Monday, March 27, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, March 26, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman

The telephone rang piercingly, breaking the long silence. But Siska Anggraini did not move an inch. It was the middle of a drizzling night; the heavy rain had just let up.

A cold breeze sneaked impishly through Siska's body, penetrating her soft skin before coming to rest against bone, making it even harder to fall sleep. She again pulled up the blanket, covering herself thoroughly.

Siska glanced at Syamsul Bachtiar, her husband, who was sleeping like a log by her side. A high-flier who had successfully built up his media business, his elegantly square face was striking, though his body did not exude strength.

He was sleeping again with his gold-plated glasses on -- a bad habit.

The phone rang again. Syamsul had always wanted to install a phone in their room, but she had always forgot to buy another one.

She didn't dare wake him up. Slothfully, Siska got up and placed her feet on the cold marble floor. She dragged her reluctant steps outside the bedroom and toward the stairs.

So dark! She had always been afraid of the dark, easily frightened since she was a child. Walking warily, she slid against the wall desperately searching for a light switch.

Siska sighed with relief as the light came on. The antique clock showed the exact time: 12:15 a.m.

She saw the TV, sofa and a pile of scattered newspapers. Hours ago, she and Syamsul had sat here in the living room watching movies. But Siska left for bed early after her husband, a devout fan of horrors and thrillers, switched the DVD to his favorite film.

"Sorry honey, I'm so tired but I just can't miss this masterpiece," apologized Syamsul before presenting a good-night kiss. Siska couldn't stand horror flicks; she hated them.

It was just another evening between the two of them. They longed for kids, but she stopped consulting doctors after one ill-mannered quack declared that she was infertile.

As she was climbing down the stairs, the phone rang again. It was dark as hell down there. She was again forced to grope around like a blind woman.
In the split second after she turned on the light, the phone rang so impatiently, like a hungry dog barking to be fed.

"Hello?" she grumbled, picking up the phone on a small wooden stand.

No answer.

"Hello?!" Still no answer. She suddenly felt spooked. All the things in the room -- the paintings, tables, sofa, walls -- seemed to be staring through her as she stood like the accused.

Trembling, she rushed back toward the stairs, only to be checked by the phone, ringing, again. She turned around, walked back and angrily grabbed the phone.


A pause, and a male voice was on the other end. "Siska Anggraini?" splashing gently into her ear like a wave on the shore. She didn't recognize the voice.

"Who the hell are you? Why are you calling at this time?!" she raged.

"Well, you don't need to know who I am, but I'm calling for a reason. Besides, you haven't slept yet, have you?" said the man.

Siska frowned. "What do you want?" No answer, so she pressed on. "Do you want me to report this to the police? They could easily find you!"

She heard the giggle in his voice.

"I've been doing this for a long time, and the people I've called haven't been able to call anyone else ever again, let alone the police."

"How do you know me? Have we ever met?" her curiosity got the better of her.

"No, we haven't met, but I always know who'll answer my calls," said the man, calm. "And I've been watching you. I can see you're wearing a purple nightgown. Am I right?"

Siska was shaken. She panicked. Her eyes quickly swept around the spacious room, but all the windows and doors were shut tight, no gap or crack exposed.
No possibility that someone out there was secretly peeping on her, except for the painting by Basuki Abdullah of a proud Javanese aristocrat, whose eagle eyes always stared haughtily.

A string of tension was vibrating into her consciousness and beginning to torture her soul.

"Are you human... or a ghost?" Siska's voice almost failed her.

"It's up to you how you regard me," whispered the man.

Her stomach fell abruptly. She screamed, hoping frantically that Syamsul would wake up. But the notorious silence soon swallowed her scream without any sign that her husband had been bothered enough to awaken.

She started to sweat heavily. Her heart was beating faster. Her gown became wet and chilly, its increasing transparency exposing her smooth skin and lean body. She thought she had no choice but to run upstairs and shaking her husband awake.
"No!" commanded the man. "Don't drag Syamsul into your problem. It's none of his business. This is between you and me."

Siska wanted to wrench herself free from the phone, but her feet seemed to have been tied to the spot. She collected her remaining nerves and pleaded, "So tell me what this business is."

