would reduce their markets.
    Your problem is that you consider the world is one market.

  7. timdog says:

    I’m not entirely sure that I agree with Harsono’s contention about the way the international media treats Indonesia.

    For much of the past decade there was a very distinct discourse on Indonesia in the international (English language) media on Indonesia – the place was largely ignored, but where attention was given it was generally partrayed as a bad place of inter-ethnic violence, environmental catastrophes, and a place where the Islamist hordes were charging headlong for a place in the presidential palace…

    But in the last two years or so that seems to have changed. The abject failure of all the gleeful prophesies of electoral Islamist doom at the last election seems to have confused editors, and as a result they largely seem to have given up on Indonesia.

    But then recently there seems to have been a desire to scout around for “the next India/China”, as part of the wider “rising Asia” discourse. Thailand is currently a mess; Malaysia doesn’t have the requesite behemoth scale.
    But then there’s Indonesia, which does have those admirable growth figures…

    I think we may be starting to see a slight shift – I’ve seen and heard rather a lot of reports about Indonesia’s booming economy recently, and conversely a lack of reports about the bad stuff (of which there seems to be rather a lot at the moment)…
    Once the media creates a role for a country, it is hard for it to to break out of it.
    Indonesia has had a particular role since at least the late 1990s, but it may now have a new one…

    Just a thought.

  8. Oigal says:

    I would agree with TD. I have trouble sometimes recognizing the Indonesia I know described on international media..seriously positive.

    A little bit off topic but talking of media perceptions or selling, the latest “Visit Indonesia” commercial is wonderful but where on earth is this particular Jakarta?

  9. berlian biru says:

    Ah, something we can all agree upon.

    Indonesia is finally shedding its “nasty place where some seriously dreadful things are done by the sinister government when they’re not dying in their tens of thousands in natural and man-made disasters” image to be replaced by the “new rising star of the east, world’s largest Muslim majority democracy, still got problems but improving all the time” spiel.

    Unfortunately as the world’s media is usually five years behind the curve when it comes to Indonesia this probably means that things will be going tits up here very soon.

  10. rustyprince says:

    Come on Oigal escape that Borneal Swamp and those malarial pills, they’re seriously detrimental to postitive assessment…..wink dude… Indo is seriously booming and naturally the majority mired in a decade of austerity post-suharto have taken to optimism and that there is hope etc,and this is what makes Indonesia, essentially, so intoxicating and inviting for me. As for the Foreign Discourse Dialectic – is that the word – well they’ve missed the boat. When I came here in 2007 after a 8 year absence I couldn’t believe the bargains and investment potential on offer and the October 2008 Indonesian Stock crash was the opportunity of the century; in dollar terms in 18months one would have quinlupelled ones return. Yes of course there’s an endless plethora of scandal and angst and it is given some airing on Indo tv with Rumah Beda and Termehek Mehek – but an endless suPply the the former Jerry Springer style nonesense and you’ll have the essential Indo coquettish charm distilled down to a void soul even the best Stadium pills would find impossible to revive. In fact so bloody cool and normal is Indonesia becomming the Freeport and those other behemoths of paranoid alloofness are now letting they’re cossetted staff take R&R in Jakarta’s former most outrageous, crazy but inspiring and chilled club, it almost makes this sad clubber decry the Indonesia recovery and with it uncoordinated packs of expat miner beefcakes strangling the vibe. I want a return to the chaos!!!

    Lair, yes its seldom mentioned here on IM but Christian Fanaticism is quite an emerging force in Indonesia. I lived for a time beside one church in a mixed religious area and some of its congregation started coming in at 4 in the morning to belt out there mind-numbing Rohani/ I Love Jesus tunes. Christ it was driving me mad, you had theMajid just down the road going full-on, it was during the Ramadhan, and the Christians than to show they ‘lebihhh’ love Jesus getting in on the same anti-neighbourliness. Damn Oigal’s right U want to come to Indonesia leave your sanity at Immigrasi

  11. Oigal says:

    Well Rusty, I might take issue with you but central to the Topic, the Jakarta Post made a bit of a liar of me today. With a front page leader exposing that snaky hand of the Mud King in the Papua troubles..surprise surprise..

    It’s funny though, watching people act surprised the coppers and TNI are on the take. Is there anyone in Indonesia who didn’t know that

  12. Oigal says:

    I couldn’t believe the bargains and investment potential on offer and the October 2008 Indonesian Stock crash was the opportunity of the century; in dollar terms in 18months one would have quinlupelled ones return.

