Indonesia expert Sharyn Graham Davies answers some questions on how New Zealanders can get to know Indonesia better.
What’s the biggest misconception New Zealanders have about Indonesia?
That all Indonesians, by virtue of being predominantly Muslim, are terrorists. Sadly, the terms ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ have become substitutes for each other in the current media landscape.
Indonesia hasn’t had a major terrorist attack for many years now but still, without other information of offset this idea, New Zealanders think of Indonesia as a dangerous place to go. And this couldn’t be further from the truth – it is less dangerous in fact than most of the world.
What are the issues that concern Indonesians today?
Those that also concern people in New Zealand and across the world: Leading happy and healthy lives, helping others and raising prosperous families.
When media just covers catastrophes, we forget that people everywhere want basically the same things – a safe, warm place to live; enough food and water; access to healthcare and education; and a fulfilling way to make a living. These things are much harder for the average Indonesia to access than it is in New Zealand, but it is a matter of degree rather than kind.
What role does religion play in people’s lives?
For many Indonesians, religion is the glue that ties their lives together. From celebrating religious festivals to gathering together at local houses of worship, it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of religion in everyday life. And for most of the time, religion allows people to bond and inspires them to do good for their community and nation.
At other times, however, religion can be erroneously used to justify all sorts of persecution. It is this latter issue that deserves attention at this time to ensure that the views of a few do not impinge on those of the majority.
What can New Zealanders do to get to know Indonesia and Indonesians a bit better?
Take advantage of Emirates flying direct year round from Auckland to Bali, and soak up the amazing culture and warmth of people in Indonesia. Read about Indonesia – anything from fiction written by Indonesians (Eko Kurniawan’s book Beauty Is a Wound comes to mind) to ethnographies that provide both a factual account alongside elegant storytelling.
Try to find an Indonesian restaurant or food kiosk and sample some of the food. Or if you are in Auckland, enrol in a short Bahasa Indonesia taster language course. Such efforts will not be wasted!
– Asia Media Centre