A response to the post “Indonesia and the passion for virginity”

morality is not judged by a body

 

A blogger named Amaryllis Puspabening has recently published her op-ed titled “Indonesia And The Passion of Virginity” in The Huffington Post. She voiced her discontent at the current state of how women, in general, are treated in Indonesia, such as taboos about sex discussion, virginity test as a measure of morality, and how women are oftentimes forced to ‘sterilize’ themselves to be considered ‘pure’ in the society. To make matters worse, in certain parts of the country, some government officials are proposing to conduct virginity tests as either ‘entry’ requirements into high schools or for school graduation. Responding to her post, I would say I largely approve of what she has said, although there may be certain issues that I think we also need to raise in this discussion.

I share the same degree of frustration with her regarding the question of ‘virginity test’. Measuring someone’s degree of morality is not by looking at one person’s bodily conditions, particularly something that should only be of private nature to the woman. The same can be said for people with tattoos, or have other forms of body modification: are they all always perceived as ‘bad people’? Some may be, but this still does not justify the generalization used to equate all of them as belonging to the same category. I can hardly ascertain the logic of where ‘virginity test’ can immediately make somebody pass a morality test: yes, she does not have premarital sex, but does that become a well-defined thread that will make her look moral, even if, say, she will commit other forms of wrongdoing in the future? What if she commits corruption, which is one of other great sins? Or, say, what if she carries a premeditated murder? What is then the precise moral boundaries?

It is also an irrefutable fact that sex education in Indonesia still has a very long way to go for quality improvement, as well as our mindsets. With regard to the former, there are insufficient attempts to truly educate people about the risks of teenage pregnancy, dangers of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or facts relating to reproductive health and hygiene. It becomes as though talking about vaginas (yes, I won’t censor this word) or penises (yes, no censorship for this one as well) would be equated with talking about pornography. That is a hardly rational explanation. So doctors are required to censor their words when explaining about reproductive health? What would we learn? Simply reaching out to the young generation and telling us ‘don’t have sex before the marriage’ will only make people even more curious on why they can’t have sex before the marriage. And you know what I mean when I say ‘even more curious’.

Regarding the latter, I refer to ‘us’, rather than ‘you’ and ‘I’. I refer to ‘us’, because if we have to be honest with us as a nation, we also still have a very long way to go to achieve progress. Many among us are still within the huge taboos to talk about sex, especially between parents and the children. Resorting to the ‘S-word’ can turn a conversation into a sword; we would sometimes be accused of ‘encouraging people to have sex’, when the fact is that we want to talk about sex education and make people understand the right notion of defining sex. As parents are reluctant to teach the kids, what would be the alternative? Many of them will satisfy their curiosity by watching porn sites. It’s undeniable. It happens not only isolated to some other places, but also in a nationwide basis. We also heavily stigmatize people conducting premarital sex, delivering a death verdict that they will carry out in their lifetime. As a consequence, what will happen? While I avoid being an academic in this blog, my postulation is that once people are labelled with negative perceptions in their heads, it is very likely they will continue doing the similar vice, or descending into even worse forms of misdeeds, or facing a prospect of no bright future for the rest of their lives. We become a society that does not forgive, nor grant them a second chance to rehabilitate their lives. To make matters worse, we sometimes gossip about certain people doing such things. Again, I emphasize the word ‘we’ because I want to avoid being didactic; indeed, we all play a direct and/or indirect part in perpetuating such mindsets.

As much as I agree with the content of the post, however, I also need to caution some points. And I do not expect the author, Ms. Amaryllis, nor the readers here to agree with my arguments. I still believe the idea of sex as a sacrosanct notion, rather than one to be used for hedonistic purposes. When a person is in a romantic relationship with somebody else, god forbid, nobody knows whether that relationship will last for eternity. What if the couple has had sex before they actually know each other’s personality and characteristics in full details? Although such issue should only be of totally private nature between the couple, how would either the man or the woman be prepared to address their future counterparts should they end the relationship? As a person leaning to the center, I do still believe that sex should only be made possible once a couple has stated their full commitment to a relationship, say, through a marriage. The key, here, is for the public to understand the concept of responsible sex. Once again, I do not expect everyone on board to agree with me, as even I personally would still prefer to maintain a certain degree of conventional values that majority of Indonesians still adhere to.