    Indeed you are correct Rusty, those wasters and spongers living under the toll road should have been speculating on the stock market. Nothing like a Bumi or Bakrie portfolio for open and transparent share trading.

    Those lazy wretches in Papua have nothing to complain about after all. Freeport paid 2.4 Billion in taxes and royalties last year (and lets not forget that the Indonesian Government is a major shareholder, 15 or is it 20% I forget).

    Let’s see, that means with 80% of that windfall supposed to be returned to the province just under 2 billion for 3 million people. Hmmmm been to Papua or Timika lately Rusty, a couple of bucks seem unaccounted for?

    How about dear ol Borneo? Literally billions upon billions of dollars a year in exports yet virtually impossible to find a Km of national highway not more fittingly called a goat track. Any number of Kalimantan provinces have children dying of malnutrition every week (they don’t tend to be able to reach the bar snacks at the clubs). I wonder where the money is?

    Perhaps I am being overly dark, but I am long way from from convinced the economic miracle that is Indonesia is anything more than smokes and mirrors for the 1%ers. Once the extractive industries are finished what is left? Do you honestly see anything in the pipeline?

    Still I must confess a certain wry amusement when the overtly nationalist and shallow thinkers complain about Indonesia’s colonial exploitation. Certainly the government has learned those lessons well and makes the former Dutch Overlords look like a bunch of well meaning matrons on a day trip.

  13. timdog says:

    I don’t dispute for a moment what you’re saying.

    However, this isn’t some uniquely condemnatory indictment of Indonesia; it’s something that occurs to a greater or lesser extent just about everywhere in the world, and which is, believe it or not, much worse in other places.

    The fact is that “trickledown economics”, the half-arsed idea invented as an ethical justification for unfettered right-wing financial approaches, is a load of old bollox, wherever you are in the world.

    Out in the sticks in China there are vast swathes of country completely untouched by the economic miracle of the “rising superpower”. In places like Gansu and Xinjiang you’ll find people living in hovels and with very limitted access to services, and seeing no sign of all those vast revenues.

    Think even about Australia and the US, during the good times – plenty of people out there not seeing much of the boom. Same goes for the UK too. Of course, those “western” cases don’t reach the kind of extreme you’ll see in Indonesia, but – sorry, I’m resorting to my most annoying tic yet again – go and have a look at India.
    The place is an “economic miracle” and a “rising superpower” with the richest people in the world and an army of globe-straddling graduates. And almost 40% of its women can’t read, and people die of primative diseases and malnutrition far more often than in Indonesia.

    The point of all this is that those grim injustices and failures of anything to trickledown further than the second level don’t render Indonesia’s current proclaimed economic performance a falsehood. The investment, the revenues, the growth figures are still real, just as they were once upon a time in the US, and just as they are in India and China.

    And the coldly pragmatic approach (whether you come from left or right) would be that ultimately its better for those revenues and that growth to be there, even without the “trickledown”, than not.

  14. timdog says:

    Of course, none of that doesn’t mean that the international media oughtn’t to be less myopically inclined to clamber into the carriages of a rumbling cartoonish discourse. But that, unfortunately, is how the media works.

    I think I’ve mentioned Galtung and Ruge, a pair of influential media academics who came up with a list of 12 “news values”, the factors which determine whether or not a story gains coverage. For the international media Indonesia has long failed on most of those factors, particularly on “meanigfulness” and lack of “abiguity”. This is always the lot of a country populated with people not much like “us”, and therefore is any kind of very simple discourse on the country exists, that’s the only way it will get coverage.
    The Indonesia discourse for the past decade has been precisely what BB described: “nasty place where some seriously dreadful things are done by the sinister government when they’re not dying in their tens of thousands in natural and man-made disasters”
    Now it’s shifted to “Muslim democracy success story and the ‘next India'”.

    As long as Indonesia continues to fail on so many of the determining “news values”, so long as it remains ambiguous, meaningless, and populated by far from “elite” people, stories that require an editorial side-step off the tracks of the existing discourse will be largely ignored.

