Friday, January 06, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 7, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,

Reflection in this context refers to a thought, idea or opinion formed as the result of deep contemplation on an action or value that has been put into practice.

John Dewey (1859-1952), one of America's most influential philosophers, said the "union of observation and memory" was at the heart of a reflection.

Can our nation be reflective? Is our society adequately reflective amid today's rapid global changes?

When we contemplate the history of this nation -- particularly from the independence struggle and the proclamation of independence in 1945 up to now -- it is evident that at certain junctures the spirit to improve the quality of this nation was overwhelming.

The student movement, at any given time, such as the fall of Soeharto and Sukarno, has always been remarkable in introducing a new paradigm while overthrowing the oppressive rulers.

The people vowed thereafter the practices of the old regime would never be repeated and they would stick to the universal values of democracy and human rights.

But was this the result of true reflection or just a reaction to prolonged societal dissatisfaction? It was probably a combination of the two, but given the chaotic circumstances following the fall of Soeharto in 1998, would appear to have been more reactionary than the result of reflection.

Moreover, these vigorous efforts were somewhat wasted through our failure to stick to our new commitment and the fact that we became trapped again by the promises of the new government.

Through a historical lens, we can see how terrible practices such as authoritarianism always prevailed after the much-welcomed new era. It is disturbing to realize that we often did not need to wait for long to see and become victims of the practices that had previously been carried out under the old regime.

For example, still fresh in our minds is that our civil servants were forced to become members of the ruling party, Golkar, in the Soeharto era.

Recently, however, Vice President Jusuf Kalla voiced the need to return the "political rights" of civil servants.

Another example is that the press was subject to tight controls during the Soeharto era, yet the government recently issued a regulation on the control of broadcasters, soon to be followed by more restrictions on print media.

Why is it always like this? Apparently, our capacity for true reflection is always undermined by our greed and shortsightedness. In spite of the blood and tears shed to achieve this freedom -- which has blessed us with ample opportunities -- we cannot be satisfied in our triumph and fail to make good on our commitments.

Notably, a reflection that is guided by morality, integrity, and commitment, not a mere reaction driven by impulses and desires, is what this nation crucially needs.

However, given the fact that there has not been even a loud and unremitting voice in rejecting the recent setbacks, let alone measured collective efforts, one has enough reason to be skeptical of this ailing and self-ignoring nation's capacity to learn from its past experiences.

The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten. He is also a research fellow at ICIP (International Center for Islam and Pluralism) can be visited at

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