I also believe in the concept of gender equality, given the systemic discrimination that women have endured for too long (and most of human history), but I also disagree with the notion of ‘complete liberation’ of either men or women, especially when it comes to defining sex. I am still alien to the concept of defining sex as an art, or as a form of entertainment, that either men or women could simply change partners, and have sex with different partners. I am in no authority to ban them from doing so (as this is their personal choice and decision), but such notion remains totally beyond my personal toleration, and I believe that there remains a need for a ‘boundary’. This is a point of departure regarding my opinions about the post.

Despite some of my minor disagreements with the author, I still appreciate and laud her for her willingness to break the walls in our minds when talking about sex. My disagreements occur largely because not all Indonesian values are totally negative; there are certain values that are positive that we, as a society, still need to maintain, such as the belief of sex as a sacred notion. Nonetheless, even people’s mindsets change. We (and I) used to be ‘terrified’ of the ideas of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer), but as time goes by, and despite ongoing denunciations by a huge portion of our population, we gradually start to accept them as a part of our society. I do not expect to change my mindset for a certain period of time, but this does not indicate I am totally closed to such topics people may call it ‘taboo’. If we are willing to shake our long-held beliefs, and start to open our minds a little bit further, perhaps we can actually discover the roots of the existing problems, and figure the solutions out.

 

You can access the original article by clicking through this link.

Guest post: in the name of ‘law’, or ‘justice’, or whatsoever?

iustitia

 

*** This is a guest post by my close friend, Edward Tanoto. He is currently studying business in, you know, the university he already mentioned in the following paragraph. Feel free to agree or disagree with his thought, but as I have emphasized in previous posts, let us respect each other’s opinions, and if you find yourself in absolute, complete disapproval, let us agree to disagree.

 

In The Name of “Justice”

It was February 29, 2016 – it was the first day of my first semester in University of Melbourne and for me! Walking the footpath to class, I was excited. The first lecture will be on law – on how JUSTICE can be enforced through the rules of conduct. Being a mystery-novel addict, I could hardly wait until I finally manage to dive into the core principle of the democratic judicial system. The clock was ticking, the minutes grew unbearable. Finally, the lecturer came and it was about to begin. “I bet she’ll say something inspiring!” was what I thought. When the professor finally started talking, she said “I’d like to first correct the one assumption you guys might carry. Decisions made in the court according to the rules of law DON’T HAVE TO BE JUST. A court is not a place to seek and serve justice.”…. so much for the inspiring quote.

Some of you, like me, might be asking yourselves “If the law is not intended to enforce justice, then what does it stand for?” The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines law as ‘a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognised as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.’ Put simply, a law stands for a PHYSICAL or VIRTUAL BODY, delivering the ORDER of that body, enforced by MEMBERS who SUBSCRIBE to that order toward the PARTIES INTENDED of that order. All four elements are essential for any law to take effect. We shall not delve deeper into these different aspects as it is unrelated to the purpose of our discussion. However, notice that the notion of JUSTICE is not found among those 4 essential elements. Why is this so?

Before I begin, however, I would like to simplify the contention of the law discussed. This is to prevent bumping into major differences between the different laws enforced by different body. I shall be expounding on a law that stands for a FREE body, delivering the order of COMMON LAW, enforced by the PARLIAMENTARY LEGISLATION and intended toward ITS CITIZENS. Points 3 and 4 are specific to this order but point 3 is applicable to other rules of conduct.

  1. The core principle of law is enforcing order, not justice.

This simple notion is similar to the age-old argument of democracy vs communism. We are however, not interested in the different ideology each postulates. We are more interested in the different types of market offered by each of the two. The open market in democracy is adopted to effectively allocate resources and maximize total welfare of the society (efficiency). The centrally planned market in communism is meant to distribute resources equally to the society thus giving everybody a fair share of the economic pie (equity).