    One aside, however: the “rising India” discourse has become so well established, and the bleak flipside of all those tech industry success stories is so obvious to anyone who actual goes there, even as a tourist, that a secondary media discourse, something along the lines of “the underbelly of the rising superpower” has come into being.
    There are plenty of reports out there now which attempt to show “the parts of India left behind by the economic miracle”, so many that this in itself has become a cliche. Hell, there was even a Booker Prize novel based on that discourse (the White Tiger; it’s alright, but Mohammed Hanif should’ve won for A Case of Exploding Mangoes)…

    If Indonesia keeps up its current “rising economic power” performance, a similar secondary discourse might eventually appear – probably, like BB says in about five years time when the whole country is sliding into the abyss! 😉

  15. Oigal says:

    However, this isn’t some uniquely condemnatory indictment of Indonesia; it’s something that occurs to a greater or lesser extent just about everywhere in the world, and which is, believe it or not, much worse in other places.

    Timdog, Indeed and I was recently offered a position India to which the response was “there has been a cold snap in hell” and as you so rightly point out Somalia is no literal bed of roses.

    Frankly, I quite enjoy Indonesia (obviously?) and perhaps if I can find that mystical white sandy beach with all of life’s other luxuries may stay forever. Never the less, I remain the economic immigrant who will always have the option of “up stakes” when the work disappears. My concern remains with the 98% who will not have that option.

    I do agree the reading and even the “bahasa” are somewhat awesome achievements but then…

  16. rustyprince says:

    I’m writing of the foreign interpretation of Indonesia and how an enlightened investor prepared to ignore the negitivity that pervaded Western discourse until recently would have benefited. I’m aware of the mass poverty here, frown, but it amazes me that despite this the majority of people maintain an outward cheerfulness which maY suggest an inclination to hopefulness. There’s little resort to alienation induced violence compared to the States or neighboring Philipines. And that’s made me search for explanations and being that the vast majority are of the Islamic persuasion that there may be something in the Core inclusive tenets from the Koran that keep the lid on what should be,or would be in many comparable nations, a bubbling cauldron. Or at least with Islam the angry young males energies are funnelled into, unthreatening for the elite, fringe theocratic slights. I myself believe that this, if it is an undeclared elite strategem, may become a major future obsatacle to Indonesia – Sharia – and that a better alternative is more a genuine left-wing movement to develop and for the elite to voluntary begin re-distribution. After-all can this commodity boom last. But there is now a large internal demand that Is driving the economy as Indonesia plays catch-up. And I can’t abide sombong Westerners belittling the locals capabilities. There’s a greater vitality, spontaniety here than in Malaysia or Singapore and together with a genuine feminine emancipation the Indonesian decade when it gets into full swing will I predict end with this nation having an aura that will be the match for the fabled charm of Shrangri La.

    Ps David apologies if this double posts, in unreliable network demense and Ye expat Behemoths should pay up

  17. Oigal says:

    I’m writing of the foreign interpretation of Indonesia

    🙂 I am sorry I thought it was us sad sacks in the Borneo Swamps (the atypical hangout of us leftie liberals)

    BTW..Jus kidding..Its a slow saturday

  18. Lairedion says:


    There’s little resort to alienation induced violence compared to the States or neighboring Philipines.

    Yup, it has been all quiet and peaceful in the islands. What happened in Kalimantan, Maluku, Poso and West Java are minor incidents, not noteworthy really. Plus the current dissatisfaction approaching boiling point, especially in the outer provinces, will also die out soon.

    Basic commodities like bras, daging ayam, gula pasir, minyak goreng and telor are almost unpayable for wong cilik plus the ongoing GKI Yasmin case in Bogor is a clear example on how basic constitutional rights are being trampled by authorities in cooperation with vigilante groups, despite a Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of the church.

    Sorry but I don’t share your optimistic view but I’m not an investor.

  19. rustyprince says:

    Alienation, I’m comparing how poverty in comparable Central America, Brazil, Caracas, South Africa and closer to Indonesia in Manila or even western districts of Sydney/Melbourne results in large scale petty crime up to whole scale borderline violent carnage.

    So can I ask why in the early hours of a july 1998 morning and in the midst of the greatest recorded economic collapse on record, occurring in an already humble society, was I an unaccompanied, average sized westerner able to emerge from a Surabaya train station and wonder around for 4hrs before getting the bus to Probolinggo. I was seen by dozens of non-dominciled residents, probably migrants from the rural kampungs with dreams that never materialised. But beyond surprised glances not a single street dweller bothered me. And Lairedion that is in my book truely remarkable. The whole month of July in Java where a only note of discord was a cranky guide in Bromo angry with some Danes for complaining about the cold.

