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Being Critical within and without

Being critical to something outside you is easy. You do not need to be a nuclear scientist to be able to do that. Everybody can do it. Even kids and Mr Bean can do it. Thus, external criticism is cheap. In Indonesia, we memorize this phrase during our childhood days: “Semut di seberang lautan tampak, gajah di depan mata tidak tampak.” Which means it’s much easier to see someone’s else slightest mistake than to be aware of own biggest fault.

On the other hand, self-critical is hard thing to do. Not many people can do it. Because it against ego-driven entity(s) called human. Therefore, being self-critical is praiseworthy. It’s not cheap and does weigh a certain amount of credibility to person(s) who can do it. It’s easy to see the wrong-doings and stupidity done by “them”, and very difficult to know what mistakes “we” -ourselves- have done.

Now, who are they (them) and we (us)?

On strictest term, identifying one-self is easy. Me, for example, is a person named A. Fatih Syuhud whose friend call him Fatih. Period. But an “identity” is not that simple. Especially when I start talking, writing and judging things. My other identity will be under-scrutiny. Do I write about things as an “insider” which means I do a self-criticism; or as an “outsider”?

When I was born certain attributes comes along without I am even aware of: as an Indonesian and a Muslim (whichever comes first), Javanese (my mom), Madurese (my dad). When I start travelling beyond my country my identity building up further: colored skin, mongoloid, Asian, etc.

Now, when I write critically about Islam, Muslim, Indonesia, anything within my identity mentioned above, I have a certain amount of credibility because I am doing self-criticism which is a rarity; not everybody loves doing it. On the contrary, when I criticise things outside my identity–moreover if it’s not supported by a scientific or hard-proven evidences– other person(s) who feel within that identity will get offended at least, or take revenge with similar kind at worst.

So, does it mean we should be critical to our own identity and avoid at all cost criticising “others” in order to gain credibility? Yes and no.

Self-criticism is needed for creating a certain credibility in the eye of others. Only then we’re credible to criticize and make a judgement on others too. We talk about the balancing act here.

So, when Treespotter talks about expats living miserably in Indonesia, certainly that does have a merit as he’s also an expat which means he’s doing self-criticism to himself and his compatriots which he regards behave like a fussy and spoilt kids: complaining all the time.

Barring Treespotter’s blog, I hardly read other expats blog nowadays as I see nothing new in their blog contents approach. A content that’s very typicaly written by many westerners: self-praise, Islam bashing, white-supremacy, and other craps like that. I dont read that kind of writing because as I mention in the first para it’s cheap. Never waste time for that. Instead, I prefer reading Professor Juan Cole blog for its self-criticism, expertise and balancing act commentaries. He’s the most credible political-blogger I’ve ever known.

I am an Expatriate?

Treespotter once emailed me asking me to respond on the issue. I’m a bit reluctant. Because I feel I’m not an expat. Yes by definition I’m an expat. But this term connotes more to those who work outside their countries. Not those who study.

Anyway, if Treespotter reads this blog regularly, he’d come to know that I hardly write anything bad about India. Not because everything is good here. You can read the Indian media–which are doing very good self-criticism– yourself to know many bad things. I don’t do India bashing and instead prefer to highlighting its positive things because (a) it’s the proper thing to do and to behave towards “others”; (b) it will benefit more to myself, and any Indonesians–infact anyone–who read this blog.

On the otherhand, instead of writing about India in which I’m living now, I write more about Indonesia, Indonesian people, its corrupt bureaucracy, etc and sometimes talk about it very critically. I love my country Indonesia, I love Indonesian people regardless of whatever religion they follow (Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Budhists, atheists, etc), and whatever ethnicity they belong (Javanese, Madurese, Sundanese, Bataknese, Ambonese, etc).

As an Indonesian I want this country to progress and move along for the better and for that we need to criticise any wrong-doings and ineffectivities and show the solution. As a Muslim I want Islam to be understood and interpreted by my fellow Muslims in moderate way as clearly commanded by the Prophet himself. And for that I criticise those who use the opposite.

Offline, I talk much more among friends criticising something wrong in Javanese or Madurese culture or tradition if any. I criticise all that’s within my identity. And you’ll never find in this blog any criticism against Christianity or Christian or any other religions because criticizing something beyond your own identity will be much more misunderstood than otherwise, whatever good intention it might be. Anyone, for example non-Indonesian and non-Muslim expat, whose everyday post in his/her blog talking only against Islam and Muslim, Indonesia and Indonesian in the bad light and claim that his/her intention is just to see better Indonesia are talking crap to say the least; unless he/she also is critical to him-/herself.

Any non-Muslim, Indonesian or not, who’s talking Islam bashing continuously while always praising/uncritical to his/her own religion his/her credibility is questionable. Hence, why should bother reading worthless articles at all?

Last but not the least, it’s a free world. You can talk freely. Freedom of expression is very much guaranteed in the blogosphere. Maintaining credibility however is a must; otherwise you’d be the loneliest blogger in the crowdy blogosphere or befriend only with the haters community who never know what love and camaraderie are.

Muslim Blood Less Precious?

presiden SBY As reported by IHT, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) complains in the front of foreign media gathering on the resort island of Bali that brought together some 80 foreign journalists that Muslim life is less precious than non-Muslims’. He gives an example: Muslim deaths in Iraq and Palestine often sparked less outrage than the killings of non-Muslims.

Well, first of all, it’s inaccurate on the part of Presiden SBY to divide the world into Muslims and non-Muslims. And it will not help the cause of bridging the already race-based divided universe.

Secondly, by highlighting the multipolar division on religious line, the President has confirmed some of right-wingers point of views in the West that it’s indeed Muslim and Islam that they should confront, instead of other things. Hence, the statement indirectly justifies Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisation thesis.

Thirdly, it shows the ignorance of our President or people around him about the world ground reality:

What makes one’s blood is less precious than another’s is not because of what religion one follows, what nationality and race one belongs; it’s about whether you are rich or poor; celebrity or beggar; high ranking official or jobless joe. It’s about worldly status. The fact is Muslim countries are predominantly poor; and the Western countries are rich.

Japanese and South Korean’s blood are no less precious than the Westerners. And the blood of Christians (or any non-Muslims) in many African countries, in the eye of Westerner, could be less precious than those of Muslims countries simply because the Africans are poorer.

Irrespective of whether this perception is good or bad, the fact is every human has this tendency to some extent. This is not a good value to maintain from a purist point of view. But ground reality and idealistic value hardly come together and the former tends to prevail. It’s a sad phenomenon but it’s a reality we have to live with.

We will get more understanding on this matter when we look around us; on individual level. When you are the richest in your neighborhood, you and your family will be respected more than others, in another word your blood would be more precious than those who are not as rich as you are.

When your position in a company is higher or highest, you’d be respected by those whose position are below you. President SBY’s blood is more precious than his Ministers, his governors, mayors, ordinary people, etc, not because he IS a Muslim; but because he is holding the highest position in this country. Social status does matter in this materialistic world. And that our President does not understand this ‘natural law’ is unfortunate, to say the least.

If President SBY statement was based on ill-advised of his advisors, let them be careful not to make any such silly advice in the front of many foreign journalists in the future.

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