Much like the market scenario, the law is mainly concerned with maintaining the status quo as it is, assuming the status quo offers the highest good to the society. The law thus becomes relatively inert and unchangeable. The certainty that comes from this is important to law as it gives assurance and predictability that the same principle will hold true in the future. This assurance subsequently promotes order as people come to associate certain behaviour with certain punishments or rewards by the law.

Justice, however, is concerned with adjusting the law to suit the circumstance at the time of occurrence. As various factors may contribute in causing different breaches of the law, it is then important to adjust the law to suit those different elements. While this is a sound argument, it is not the main concern of the law. Even though adjustments can be made to adapt with the circumstance, it is generally difficult to persuade the law to excuse or change its established rule to suit the interest of the moment. This adjustment falls under ‘equity’ category and is only considered after determining the type of breach according to the existing law. Put it in another way, order reigns supreme over justice.

  1. Justice is relative, but the law is certain.

Do you think a thief should be spared? What if he steals to feed their family? Or to cure his sick daughter? What if he accidentally murders someone during the conduct?

Each of you may have different answers and suggest different degree of consideration toward the thief. That is perfectly normal and understandable. It is also, however, the biggest flaw of justice – everybody has a different notion of it. What holds true to you may not necessarily hold true to others. It is impossible to accommodate the law to suit the preference of the individuals. For this reason, it is equally impossible to enforce justice to everyone. The law, therefore, is not able to plant its root on justice simply because it lacks the one most integral aspect of the law – certainty.

Of course, it is not possible to get an accurate assessment of an occurrence of breach without looking at all the contributing factors that give rise to the offense. When traced to a reasonable extent, backtracking is able to pinpoint and help determine the degree of breach and the reason of breach – both important aspects of a criminal investigation. However, there is always a limit. This may vary among countries but it is generally traced only up to the point where the event has a “significant” role in contributing to the breach. Again, there exists the possibility that some limit may be premature and may subsequently obscure investigation to the root of the problem, serving only partial justice.

Yet this is not a problem for the law. It is only concerned with preserving certainty and order in the society. So long as it remains that way, no extra energy will be wasted to further their find – at least not until the next related breach.

  1. The law is made by consensus, not individual interest.

As previously explained, it is impossible to cater to each of our own notion of justice. Hence, in a democratic system, rules of conduct are made through parliamentary procedures and consensus.

Under the common law, a Bill is first suggested by members of the legislature and told to the Senate. Should the Senate vote to approve it, a draftsperson will then draft out the Bill. The draft is then read to the members of the House of Origin. A debate occurs and if the Bill is voted and approved, it will go to the House of Review. The members of the House read and debate over the Bill, pointing out necessary changes when seen fit. After all the changes, the House will then vote on the Bill. If the majority concurs, it becomes an Act and is passed for Royal Assent. The rest of the process, is based on our shared experience.

Notice that the law consists of (at minimum) three votes – those by the Senate, the House of Origin, and the House of Review (any amendments must again be voted on when finished). In each of these votes, decision by the majority will be the one passed into law. This poses a problem – what about the minority? A law that bans face covering will not bid well with pious Muslim women (a reference to the French parliamentary decision in 2010). Similarly, a law that requires every person to subscribe to a religion is unjust to free thinkers and atheists (a reference to Indonesia’s 1st principle of Pancasila and the subsequent Clause 28(e) of The Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia of 1945; in fact, atheism is actually quite a taboo topic in this country).

From a utilitarian point of view, there may be security benefits conferred to the public by either removing the cover or requiring your religions stated on IDs. It may make it harder to hide your real identity. However, it also erodes certain religious values of Islamic belief itself, or for the case of religions-on-ID discourse, the sense of hypocrisy that many of us feel religion is a personal matter, not something that state ought to intervene.

How much must the minority bend to the will of the majority? While the answer to this is open for discussion, it purports the fact that it can be hard for justice to find its place in the law.