"All right, but I feel uncomfortable when you're nervous like this. Please be calm, calm..." So suggestive, so much gentler. "Please be calm ... no need to be afraid, Siska..."

Bizarrely, Siska gradually grew composed. Her heart was again beating almost normally.

"It seems that you are now prepared to listen to me," he uttered after a long silence, which appeared to confirm that Siska was more in control of herself.
"I might be ready to listen, but I have a question first. How do you know my husband's name? Are you somehow connected with him?"

The man burst into long laughter. "What a shameful accusation! I know him, but he doesn't know me. This is my unsurpassed expertise -- I have a list of names of people in the world and I always know what's going on in their minds. I don't need to elaborate on this; it's beyond human," he said imperiously.

"Sure, I'm not stupid," said Siska.

"Now I also have a question for you. Have you ever committed a grave mistake in your life?"

"A grave mistake?" Siska was dazed, trying to recall her past. Her first failed marriage might have been her only big mistake.

"Like robbery or ... maybe murder?" his voice rose on the last word.

"N-no, never," Siska started trembling again. "I have never done such dreadful things."

"You are lying. I swear to you that I will never tell anyone, not even your husband."

"I have never done such things! Besides, it's none of your business!"

"I predicted that you would flatly deny it." But he did not sound disappointed.

"What is it you want??" Siska wanted to end this conversation, but somehow she was unable to cut the phone.

"You promised that you were ready to listen to me, which means -- as far as I understand -- we should engage in a frank discussion," but again, oddly, he did not sound insistent.

"I have never made any promises to you."

"Never mind, I know your ins-and-outs anyway, Siska Anggraini. You are such an awful paradox. You are afraid of the dark and are easily frightened, but ironically, you have no fear in committing the cruelest act ever by human being.

"Remember your first marriage to Sutrisno Mangkunegolo, a well-off retailer? You killed him to inherit all his money. You chopped up his body into pieces. Unbelievable this was done by such a sweet-looking woman like you. You then framed your brother-in-law -- with whom you had had a love affair, I should add -- and had him thrown behind bars while you went free.

"You are sick! You might look like an angel," he whispered in a tone that was at once piercing, "but one with an evil heart and cunning."

"Enough!!" Siska bit her lips, thin from fear.

"You might have succeeded in your first attempt. Now you're married to a media mogul, Syamsul Bachtiar, and you are planning the same cruel scenario. You snake in the grass!"

"Do you want money?!" exploded Siska.

"I need no money," replied the man, politely.

Siska pressed her hand on her nightgown, bending over a little. It was getting chillier. "Then what do you want?" she muttered, hissing in an almost inaudible voice. "Do you want me to...?"

"No, thank you. I don't need your body. Besides -- I'm sorry to say this -- you're not my type."

The man's words stabbed at her very heart.


Syamsul had no alibi. He was in the house at the time the murder had occurred. Siska's body was found brutally mutilated, her severed hand still holding the telephone, her wedding ring still glimmering on her finger.

Syamsul had fainted upon discovering the gruesome scene in the early morning.


He had loved his wife so deeply, a woman with a childlike, carefree mind and a sweet heart. He had no idea who had taken her life nor why. Perhaps his business rivals? Or did his wife have enemies? But all the windows and doors had been completely locked. Nothing was broken. Nothing was out of place.

"In the name of God, I had no reason to kill my wife!" he cried at court.
But the judge uncompromisingly sentenced Syamsul to 20 years in prison for killing his wife, Siska Anggraini, during the most talked-about trial in the country.

He refused to appeal.


During his dreary 20-year prison term, he filled the walls of his cell with his wife's pictures and killed the time by staring at them. On the day of his release, he went straight to his wife's grave.

While hugging her tombstone he vowed, "I swear to God, I will find the man who did this!"

Syamsul's media empire had gone bankrupt. The house was the only property he had to his name. He could sell the house or borrow money from the bank to start another business.

But the euphoria of press freedom following the collapse of the New Order regime almost two decades ago seemed to have completely faded away, and competition in the media industry appeared to be getting tighter and tighter, as people were more meticulous and selective about high-quality media.

He might need to explore a new business avenue.