    So could it not be Islam that stopped the crushing reality of economic anihilation being transformed into longterm degeneration with no-go city centers and 100s of murders per capita, per annum? Seriously I had to laugh at two wholesome midwestern students officially warned not to visit Jakarta when Chicago has a 12 times greater liklihood of an encounter with alienated induced violence. And look what enveloped from the collapse in Europe the 1930s. What will emerge this time around in Western Societies submerged in debt, with deficits impossible to bridge and pension costs ever-increasin? Indonesia however negligible it may be, now offers the prospect of a better future, that assurance is now gone from vast numbers of Westerners.

    All the other places You mentioned, have visited them all and lived in Ambon for an extended period. Diffrent type of conflict to what I meant to get across before. Unfortunately, there will be repeat episodes but the government and security agencies along with the vast swell of middle persuasion in both communities will never allow it to happen again. Its actually Minahas where I could see a problem in a decade or so as Manado and Bitung move to 50/50 and will the Christians voluntarily share the spoils of political patronage. Sharia inclined parties can prey on this mistrust and hence a secular leftist grouping is required to advocate and represent for the workers/dispossessed. Hopefully the US has gone the route of a clearly delineated Left/right paraidigm instead of the jingoistic facism that seems to be gaining ground, and if its the former I have no fearss of a similiar shift arising accross these islands. Why? Because the point well made by Timdog and ET on the parrallel thread, Europe until the late 90s was the better for avoiding the absolutism of exclusive ideological dogma. The US has not been as lucky with absolutism reigning but when Obama is disowned by much of the progressive lobby next year, but re-elected with a volte-face by Fox News the long term revival of America will be ignited with blatant Clintonit/blairite duplicity shunned. Optimism, way to go!!!

  20. Oigal says:

    You will have to forgive my inability to “cut and paste” today so I will have to resort to the NSW police habit of verbaling.

    I would suggest that you are painting an overly rosy picture on petty theft and/or crime driven by poverty and lack of opportunity (amongst other things) in Indonesia. I assume you have not noticed the literally hundreds of thousands of security guards at every business, company, house that can afford same? I grant you that violent armed crime for profit at the lower levels is rarer but growing.

    By the same token violent armed crime for crime (rent a mob) is a standard business practice for many of the very people you seem to be crediting with creating the economic paradise of Indonesia. You don’t have look very hard at the current situation in Papua, recently in Balikpapan and Sulawesi (all of which cost lives) to see the slimey but very very well known and oft feted hands of evil.

    Could it not be Islam that prevented the violence? I would suggest the Chinese in Jakarta would disagree. Again most know what the rallying cry was during the systemic rape and pillage of that period. Further that would not explain the relative calm in the majority christian areas. I am not saying that Islam or Christianity was better or worse during that period but rather you suggesting a link that did not really have that much impact.

    I find it curious but it seems you are purely talking about a Westerner living in Indonesia having a better life as he/she ages. Surely you cannot be suggesting that for the vast majority of Indonesians age brings nothing but worry about how to make pittance feed you, limited if any access to reasonable health care.

    i would agree that it should not be that way, nor is there any need for it to be. However, if there was ever an example of the false theory of trickle down economics without robust government intervention then Indonesia is it.

    The economic miracle its based on a unsustainable house of cards erected for the benefit of a clutch of immoral Robber Barons. No different to early USA and Australia unforunately I doubt Indonesia will get the same 200 years to rein their human devils in.

    Lastly, I wonder how far you would have got in Surabaya that day if you have been Chinese?

  21. timdog says:

    So could it not be Islam that stopped the crushing reality of economic anihilation being transformed into longterm degeneration with no-go city centers and 100s of murders per capita, per annum?

    I don’t think so, partly because Islam in its full monolithic might just doesn’t have the depth of impact in much of Indonesia that might be neccessary to have such an effect, but also because many of the positive issues of social resilience and lack of petty casual violence which you mention are also found in non-Muslim parts of Asia.

    Also, I’m a little less positive than you in general. I think we discussed on some other thread at some point a definite up-tick in the formless anger in Indonesia at the moment.
    This is one seriously money-obsessed country, and anyone who thinks otherwise has surely never actually spoken to an Indonesian. It’s also a place where -thanks to various factors, family networks of debt and “face” historically, and the absurd orgy of consumerism at present in particular – people have a spectacular inability to live in accordance with their means. By that I don’t mean genuinely impoverished people “struggling to make ends meet”; I mean men with a wife and child to support paying over half their monthly income in credit repayments on a second motorbike they didn’t need; I mean office girls on Rp1 million a month touting a Rp3 million mobile phone.
    And then beneath them you’ve got a vast swathe of people who can’t even scrape together the Rp400K uang muka to get themselves locked in to monthly payments on the latest keren banget Honda Pieceofshit for the rest of their lives, and who have no pulsa to SMS uncle to ask for a loan. And those guys – young guys mostly – are angry. It’s a banal anger, but a potentially dangerous one.

