Midnight in Jakarta but shops are still open, people meeting up and I’m sitting at a pavement café with three other women.
They are eating burgers and drinking iced coffee, I’m eating nasi goreng and drinking jasmine tea. They are all determined, hugely resilient career women who support themselves in the heated, hectic pace of Jakarta city life, where a cross-city taxi ride may take so long you have to keep phoning your friends to let them know you’re still coming. We were celebrating one winning a scholarship from the Goethe Institute, an organisation that occupies a lovely old colonial house offers food and friendship and German lessons.
We laugh and joke but there’s nervousness too; my friends are of Chinese descent and Christian and Jakarta is becoming an uneasy place, despite the official national policy of pancasila, tolerance towards all religions of the Republik.
When we end our meal, two of us take the double-decker, the mammoth vehicle that soars above the street. But at bus stops, men get on, offering Islamic texts and books, courtesy of the Saudis and sometimes, they harass women not wearing hijab.
That night in Jakarta took place some years ago. The women, the filmmaker, the writer, the journalist, have all, discreetly, left the capital. Indonesia’s middle classes, once so prominent, showing such promise, are now quietly considering their options.
Under President Sukarto, ‘orang China’ (Chinese person) was an insult; and deemed so by official decree under a President, who needed the financial acumen of his Chinese-heritage officials, as well as their funding of his government’s initiatives.
Now the Saudi-trained cleric Bachtiar Nasir, who chairs the powerful National Movement to Safeguard the Fatwas of the Indonesian Ulemas Council, is advocating affirmative action to target wealthy Indonesian ethnic Chinese, peranakan to strip individuals and organisations of their assets. Nasir’s followers have claimed one victory; the jailing of Jakarta’s former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, ‘Akok’, sentenced to two years on blasphemy charges.
“The case was about politics, not religion,” insists Juli (not her real name).
“They knew Akok was the friend of Jokowi and both were against the corruption, they were donating to the poor and to educate children. They couldn’t get Jokowi so they went after Ahok and Ahok offered himself in place of Jokowi, his friend.”
Juli’s great grandfather was Dutch and she is Christian. She insists that Christians, a small minority among millions of Muslims, are not targeted- yet although churches have burned. The real targets are wealthy Chinese-Indonesians from the educated middle class.
The population of Jakarta is about the same as that of Australia but the middle class is only 40 per cent, the rest, the other 60 per cent, is poor, usually illiterate – and Muslim.
A small group of Indonesian Christians in Canberra gather to pray on a wintry Sunday afternoon on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Holding candles, they reassure each other that they will not falter. Aksi Solidaritas untuk Keadilan Indonesia, they say, we stand together.
What happens next in Jakarta will have consequences for Indonesia as well as Australia.
Tina Faulk is a former Kompas journalist.
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