Syamsul had fallen from grace almost completely. Worse still, his migraine was getting so worse that it often attacked him violently out of the blue.
He was relaxing in the living room, stretching out his body and weary soul.

"You will always be my angel," he sobbed, taking off his glasses and tenderly touching a picture of his late wife with the tip of his fingers.

All the furniture remained as before, although they were covered in dust, but the TV and other electronics were predictably out of order. Their collection of now out-of-date movies was still here.

Well, at least he had already reactivated the electricity and telephone.
And he had two pressing jobs on the table: Build a new life and avenge himself on the man who had killed his wife.

For Syamsul, it could only be an eye for an eye...

But he needed to rest first. Life in prison was no vacation.

He inhaled deeply before trying to steal some sleep on the couch. It was already dark outside, and it was starting to get chilly, perhaps because it had just stopped raining.

Syamsul snatched a grubby blanket from the bedroom and covered his head with both hands, desperately trying to stop the painful migraine as he felt it beginning to attack him again.

His mind, nevertheless, endlessly replayed memories of momentous events with Siska: A candlelight dinner in Paris, a gondola cruise in Venice, an opera in Sydney, a heated argument on a Phuket beach that ended in a passionate evening.

Through his reveries and migraine, he heard the telephone downstairs ringing.

-- Jakarta, July 24, 2005, after fixing the phone

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, March 20, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,
Ambon, Maluku

Along the 30-kilometer road from Pattimura airport to the Maluku capital Ambon, the view of destroyed churches, mosques and houses no longer shocks most Ambonese.
In a taxi that charged three times as much as before the conflict, the driver explained which areas belonged to Muslims and Christians. He never uttered the words "Christians" or "Muslims". Instead he crossed his fingers when referring to Christians and bent his finger close to his thumb to form a crescent, the symbol of Islam.

He seemed to realize the sensitivity of the words, and that if he expressed them in the "wrong" tone he might re-trigger the conflict. Or that if security officers overheard, he might be misunderstood and thought to be planning to stir up the conflict between the religious communities.

Just recently a clash broke out between police and military that left two personnel killed and one student injured. Police officer Second Brig. Arnold R. Wakolo was stabbed to death by unidentified people on March 3, followed by an apparent retaliation murder of military soldier Second Brig. I Putu Haryanto the following day. Police then allegedly opened fire on a crowd in Batumerah village in Sirimau district, injuring Pattimura University student Saiful Wakano.

The incident did not escalate into large-scale violence. If the injured student had been killed, the situation could have spiraled out of control. Remember the protracted communal conflict of a few years ago was triggered by a small fight between a petty criminal and a public minivan driver on Jan. 19, 1999, yet it left thousands dead.

"Conflicts will only benefit security officials," said local activist Abubakar Kabakoran, who has been promoting peace in the city that has been religiously segregated since the communal violence. He recalled that Army soldiers received lots of money for guarding goods that arrived in the Muslim dominated port and for providing security during the delivery of the goods from Muslim to Christian areas during the two years of the conflict. When peace prevails, such material gains cease.

"Nonetheless, the marines might still be benefiting from backing illegal fishing and the police from issuing licenses for unregistered vehicles, things that could cause envy among the demoralized Army personnel," said Abubakar.

It is true that militant groups, some of them used to receive support from individuals in the military and police, such as Laskar Jihad, Satgas Amar Maruf Nahi Munkar, Mujahidin and Siluman from the Muslim camp, and Laskar Kristus, Coker and Pasukan Agas from the Christian side have been disbanded. However, the rivalry between military personnel, or between the military and police, still poses a serious threat to the peace building process. This may be part of the problems following the separation of the police from the Indonesian Military in 2000.

Besides the problem of a "militarized" society, by birth, Indonesia has a spirit of uniformity, not plurality. People learned and adopted the culture of violence from the imposition of the authoritarian New Order regime. After the fall of the regime, the spirit of forced tolerance was replaced by ethno-nationalism, particularly in conflict areas such as Maluku where the Republic of Southern Maluku independence movement remains strong.

So how to break this circle of violence? From a cultural perspective, it can only be broken by "not learning the violence". Local wisdom which promotes peace can actually be explored to help communities detach themselves from this culture of violence.