  22. Oigal says:

    I mean office girls on Rp1 million a month touting a Rp3 million mobile phone.

    I was waiting for Rusty to hammer me with that one. “How can you possibly claim people are starving to death or even the majority are struggling when even the most bare arse urchin over the age 12 is clutching a mobile phone…

    My answer…please let me use the “wet” smile…I have no friggn idea how that works or can even understand it.

    One of our girls had to be counseled as she borrowed from the company and had not been paying it back. What a tale of woe and misery…less than ten days later turned up on a new “Jupiter”…credit? Paid the previous bike off ..nope..the company..nope..

  23. timdog says:

    Yeah, that’s the thing about Indonesia that truly terrifies me. Sure, it’s not as eye-catching as a burning church or a trillion-rupiah corruption scadal, but as a devestating social cancer, it’s specatularly pervasive.

    Part of the horror it enduces in me, I am ready to recognise, is entirely down to my own upbringing. The value of money was something me and my brother were maid abundantly aware of when we were kids, because there wasn’t much of it about. Our clothes and toys were all handmedowns, we were allowed five-pence-worth of penny sweets from the cornershop by the school each week, and we went out for a meal (scampi and chips in the pub) once a year on Grandma’s birthday.
    I am spectacularly grateful for that upbringing, as it has let me go a very long way on a very small amount, but it does leave me struggling to check an upwelling of genuine rage everytime an Indonesian with absolutley no sense of the value of money jealously tells me that we’re “kaya semua disana”, or that it’s “enak sana, gajinya buanyak,” or pointedly mentions that “poundsterling paling tinggi, kan?” as if the fact that one pound is worth Rp15K means anything except in the very limited scope of spending power of some wealthy tourists on short visits to Bali.
    God, I’d love to ship them out to the UK and see how far they get on a pot-washer’s wage for a month…

    Anyway, this credit culture and mindless sok kaya consumerism is the thing with by far them most potential to destroy Indonesian society. It’s also surely one of the biggest drivers of corruption.

    Obviously there has always been a debt culture here. One of the key aspects of traditional family and community structure in Java in particular is the network of debts owed. One of the most telling lines that Clifford Geertz ever came up with was when he pointed out that the much-mythologised “gotong royong” was not, as is so often claimed, a kind of selfless primitive socialism, but all about debts and favours owed – “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, or more likely “you donate something to my daughter’s wedding, and I’ll do the same for you next year”.
    When a society is stable – as in say a remote rural community 50 years ago – this allowed a finely balanced system, where people with essentially no resources could host huge kudos-earning family events.

    But we ain’t in the 1930s any more. We’re not even in the 1990s, and the mindset behind all of that have now produced the kind of low-level debt nightmare of the kind you mention with that girl and her motorbike.

    In my bleaker moments I really do think that Indonesian society, from middle-middle class down to genuinely working working class is utterly destroying itself through this stuff.
    If the head of a family makes, say, Rp2.5 million a month, how the f*ck can there be four motorbikes, all unpaid for, sitting out the front? That’s the entire household income gone already.
    And how are these 20-something Indonesians, living at home with no rent to pay, and in practice having exhausted their entire salary by the end of the first weekend – on absolute sh*t from the mall – ever going to move forward in life?
    Unless, of course, somewhere in the family there’s a civil servant… and there in lies the rub.
    I also get a little moment of horror when an Indonesian bemoans the corruption of their country to me. It’s hopeless to try and explain, but that mobile phone that you can’t afford, and that motorbike you haven’t paid for, and that meal you casually “treated” your buddies to last saturday at the entire cost of your salary – you can’t see the link, even if indirect, between all of that and corruption?

