Millennials defend the Nation and its tradition of reading

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Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak Post-graduate Lecturer in the Ahmad Dahlan Institute of Technology and Business Jakarta

IO – While speaking in an Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (Badan Penyelidik Usaha-usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia – “BPUPKI”) meeting on June 1, 1945, Bung Karno quoted Ernest Renan and Otto Bauer on the requirements of becoming a nation. Renan emphasized the need for people to both feel united and be willing to unite (le desir d’etre ensemble), while Bauer stated that the nation is a unity of temperaments that arises because of an amalgam of fate (eine nation ist eine aus Schiksalsgemeninchaft). 

Bung Karno declared that while Renan and Bauer described saw the people and their characters, they failed to see the earth, the setting for a nation’s inhabitants. According to Bung Karno, the earth was the homeland for such people. A people and their homeland could not be separated. For Bung Karno, the Indonesian nation was a unity of people living on an Indonesian earth, from Sumatra Island to Irian Jaya, lying between two oceans (Pacific and Indian) and two continents (Australia and Asia). 

This is why the freedom fighters, heroes, and average Indonesians fought the Dutch to their last drop of blood, because the Dutch were intent on colonizing the Indonesian people and occupying their land. War, even to such a large scale and long time, was inevitable, such as was seen in the Padri War (1821-1837), Java or Diponegoro War (1825-1830), and Aceh War (1872-1912). 

Seeing the many instances of resistance towards the colonizers, national figures such as Mohammad Natsir rejected the notion that Indonesia had been colonized by the Dutch for 350 years. Aceh alone, for instance, had only been colonized for some 30 years (1912-1942). Aceh is the region to have been colonized for the shortest time (Maarif, 2004). Furthermore, during the time of the revolution, Aceh was the only province where the Dutch would not dare to go again (Anderson, 1999). 

A love for the nation and a rejection of colonization was again shown by the Indonesian people after independence was proclaimed, on August 17, 1945, as the Dutch, defeated in a European war, intended to return and colonize Indonesia again. In fact, it was at this time that the Indonesian people truly went to war, and physically carried out a revolution again the Dutch, in order to defend their independence. The height of the conflict happened when the Dutch carried out Operation Kraai, attacking Yogyakarta and capturing national leaders such as Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta, Sutan Sjahrir, Agus Salim, Mohammad Roem and Asaat, on December 19, 1948. 

Thus, the Republic of Indonesia, which was still in its infancy, was nearly disbanded, except for the Minister of Finance Sjafruddin Prawiranegara, who happened to be in Bukittinggi at the time, and who responded by forming the “Emergency Government of the Republic of Indonesia” (PDRI) after hearing the news of the arrest of the national leaders. Although in a cabinet meeting before the arrest and detention of Bung Karno, Bung Hatta and others, it had been decided that a message would be sent to Sjafruddin to form an Emergency Government, the message did not reach Sjafruddin as the Dutch had destroyed the radio stations and the telecommunications office. 

Sjafruddin then delivered a statement which would become of historical significance: “If we are to be destroyed it is better together but I am certain that together we will not sink” (Harun in Madiner, 2013). Remembering the significance of the creation of the PDRI and how it lifted national spirits, the government, through Presidential Decree No. 28/2006 declared December 19 as “National Defense Day”. 

Religious Spirit 
The opposition of the Indonesian people, who were mostly Muslim, against the colonizers could not be separated from their religious teachings. The presence of Islam is to be a blessing for the universe (The Qur’an Al-Anbiya: 107). As a result, Islam rejects rebelling against the word of god (The Qur’an Al Imron: 104) in any form, including tyranny, occupation, oppression, and abuse. Muslims are permitted to resist and go to war if attacked or persecuted. (The Qur’an Al-Hajj: 39). The biggest goal of Muslims is to make Indonesia a good country and receive Allah’s forgiveness. (Al-Qur’an As-Saba: 15). 

But what is also interesting is that Muslims are told to always be ready to defend the country and to be wary of the enemy. (Al-Quran Imron: 200). Even the prophet Muhammad stated, “Getting ready for a day and night is more important than fasting and evening prayer for a month” (Sahih Muslim). 

The strong religious motivation in defending the nation has caused the saying hubbul wathan minal iman (“Loving the homeland is an act of faith”) a quite popular expression among Indonesian Muslims. While it is certain that the statement is a false hadith (because it did not come from the Prophet), some scholars such as Imam Al-Sakhawi have stated the substance of the Hadith is authentic (Yaqub, 2003). 