Religious tension can also be reduced by the spirit of brotherhood, which can suppress religious differences, because members of the united family often adhere to different religions.

There has also been a bakubae movement in place, exploring a set of local values that help prevent violence. In religious discourse, a statement like "The father of Muslims and Christians is Abraham" can be spread to increase the sense of commonality between the two religious communities.

Nonetheless, peace-building initiatives following the government-sponsored Malino peace agreement in 2002 have only slowly become fruitful. Hasbollah Toisuta from the Institute of the Strategic Study and Empowerment of Maluku said that often social activists are "selling" the Maluku conflict merely for the sake of enhancing their credentials.

"Like the bakubae movement, many of its initiatives are mere talks among elite groups held in Java, without concrete programs for the ordinary people here," lamented Hasbollah, adding that if local people had been more intensively involved, the results could have been more in-depth and widespread.

Therefore, besides improving the professionalism of the police and military, local wisdom-based peace initiatives such as peace education involving ordinary people are imperative to produce a genuine and lasting peace. Besides celebrating the harvest in Buru district during his visit to Maluku on March 17-19, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should also use this opportunity to touch on more fundamental issues that concern the future of peace among ordinary people in this conflict-torn province.

The writer is a researcher at the International Center for Islam and Pluralism and a lecturer at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten. He is currently doing research in Maluku, West Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi on the role of local wisdom in conflict prevention and resolution.

Friday, March 10, 2006


First published in the Fourth Quarter Report 2005 (October-December), issued in March 2006, Sampoerna Foundation


Alpha Amirrachman

Comparing today’s teachers to those who lived in the previous era seems to be very ironic. Becoming a teacher then was perceived highly respective in the society, but now many will only regard it as second or even third alternative before they come up with an idea of other “ideal” professions. It is no longer considered as a desirable occupation, even though we all realize, without teachers we will not be able to get sufficient education—or to put it bluntly, without teachers we should not be able to achive what we have now.

Up to know, ideals campaigned by noted educationalists Ki Hadjar Dewantara and Ahmad Dahlan remain in history books, with virtually no generation to transform their noble values into education that is truly liberating the ordinary from vicious circles of poverty and intellectual backwardness. What is wrong with our education system? Why do we remain in a backwater even among our fellow neighbors such as Malaysia and Singapore? Should we blame teachers from all these failures?

Indeed, no one can agree more that teachers are the backbone of this nation whose duty is to sharpen the intellectual life of the nation. However, one would also agree that the competence and qualification of teachers in this country are still far from satisfactory.

So, we can simplistically answer that our backwardness is the result of poor academic performance of teachers. But one may argue that formal education is not every thing; teaching certificate doesn’t guarantee that teachers are effectively able to transfer their knowledge to students. Besides, teachers are not only to teach, but also to educate. They deal not only with sharpening cognitive aspect, but equally important with molding the soul and character of this nation, the aspect of humanity.

In this area, too, I am afraid to say, that teachers have also lost their capital to become a decent model for their students. When students do not look up their teachers in genuine admiration and respect, it is hard to believe that teachers are able to carry such a noble duty. From what I learned, during the independence movement teachers were not only members of a noble profession, but also a liberating force who transmitted their zest for independence to their students, and were highly respected for their morality, integrity and dedication.

Burning with curiosity, I recently met with Chairman of FGII (Forum Guru Independen Indonesia, Indonesia Independent Forum of Teachers) Pak Suparman and had conversation with him at his modest house in the outskirts of Jakarta to explore more stories about teachers.

From the outset, Pak Suparman, who is also a public high school teacher, has always been concerned with the saddening development of education in this country, so particularly the fate of teachers. He said that though not the isolated factor, but miserable teacher welfare must have led to the decline of teacher professionalism. He also deplored the fact that many teachers are still unaware about their rights—their rights to at least being treated as decent human beings, not mere cogs in this huge but often ineffective bureaucratic machine.

He said solemnly, “During colonial time teachers were open-minded individuals who liberated our people from backwardness. They used to be very well respected, but the New Order has heavily bureaucratized teachers. Teachers are no longer engaged public intellectuals who promote democratic values—they were instead made into acute obstacles of democratization. Worse still, they have effectively lost their dignity.”