    And that all plays into the “anger” too. People can theorise all they want about the grand forces at play behind rage and violence, but I’d wager that “pulsa abis” and either an inability to find Rp400k to “buy” a bike, or an inability to find Rp400k to meet this month’s payment on the bike you already “own” are amongst the biggest sources of rage in this country…

  24. rustyprince says:

    Hopefully the following isn’t too pedanatic. When I get to a broadband connection I’ll see can I confirm the following mainly that Indonesia is expanding despite the most rigorous credit limitations a lesson learnt from the 90 loan free for all. Also National debt is 70% is in freefall compared to the West. Ok the grapevine had it that the Chinese had withheld investment until 2006 and it was this period 8 years after the Asian financial Tsunami that Indonesia again matched its 1997 GDP. With the first glimmers of hope many long delayed essential outlays – motorbikes, computers and particularly home improvements were put in motion. So investment had return and the velocity of money was carrying these rupiahs into other productive conductors. Next commodities went OTT, and with the mixed garden system a lot of small landholders have done well. Combined with a stable government and a fair system of resource allocation and we are witnessing a nation-wide awakening eg Kupang booming despite being a peripheral, resource void.

    Ok you have me a little concerned with credit aimed at youngsters for unessentials could be a symptom of Asians paying undue deference to ‘Bule’ expertise or codology with the phalank of Westerners in banking directorships. B ut computers are half the price they were only 4years ago and India will soon make them half that amount thus bringing IM and The Drum to every statrum, so perhaps Indonesia can escape the serious, incidious, ailment of debt-slavery poisoning its society. I say escape, beacause the amounts are currently negligible versus the West and here I come to why I’m confident here and maybe it is an investor instinct. The economic fundamentals of the West are so bloody dire.

    Can any Westerner really justify the ration of 10+ with salaries here. At the moment we have Europe and the US less under the radar beseeching the BRIC nations to purchase our treasuries to maintain our lifestyle, with the bullet to the head threat that we’ll default and go madly protectionist. Well that’s only a threat really for India and China. With the resources here and internal demand this decade will end with I confidently predict the salary ratio versus the West falling to 4, Lombok becoming equally as developed as Bali, train travel under 3hrs between Jakarta and Surabaya, the traversing of the Sunda Straits by one of the worlds most magnificient engineering feets, Lagu Indonesia regularly topping the international charts and the Coup de Grace Indonesia being awarded the 2028 FIFA World Cup.

    My reccomendation anyone whoes able quicky get here to get a piece of the Garuda Decade

  25. timdog says:

    Rusty, I don’t dispute all that stuff about the growth, but it’s the fact that everyone down the scale from super-rich seems to have gone collectively mental with their spending, on total non-essentials that is the major worry in Indonesia. And the more the economy grows, the more “products” come onto the market, the worse it gets.

    All those young people wandering around the malls? Of the ones that are working, very few of them are on much more than Rp2 million a month; for all your predictions of massive salary increases, I don’t see too much sign of it – Rp1 million is still a by no means unusual salary for a graduate in a low-level admin job in urban Java.
    Salaries haven’t matched the rise in cost of living in Indonesia in the last few years. That alone would be bad enough if what people were spending their money on stayed stable. But the fact is that they are just buying more and more and more…

    Your average 20-something Indonesian from the middle classes owns a laptop costing 5 million, a motorbike worth 20 million, and a phone worth 2 million. That may well amount in real terms to items worth TWO YEARS OF THEIR SALARY…
    And this is entirely normal in Indonesia these days.

    Can you imagine a young graduate in the UK doing a low-grade admin job owning a vehicle, a computer and a phone worth a sum total of £30,000????????
    Your projected salary increases are going to have to go a very long way before they bring any of this into the realms of a sustainable reality.

    And then these same wildly profligate people are still getting married (often “by accident”) at the age of 23, and setting up house, still without any concept of their own means. So where does the money for that come from? From mum and dad. But mum and dad probably have their own mass of monthly repayments to meet and probably only make about 4 million a month net anyway. So they have to follow the threads of the family gotong royong netwok back to whichever uncle it is that has one of those jobs… you know, one of those jobs, like a policeman, or a civil servant…

    I’m afraid my coherence comes to pieces when I consider this topic, because I simply can’t get over how totally nuts it is…
    I don’t really know what the consequence of it could be, but surely you can’t have a country continuing to do this?

    And meanwhile this is the same stuff that’s making those slightly poorer people, the ones who can only just get into the lower levels of the credit frenzy or who can’t even get into it at all, angry, angry angry…

  26. ET says:

    timdog said

    I am spectacularly grateful for that upbringing, as it has let me go a very long way on a very small amount, but it does leave me struggling to check an upwelling of genuine rage everytime an Indonesian with absolutley no sense of the value of money jealously tells me that we’re “kaya semua disana”, or that it’s “enak sana, gajinya buanyak,” or pointedly mentions that “poundsterling paling tinggi, kan?” as if the fact that one pound is worth Rp15K means anything except in the very limited scope of spending power of some wealthy tourists on short visits to Bali.