Despite all its apparent bleakness, the law is not necessarily fixed for good. In common law, equity exists alongside the law and trial by the jury exists alongside trial by the judge. We have come to recognise that various circumstances can give rise to certain offences. The law may be stubbornly fixed, but given the right reason, it can make an exception.

Themis, or the Greek equivalent of Iustitia (Lady Justice) is depicted wearing a blindfold while carrying a sword and a balance. The trinity symbolises decisions and penalties based on the objectivity of evidence and reason, impartial to subjectivity and emotion. However, let us also not forget that she is also blind. Perhaps it is time for her to discard the blindfold and “see” the law as how it fits with time and changes.

Reality check: capital punishment

scales-of-justice-clip-art2

 

There has been so much hype in mass media with the impending execution of two of Bali Nine drug syndicate members, and both countries, Australia and Indonesia, have seemingly played chicken in an intense nationalistic manner about ‘which one is the most righteous’. Some Australians pioneered ‘Mercy’ campaign, and Indonesian media counter-attacked it with surveys showing majority of Australians actually support death sentence for these drug convicts. President Joko Widodo has restated his intention not to give clemency to their repeated pleas, and PM Tony Abbott has accused the former of being ruthless. And he mentioned the huge amounts of Australian aid towards 2004 Aceh tsunami victims, and another huge, nation-bewildering campaign known as ‘Coin for Australia’ was initiated by several Indonesians to return the humanitarian aids already distributed by the government. To and fro, back and forth, everyone is trying to show who is the real savior.

I am here not in position to support or to oppose capital punishment. Taking it at a utilitarian perspective – I’m sorry if it sounds inhumane, capital punishment, as much as there is little scientific evidence that shows its effectiveness in reducing crime rates, is all but an inherent part of a country, or a region’s, basic constitution, and sovereign states basically have authorities to exercise that power, no matter how the other side of the world may deride it. As capital punishment is stipulated in Indonesia’s basic constitution, suffice it to say, there is no doubt that other countries are obliged to respect whatever the decisions being handed on by local courts for any violations of rules. So much as Australians despise Indonesians’ overwhelming support for death sentence, it would be worthwhile to look at other nearby countries like Malaysia and Singapore, both of which were former fellow British colonies. And more people had actually been executed in both countries for drug offences compared to the number of those back in Indonesia.

But, from my own perspective, I see ironies. 11 people, 8 charged with drug offences, and 3 others for premeditated, first-degree murders, will soon face firing squads as early as this March, after previously 6 people faced firing squads in early January. Is capital punishment a powerful deterrent? Can these persons afford the chances of rehabilitation? Have they fully repented and successfully contributed back to society? Are they psychopaths? These are the questions that always linger on when it comes to thinking about the fates of these would-be executed.

We can pride ourselves in killing a small few number of people for committing big mistakes, but we must not forget the even more grave mistakes ever committed by others, say, massive human rights abuses. Have we afforded the similar courage to do the same thing towards a military commander who orders forced disappearances of activists? Have we afforded the same courage to execute a former monarch who led a devastating war and killed millions of people in the process? Do we have the courage to put on trial high-level officials, who, hiding their malign faces with make-believe attitude, are actually siphoning off taxpayers’ money? Are we daring enough to admit that our prior generation had once participated in mass violence? Have we successfully captured corrupt corporate leaders who took away, unfairly, bailout money? Why do we show our pride killing this unlucky dozen when we have not even gathered our own courage to go deep down beyond the tips of these huge icebergs?

Leaving this essay unanswered (I can’t afford to answer it as I believe there will never be definitive answers), let me conclude it in this way. Once justice is compromised, capital punishment is no different from killing mice and cockroaches in the houses of unseen robbers, while the robbers are doing their job.

What the shootings teach me about America

 

“And till now you won’t change your destination, will you?”