In short, teachers were turned into mere “mechanical mannequins” who teach without creative thinking. Moreover, due to insufficient salary, the cases of teachers moonlighting to desperately meet their family needs are widespread; sometimes their side jobs are irrelevant to their profession. Ironically, teachers are even having difficulty even to give the best education to their own children.

The quality of teacher education declined as teaching becomes the last choice of profession. Or can we still call teaching a profession, given it lacks not only intrinsic rewards but also most of the characteristics of a real profession? I feel too shamed to answer. But what is obvious is that teacher competence is below standard. Let me take public schools as an example. Based on teacher required education background, statistics from the Ministry of National Education (2004) disclose that at the elementary school level, out of 1,150,554 teachers, 391, 507 (or 34 percent) are incompetent; at the junior high school level, out of 445,175 teachers, 317,112 (or 71.2 percent) are incompetent, at the senior high school level, out of 187,000 teachers, 87,133 (or 46.6 percent) are incompetent; and at the vocational high school level, out 211,642 teachers, 70,595 (or 33.4 percent) are incompetent!

Therefore, there are three interrelated problems of teachers that we need to deal with. First, it is their low academic performance. Second, it is their deprived welfare condition. Third, it is their curtailed creativity after almost three decades under the authoritarian government. All these need to be addressed with integrated, not partial educational policy. And gladly, the government and the House officially endorsed Teacher and Lecturer Law on December 6, 2005 as a “New Year gift” for the education sector. It is perceived that the new law will boost teacher professionalism and welfare and provide legal assurance for teachers’ right to association.

Nevertheless, according to Pak Suparman, it is actually easier said than done to realize the spirit carries by the law. Showing some statistics to me, he lamented, “It is stated that the welfare would only be realized when teachers have met the newly required qualification and competence. However, out of 2,777,802 teachers in Indonesia—from kindergarten to senior high schools, public and private—only 958,056 or 34.49 percent who hold undergraduate degree. Teachers of junior and senior high are a bit fortunate because about 50 percent of them already posses undergraduate degree or at least Diploma Three. But this would be a disaster for kindergarten and elementary school teachers, out of 149,644, only 12,658 or 8.46 percent who are deemed qualified.”

This means that there are a huge number of teachers who would not be able to immediately enjoy the upgrading of their welfare promised by the law, while the government only sets ten years for all teachers to meet the required competence and qualification. This is a giant task that puts our education really at the crossroad in this country. In this case, the government is now planning to screen teacher education institutions, both public and private, which would be granted accreditation to provide extra training for the unfortunate teachers.

Teacher training, nonetheless, is not simply training teachers and awarding them with certificate, but more importantly it is also about how to enhance genuine teacher professionalism and make them love the job they have chosen—because what impedes effective teaching is that teachers worked within outmoded and unprofessional systems where there is nothing they can be proud of.

For this to achieve we need sincere and unrelenting commitment from all concerned parties to participate in making this undertaking meaningful and beneficial, otherwise it would be a waste of time and energy or could even be prone to irregularities which will again victimize the already ill-fated teachers.

However, when we come to the nuts and bolts of commitment in education investment, it often proves to be low. Why? According to Miguel Palacios Lleras (2004) in his book Investing Human Capital: A Capital Markets Approach to Student Funding, for industrial sectors, the unlikely immediate fruit of investment in education poses risk to their economic calculation—uncertain value, illiquid investment, difficult collection of payments and absence of collateral. For the political establishment, besides fiscal constraints, it is also risky because there might not be any return of investment by the time the next election is held.

Lleras’ argument is undeniable. The enhancement of labor productivity and human capital could have deep social implication because they would gear the nation towards a bright and prosperous future. But so appalling that it is often difficult for us to put it into practice. For example, the portion borne by our own government and industrial sectors only reaches between 26.13 percent and 46.26 percent of the total cost of education, while by parents, ironically, has amounted to between 53.74 percent and 73.87 percent (The Jakarta Post, March 24, 2005).