    Smack on the nail. It also makes me wonder whether this so-called Indonesian economic boom can develop any structural meaning if the majority of its recipients are still endowed with no more financial insight than that money in the West grows on trees and that its primary goal must be to satisfy the need for gengsi and to show off one’s latest iPhone or Blackberry. I’ll never forget the disappointed and at the same time deriding look on this young kid’s face when I admitted that I only owned one car.
    By the way, I always wonder what kind of indicators are used to pretend that country so and so is becoming an economic powerhouse in such a short time. Growth figures in GDP per capita, industrial production, exports etc. have only meaning if they are sustained over substantial periods of time – by which I mean decades – and go hand in hand with redistributive mechanisms that form the basis for future household spending, improvements in local infrastructure, education, healthcare, decent retirement plans, etc. Until such mechanisms are firmly in place Indonesia’s booming economy might just as well prove to be a giant on clay feet, prone to collapse under pressure from outside as well as from within.

  27. rustyprince says:

    Tim, this is one of the great mysteries of life in Indonesia for me and I’ve spoken with Lasslo, your fellow font of knowledge on TT, about this and we just can’t accept the figures. Like, I have tried to hire perahus – motorised canoes in Maluku for just 2hrs and the fishermen won’t budge from quoting 200,000rp, so I just walk away, bingung sekali. Your probably aware that civil-servant salaries are augmented in numerous official enhancements, like the travel allowance to meetings in the Jakarta up to 20juta from Papua for 3days in the capital or the Malang Kabupatan staff getting a million for delivering the letter in person to the Govenors Office in Surabaya. All the teachers I know do private lessons. My friend was offered a job in Trisaki – official salary 3jt but also living allowance of 5jt, but when people query his salary he’ll say 3jt rather than the combined total. But most of my reflections are based on experience in Manado and Maluku where Buruh salaries are double what the unskilled get in Java.

    On your scepticism to the gap being bridged with Western wages, well I’m expecting a big appreciation of the rupiah. Its a bit of an ego thing with the Indonesian authorities, or subliminal inferioity, but they believe in strong currency, just chart the rise of the rupiah from the late 80s to 97. This time with the economic fundamentals, supposedly ring fenced it shouldn’t arrive at the same fate and eight large bintang in jalan jaksa for the price of a heinekein in Portobello. Indeed one could also make a prediction of role reversal and packs of young Asians descending on on Europe with wallets that never run dry and rapacious supple blonds way OTT with the flirting. Maybe still SF but who knows as Bwrlusconi is finally brought to heel.

  28. berlian biru says:

    I too am a bit confused about the amount of consumerism on the back of such low salaries but we perhaps shouldn’t get too carried away. Timdog’s characterisations are entirely valid and we all know young people like them but they are very much in a minority and largely to be found in urban settings and importantly among people as he says who are “connected” to sources of cash.

    Most people in Indonesia have crappy second hand motorbikes which they cadged off someone else who needed to sell it in a hurry, the latest Blackberrys and handphones I have seen are usually in the hands of professionals or the children of same. The busiest handphone shops I see are not in the swanky malls, usually empty, but the second hand stalls in Kota.

    Added to that is that Indonesians still live a hell of a lot cheaper than people in the west, not just comparatively but actually. They do not spend a fraction of what similar young westerners spend on rent or mortgages or more essentially food and drink, they don’t entertain themselves in the same way as young westerners nor take the same holidays, nor do they spend as much on clothes and transport. These things add up to a much larger chunk of disposable income left over to buy a shit, second hand, Chinese copy, “Samsung” i-phone.

    They spend on pulsa as a proportion of income a hell of lot less than a minimum wage worker in the UK spends on booze, football and fags.

  29. ET says:

    @ berlian biru

    Most people in Indonesia have crappy second hand motorbikes which they cadged off someone else who needed to sell it in a hurry, the latest Blackberrys and handphones I have seen are usually in the hands of professionals or the children of same. The busiest handphone shops I see are not in the swanky malls, usually empty, but the second hand stalls in Kota.