Destination. That flowery word motivators like to convey the most. My mom, in a slight satirical tone, told me as we were watching the recent news of shootings in Connecticut, in a seemingly tranquil and seldom heard-of town named Newtown, in which 28 persons (most of whom were children and toddlers, which President Obama implied emotionally in his speech, waiting for such sacrosanct celebration like Christmas) succumbed to the so-called ‘mad genius’ Adam Lanza’s bullets. She believes – altogether my dad – that America becomes increasingly a ‘mad nation’, having been troubled with what sounds like history-repeat-itself mass shootings (the prior deadliest one went to James Holmes), plagued with what resonates like ‘The-House-of-The-Dead’ syndrome (the latest one being a Florida man who bit off an old loiterer’s face to torn pieces of badly damaged tissues), imbued with what people here call ‘morality crisis’ (they dislike seeing at Obama legalizing gay-and-lesbian marriage), and marred by the country’s murky economic prospects (up to 10 million productive-age Americans face severe unemployment, homelessness, and chronic starvation). Pretty sounds like a series of zombie apocalypses, from economic to gory matters, were ready to shatter United States to ruins.

 

 

As a matter of confession, I always have those guts about moving myself to the United States (until the numismatics reminds me of the limits). Perhaps VOA plays it much in influencing what I call it myself ‘a dream’, but ‘a castle in the sky’ by my parents instead. VOA, through its programs in Metro TV, frequently broadcast the daily lives of Americans, particularly migrants, living throughout the country. There are successful Indonesians, having set up lucrative small-and-medium businesses, become artists, contributed to the advances of science, studied in Ivy League, and spoken American English like the natives do. There are cool guys and pretty gals, smart and sociable, brilliant and community-conscious, helping out other Americans. There are volunteers, young and old, willing to assist migrants, regardless of their origins. Also to encounter are medical practitioners and software engineers who hail from India – many of them Sikhs, science students from China, hip-hop artists from Latin America, Muslim nurses, professors from Russia or Eastern Europe, mixed-blood Filipinos, refugees from war-ravaged nations ranging from Sudan to Myanmar, these are merely a handful of examples that illustrate the true diversity of this country. So colorful that I can’t describe further here.

 

 

In addition, I also frequently heard ‘America’ through talks of mouth, either pro or contra. My Mandarin tuition teacher, Miss Jennifer, proudfully recounts her eldest son (now studying in Colorado), and of how he showcases his self-initiating skills, particularly in the volunteering field. He helps providing food and clothes to old Taiwanese migrants (who barely speak English at all) in Salt Lake City, and teaches them basic English words. He also now serves as, unless I’m mistaken, one of the assistants working for a US senator. On the other hand, there was also a narration of devastation. My dad’s friend once shared his unfortunate experiences with him, regarding his eldest son. Having been sent to a college there, in no more than a couple of years, he had turned out himself into a drug addict, and, more conservatively speaking, a punk (his ears were way pierced so often, making me imagine those of Jean-Paul Gaultier, and his hair was like that of a ‘half-baked’ emo). Back again, like a longitudinal wave, up and down, positive and negative, I listened to another tale of encouragement (don’t get me into another Tony Robbins stuff). I realized that one of my school’s English teachers (also once my class tutor), Miss Tan Tjin Tjin, had her two sons study there. More deliberately, thanks to their achievements, they always took turns in receiving scholarships. One of them had even gained Master’s degree. Back then to another recitation of pessimism. My dad’s another friend was deported by the Immigration Department, even though he had gained a job, quite low-paid, there. As a matter of fact, just like him, 12 million Americans place – and are stilll placing – their high hopes on Obama, one who previously had paradoxically reversed his immigration reform promises by deporting more illegal immigrants than Bush’ 2-term administration had ever done only in 4 years. Statistics prove: 1.4 million migrants were forced to go home from 2008 to 2012, compared to slightly 1 million in Bush’ era from 2000 to 2008.