Therefore, it is not surprising that Indonesianist George McTurnan Kahin said that Islam had been used as an ideological weapon by Indonesians to carry out their resistance against the colonialists (Anwar, 1995). 

Indonesia has been independent for 74 years. The spirit of national defense that the fighters exemplified when they founded the PDRI and which is celebrated every December 19th must continue to be maintained. Moreover, it must be admitted, though we have worked hard, there are still many of the goals of independence that we have not been fulfilled, as Indonesia is not completely free from the problems of poverty, ignorance, backwardness and so forth. 

This is important to note. Because, as economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo has reminded us: it is a deviation from the ideals of independence if the development of the economic power of the indigenous people is not prioritized (Arief, 1991). 

Therefore, the task of all Indonesians now is to manifest their independence and direct the spirit of defending the nation to that of national improvement and progress. To quote one concept for national defense of one of the largest Islamic organizations, Muhammadiyah: the Pancasila State is the result of a national consensus (dar al-ahdi) and a place of proof or testimony (dar al-syahâdah) to become a safe and peaceful country (dar al-salâm), one worthy to emulate. 

In the Pancasila State as Dar al-Shahah, religious people, whatever their religion, must be ready to compete to fulfill and advance national life with optimal creativity and innovation. Presently, the spirit of defending the nation must be directed towards an effort of proof (dâr al-syahâdah), through work, intelligent and creative work, for the benefit of the nation and the state, there is no longer a place to challenge the national consensus (dâr al-ahdi) that has been set. 

Defending the Nation, Millennials, and the tradition of reading 
Millennials are defined as a generation born between 1980-2000. This means they are quite distant from the nation’s founders, who if grouped based on the National Chamber Foundation would be called the GI Generation, as most of the founding fathers and mothers had been born between 1901-1924. 

The current challenge is to demonstrate how the national values and a nation, defending the spirit of the founders, can be imbued within Millennials who, according to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and University of Berkley finding in 2011, have less interest in conventional reading and tend to favor receiving data through smartphones. Millennials have social media accounts for communication and as a hub for their information intake. What is worrying is the low level of literacy of millennials and Indonesians in general. Furthermore, through a Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Indonesia was ranked 74th out of 77th in literacy, scoring only 371. Indonesia’s millennial literacy level is very worrying amidst the crowding and noise of social media, causing public communication to be low in quality as low levels of literacy are a serious threat. The space for dialogue has been destroyed by arrogant monologues which rely on brute force. 

As a result, if there is a lack of effort by stakeholders in this area, the Millennial generation could experience a historical disconnect, and could have difficulties implementing a spirit of national unity. They are not aware of the struggles of our heroes, how long intellectual dialogues of the founders resulted in ideologies such as the Pancasila. This is because such information is usually obtained though reading. 

There are at least two threats caused by the low literacy level of Millennials. First, they may not care for the nation and country, or be trapped in a fatalistic mindset resulting in vulnerability to terrorist or anti-national ideology. Second, there may also arise an extremity in their views on nationalism justifying it with slogans such as “right or wrong is my country”. The low literacy level has caused an absence in critical appraisal. Every criticism aimed at improving the nation is opposed and branded anti-nationalist. 

The nation’s founders themselves since the beginning warned that nationalism could become dangerous and chauvinistic. As a result, national hero Suharso (1912-1971) stated: “Right or wrong is my country”. Especially when we know our nation is shadowed by a great problem and in the hands of the wrong leadership, that is exactly when we need to fix it. As a result, we need to be accustomed to criticism and understand that criticism isn’t a threat to the nation, as criticism is at the core of a developed democratic nation. 

In order to build an advanced tradition of defending the nation, we need a strong dialectical tradition, such as how our founding fathers and mothers formulated our national ideology. Dialogue is our strength as a nation, to quote Bung Hatta. Scientific reasoning is what unifies Indonesia. Dialogue can only be successfully carried out by Indonesians who tend to their rationality or in Bung Hatta’s words Nalar Ilmiah. Those who have a tradition of dialogue and scientific reasoning surely must have emerged from a tradition of a high level of literacy. The 2019 Presidential Elections, for me, at least, show that the tradition of dialogue has held Indonesia together. The attitudes of Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto at least, have sent a strong message of national defense. That is that the nation and country’s interests are above all remnants of political battle poisoned by hate and political resentment, and surely this will hopefully be appreciated by their supporters as well.