    That’s right but this not what really counts. What is important is not the absolute worth of these cravings and gadgets but the priorities these things are given in every day life. You are right that maybe they only spend a fraction of what similar young westerners do but this cannot imply that unquestioningly emulating this lifestyle will help them line up their priorities to build a sustainable future. From what I see in the place where I live progress in living conditions is generally measured in motorbikes and handphones to be shown off rather than in productive tools and education.

  30. timdog says:

    I always get this warm fuzzy feeling when I agree with ET… 😉

    BB, I may possibly, slightly over-egg the pudding on this topic, but you’re pushing it too far in the other direction.

    Mindful of this thread I actually paid attention to those around me on my morning bike ride across the city today, and seriously the proportion of crappy old bikes to crappy new bikes is rapidly dwindling. Look at the ranks of Mios and Varios lined up outside every streetside warung (as a connoisseur of the traditional step-through bebek, I must confess to a violent antipathy to absurd “matic” scooters endorsed by Agnes Monica; I f&%£n’ hate them).
    All of them were bought on credit.

    And this is rapidly pushing out into the villages too. Seriously, go and take a wander around out there. You won’t have to go far until you hear stories about people selling their land. In the old days they did that when they were hungry, or when someone was sick. Now they’re doing it to meet the banal financial demands of their 20-year-old children. Or ask ET about what the people in Bali who sell their sawah to a villa-builder spend the earnings on.
    Or picture this: a small township on a little island somewhere in Maluku or NTT. There’s a warung, a market and a couple of Chinese shops. And 40 aggressive, angry young men on motorbikes, harassing the ibu2 when they take a bemo in from the village to buy beras, or going absolutely berserk when an outsider steps off the daily ferry.
    They are all the sons of farmers and fishermen; they wheedled the uang muka out of mum and dad, and bought the bike (sometimes through the Chinese shopkeepers) on the claim that they would make a living as an ojek driver. However. The little township could perhaps support three ojek drivers. Now there are 40 of them. Occasionally they make enough money to buy petrol, cigarettes and pulsa, but they never make enough to meet the monthly payment on the bike. They will be crippled by those bikes, quite possibly, for the rest of their lives. They are getting more aggressive and more angry every time I go back to that part of the world…

    This is a really serious issue in Indonesia.

    And I think you should be looking at your comparison of young Indonesians and young westerners from a different angle. The fact that young Brits are having to pay those high rents and so on is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to establishing their financial attitudes.
    Now, I’m a committed spendthrift by anyone’s standards; Ebenezer Scrooge would probably call me “pelit”, so I’m inclined to bemoan the profligacy of anyone who doesn’t stick strictly to Tesco value range when at the supermarket, or who buys a bottle of water in the UK when you can drink what comes out of the tap. But for all the average young Brit pisses away of a friday night, by the time they’re 25 the vast majority of them have some concept of what it means to have financial responsibility, to have rent and bills to pay, to not simply be able to eat out every night. By the time they’re 30 they may well be on the property ladder (I know a mortgage is essentially credit, but it’s credit as part of a concrete plan to move forward in life, and to have a better future 30 years down the line; you can hardly call signing up for a three-year credit package on a “skywave” the same thing).

    Now seriously, look at their Indonesian counterparts and look at how, and on what they’re spending. Can you honestly imagine a 20-something Brit on, say £1200 a month routinely and without batting an eyelid spending 300 quid on dinner with a couple of friends in an ersatz restaurant in a mall, and then driving home on a motorbike that eats up £500 in monthly repayments?

    I was recently talking to a family I know who run a homestay in Central Java. They were talking about how amazed they are by some of the young bules who stay with them. Some of them are as young as 19, but more often than not they’ve paid for this three months’ wandering in Southeast Asia themselves, they’ve worked in bars and shops and restaurants and squirrelled it all away for a cheap flight.
    From the poorest to the richest this is something almost completely inconceivable in Indonesia. “Children make their parents poor these days” was what they said. Do any Indonesian university students have a part-time job in a restaurant to help pay their rent? Do any of them cook and eat at home?

    Like ET I have this strong sense that the upper-working classes to the middle-middle classes, the people who really should be marching into the great future in the wake of “indonesia’s rise”, will actually struggle not to go backwards in real terms of financial security, future prospects and genuine (as opposed to entirely superficial) standards of living as more crap comes onto the market and more credit becomes available…

    I could also rant about how they’re increasingly building “trendy” “young professional” apartment blocks – with a space the size of a cupboard for DP of just 5 million! – to tap into the gengsi-driven credit idiocy, but I think I’ve wound myself up enough already… 😉

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