 

 

Up to day, America remains in my mind, a so-called ‘land of dreams’ in context of pursuing university studies. My school frequently conducted study-in-USA seminars – you may think our headmaster is a ‘Western agent’ – inviting staff from either American consulate in Medan or directly from the embassy right in Jakarta. I did always participate, and, if I could count with my fingers, I had been there for, say, approximately 4 or 5 times. The obstacles, on the contrary, were mammoth, particularly burgeoned by my parents’ overprotective nature. I had asthma, and despite all the amenities offered by the universities (say, Student Service Center, or international student clubs), rest assured, my parents were barely convinced. Also befuddling them, in addition, was monetary consideration. A flight ticket to any single city in United States (exclude the head-scratching, aeons-old visa application process) would cost, most economically, 20 or 30 million IDR. Exclude the living costs; my parents would never grant me permits to do work-study program. Exclude all the other factors way around, like, getting acquainted with ‘morally bent’ friends (those who would laud you, in the very first moment, for taking up bongs) or bully you until the ante-penultimate that you do not ‘follow up’ their standards (say, doing sex). “America, from the beginning, has been on its own Queer street,” my parents told, “but feel free to aim your heart at whatever countries you aspire to proceed your further studies – only if you are sufficient enough to grab scholarship on the graduate program by your own.”

And there is the carnage. As though seduced in the arms of Morpheus, these psychopaths – most of whom were socially inept yet exceptionally intelligent youngsters – do the real-life Counter Strike thingy. Columbine massacre was a kick-starter, or else, if anything, a ‘tipping point’. The presidents, from Bill Clinton until Barack Obama, had repeatedly pledged ‘no other persons doing the buffalo-smash-the-china-shop incidents’, and the embryos of Columbines instead came to life. Cho Seung-hui had, in the context of sarcasm, succeeded in forcing the entire cabinet of South Korea (including the President, Roh Moo-hyun) to issue full apology and request full security protection to the entire Korean expatriates all over the world following his ‘globe-trotting’ killing spree, where 32 lives originating from 4 continents were taken off by his handguns. James Holmes initially ‘entertained’ the audience in the premiere of the Nolan’s last Batman yarn by posing as Bane, before he threw off bottles containing toxic gases, and commenced his bloodbath. Adam Lanza (you ain’t put a blame on his Asperger’s syndrome) mercilessly ended the opportunities and the dreams the kids, as Obama emotionally stated in his speech last Saturday, to ‘celebrate Christmas, to experience teenage dreams, to make friends, to have mates, to proceed to universities and develop careers’. The whole world might trigger the conclusion, believing that ‘Americans solve problems by means of weapons’.

 

 

Meanwhile, in another perspective, anti-Americans believe this is largely the karmic consequences the people have to take in tandem to what the country itself has imposed to the world. Some Facebookers complain in VOA Indonesia why ‘the US government could not express empathy as equivalent on the Palestinian children killed by Israeli Defense Forces as they had on the innocent, innocuous kids killed in Connecticut’. They even expressed that a vigil made in an Islamic boarding School in Central Java to commemorate the deceased as ‘unsentimental’, ‘unfair’, and ‘overtly exaggerated’. A sense of segregated humanity is deeply heartfelt here.

Nonetheless, millions of people, other than me, still put faith in the so-called ‘American dream’. Surveys have even forecast US population could accommodate another new 200 million people – majority of them migrants – within 4 decades, into a soaring rate of 500 million. The airs of pessimism may be high, with all the burgeoning troubles the country needs to solve. Talks of fiscal cliffs reach deadlock, shootings take place, gun-right lobbyists (the so-called ‘bad-ass’ NRA) against anti-gun activists, and still millions of dreams, added with that gusto emulated by the new-coming migrants, ignite up the optimism.

Back to that question, on the very beginning.

I answer my mom, with no pretense of being wise-ass, “There are only two types of countries in the world. One that stakes your life everyday to stay alive, and one that deadens you to a prosaic, sluggish death.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the most revered among the empiricists, called the former ‘perfectly controlled mess’ (as in case of Lebanon), and the latter just other ‘miserable’ copy-cats of Switzerland. America, just like Indonesia here, is in the Venn diagram.

Simply put, America is, as I can imply, a melting pot of constantly shifting shapes. When it shifts, frictions, like this shooting rampage, always take place. It is those that will continue shaping America in all ways possible. If you understand what I mean.