Nationalism Lives In The Heart And The Belly

in: English Edition Koran Tempo, Tuesday, August 18, 2015.
by Dewi Anggraeni*

What is nationalism?

Of the definitions offered in various online dictionaries, I relate most with that in, which specifies that nationalism is ‘a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries’. Having stated that, this is not a sociological or even literary paper on nationalism. It is rather, a personal take on the concept by someone who has lived almost two-thirds of her lifetime in Australia, yet has not shed her Indonesian self.

We do not usually think of our nationalism unless it is stirred by an incident, or when we are confronted by an adverse situation. Most people in Indonesia go on with their daily activities not worrying whether what they are doing is nationalistic or not. Nationalism is not necessarily something you have on your mind when it insinuates itself into your consciousness. This is especially so when you live in another country.

It can manifest itself in a positive or a negative way.

Born in the year Indonesia declared its independence from the Dutch, unobtrusively present at the continuous talk and discussions on national politics in the family as I grew up, I absorbed Indonesian nationalism subconsciously. It is the kind of nationalism that lives in the heart and the belly. Then I came to live in Australia, welcomed by the families who received me into their folds, one later becoming my in-laws. I was eased into Australian life, enjoying what Australia had to offer. I thus have had many reasons to forget, even gradually lose, the Indonesian core of my psyche. But that has not happened. In fact, it has solidified. It manifests itself in the pride I feel seeing something admirable that is seemingly idiosyncratically Indonesian, in the visceral hurt or anger I feel when an incident reflects a lack of moral courage in some Indonesians. Most likely this is because I see myself in them. So, mine is not a nationalism of ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’ type, especially considering that I am in Indonesia more often than anywhere else outside Australia. I have no explanation for this, except that it is there.

One recent social phenomenon which has made me proud of Indonesia, is some people’s ability to assimilate adversity in their lives and forgive those seen as the perpetrators. This was shown by a group of individuals who founded Forum Silaturahmi Anak Bangsa (the Forum of Fellowship for the Nation’s Sons and Daughters, FSAB). These are offspring of the people publicly known for their involvement in various conflicts of national scale-from opposing political stances-to sons and daughters of the slain high-ranking military officers of the September 30, 1965 tragedy. While the pride in their parents’ deeds never fades, the proponents of the FSAB have found it in their hearts to accept the sons and daughters of their parents’ political enemies, in some cases the perpetrators or causes of their parents’ death, as friends and fellow travellers in the nation’s history.

Those whose parents died (slain or executed) because of their political deeds, while coming from opposing political stances, accept that these parents died because they, each in their own way, wanted to build a better nation. And the sons and daughters of the generals who were murdered in the September 30 movement concede that while they themselves have been traumatized throughout the years, their counterparts from the communists or suspected communists camp, have not only been traumatized by their parents’ executions and lengthy detentions-some without trials-but by the wide-reaching social stigmatization throughout their lives. They actively chose to build friendships with each other because they did not want to see the nation fragmented. This is certainly a constructive, hence positive, side of nationalism.

One of the social phenomena which arouse my deep disappointment is the determination of some people to remain in denial in relation to what is feared would expose the dark side of the collective image of Indonesia: the sexual violence against women in May 1998 atrocities being such a case. By denying it ever happened they do not only deny the women victims justice, but also saying that the poor victims lied about their terrible ordeal. I regard this as a negative side of nationalism.

Do I have a sense of Australian nationalism? Without a doubt I do. While my Indonesian nationalism starts from the heart and the belly moving up to the rational mind, my Australian nationalism starts from the rational mind, moving down to the heart and the belly. I love the orderliness of Australian society. I enjoy the relative security of living in Australia. While Australia is not faultless, it is warm-hearted, and personally, I have already grown very fond of it.

One recent example of what arouses my pride in Australia is an incident and the responses from the community, last month. Adam Goodes, an Australian football star of Aboriginal background, was repeatedly booed by some spectators yelling racist slur. Goodes, 2014 Australian of the Year, protested. There were immediate denials, from the spectators as well as some political and community leaders, saying that the booing was not racist, even suggesting that Goodes had to stop playing victim. However, these comments were promptly drowned out by simultaneous condemnations coming from other political and community leaders, most media organizations, and many in the community itself. They all agree that Australia has to come to grips with its own racism, in order to address it. Now I call that moral courage. Australians do not generally make an issue of nationalism, but in my language it certainly is a positive side of its nationalism.[]

*Dewi Anggraeni Is A Writer Of Fiction, Books And Essays On Political And Social Commentary. Her Latest Book Is Tragedi Mei 1998 Dan Lahirnya Komnas Perempuan


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