Therefore, with the government is still unable to meet its constitutional duty to allocate 20 percent of national budget for education on the ground of financial constrains, and with many students benefit little due to low professionalism of teachers, it is high time for private sectors to take part in this dignified effort and help determine the fate of the teachers whose noble duty is to liberate this nation from its backwardness.

It is heartbreaking that teacher like Pak Suparman did not seem want to lose his optimism. “As a teacher, I should always be optimistic, no matter how impossible it would be,” he proudly showed his t-shirt bearing the picture of Ki Hadjar Dewantara which read Guru Sang Pembebas— Teachers the Liberator.

Alpha Amirrachman is an academic member at the Faculty of Education and Teacher Training of Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten and a columnist for The Jakarta Post daily


Thursday, March 09, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, March 9, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,
Serang, Banten

Local miners, armed with bows and arrows, clashed with security guards, soldiers and police after they sifted through PT Freeport Indonesia's tailings in Papua (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 27, 2006). It is not unusual for a multinational company operating in a developing country to be embroiled in conflict over environmental degradation. While 77 percent of U.S. companies -- many of them have grown into multinational ones -- have a formal system in place to proactively identify key environmental issues, the attack on Freeport in Papua certainly reveals a sad story.

Freeport arrived in Indonesia in 1967, before the government under Soeharto formulated the foreign joint-investment law, enabling the U.S. gold and copper mining company to hold a wholly-owned subsidiary. The company has amassed incredible wealth from its operation. It has been accused of polluting Otomona River, by constantly dumping crude copper tailings into Ajika River. Environmental groups have revealed that around 420 square kilometers of the area surrounding the company has been environmentally damaged.

From an organizational point of view, the clash between local Papuans and the mining giant should be regarded as the failure of a modern organization to deal humanely with marginalized people. Due to the incident, the discourse on the concept of a postmodern organization has come to the fore as it has failed to achieve its initial noble objective of leading human beings to a more humane, advanced and civilized society. However, the notion of postmodern organization itself is not unproblematic.

While postmodern organization is often seen as an antithesis of modern organization which is believed to be more environmentally friendly and flexible, with continuous education and empowerment and greater participation of marginalized groups within and outside the organization, there has not been a fixed definition of postmodernism. Likewise, postmodernism hypercritical of modernism and its insistence on abandoning the latter has been criticized, too, as Schmidt (1994) asserts that "modernism is a continuum and it must be reflected, cannot be abandoned."

Despite its perceived greater flexibility and noble objectives, there is still doubt that the "less authoritative" postmodern organization could have a concrete and effective agenda to impose an education that could empower individuals and to deal with the issues of the minority. The attempt of the defenders of postmodern organization to revoke authority is debatable, as it is unthinkable that an organization can effectively operate without having authority. Perhaps, what an organization needs is a more humane, sensitive, flexible and accountable type of authority exercised by democratic leadership. What is clear is that the emergence of postmodern organization has given a fresh catalyst to conduct a critical evaluation of modern multinational companies.

So how do we see postmodern organizations? There seems to be two schools of thought here. First is to regard this as a totally different form of organization that views itself as an antithesis of the classical modern organization. Second, is to look at this phenomenon as a continuous and gradual process of evolution of a contemporary organization into something more humane. Therefore a middle path is sought for compromise.

Equally important, this discourse on postmodern organization should be seen as a reflection of the success and failure of the modern organization in the ongoing quest toward the betterment of any organization. So can this quest help multinational companies to sensitively and comprehensively deal with the issues of local people? It is clear that the continuous transfer of knowledge, honest dialog, just and transparent empowerment programs, and tangible mutual collaboration between multinational companies such as Freeport and indigenous people within and outside the organization in inevitable.

Multinational companies should show their moral determination to ultimately return most of their privileges to the local people who are now still incapable due to the lack of knowledge, know-how and technology. Otherwise, local people would be increasingly marginalized, the environment would further deteriorate, and multinational companies would grow into a serious threat to civilization.

The Freeport row would not have occurred without the complicity of the elite groups of the country, both civilian and military, who have long benefited from the exploitation of Papua's natural resources. They too should abandon their personal greed, put pressure on Freeport and generate the maximum benefit for the development of the local people.

The writer is lecturer at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University (Untirta) in Banten and a researcher at the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP).