One Week with Indonesian Young Ones

By Dr.Paul Hwang (Director ALL Forum)

After a long time, ALL Forum has finished the Moving School program. Physically, it has been about two and a half years since the outbreak of COVID-19, but the psychological time feels much longer than that. Why did I feel that way? I couldn’t figure out the reason even if I thought about it, but I realized it only when I came to Indonesia where the program was held. More precisely, it was thanks to children and young people who I met when we as a group visited Pesantren, an Islamic boarding school, as part of the program. Their simple expressions with full smiles on faces, shy talks and gestures, their ceaseless and enjoyable jokes from indefinite optimism toward life, and their seriousness and passion on the other hand…etc. When I felt the surging sense of liberation almost to the tip of my head, I found myself most like myself.

Personally, I think for a moment that this is why I have been walking around in Asia for some 20 years. Eventually, it has been my desire to know and feel to grasp something behind in the invisible value they show and live with. But this kind of ‘romance’ began to crack when the program began the next day. They often delay 10 to 20 minutes when a session or workshop starts or has to end, laugh when they have to be serious, or break the situation where order is naturally required as if nothing happened. For me, who is familiar with a life of establishing and following standards and norms, this “disorderedness” took a considerable amount of time and effort to digest. evertheless, it’s always unfamiliar and takes a good time and effort to adapt. So it is time to decide whether I’m going to be a “realistic romantist” or a “romantic realist.” This distinction looks like a pun, but it is an important guide for me. It is whether I should start with the former which sees something behind first of what appears to be disordered, that is, a mixture of paradox between focused and distracted, as an order. Or it shoud be the latter can be said to begin with the laughter of these young ones who indefinitely affirm tomorrow even if today is hungry and difficult.

This characteristic could be generalized and understood not only for Indonesian youth but also for Southeast Asian young ones. Even compared to young people from South Asian countries, Southeast Asian counterparts seem to have more leeway or space in which they enjoy more freedom than following any framework or norms. The difference is more pronounced in comparison to Korean youth as East Asian. I have witnessed it when ALL Forum’s pan-Asian programs are held, Korean youth seem to be unable to mingle with this “undisciplined” Southeast Asian young people. But all I mentioned above is based on my personal experiences which is not objective if not groundless. Over the past 30 years, growing religious fundamentalism and hardline militant groups have caused tensions rather than peaceful coexistence between religions and harmed the rights and safety of minorities. Public spaces, including places of worship, were not uncommon targets of bombing and churches were closed for causing confusion. Also, the religious life of Shiites and Ahmadiya Muslims is becoming increasingly difficult. The imprisonment of the former Christian Jakarta governor, who was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy in 2017, has become a symbolic case that shows the difficulty of peaceful and harmonious coexistence between religions in Indonesia.

Along with this situation, socioeconomic poverty makes the future prospects of youth even darker. It is not difficult to hear in Indonesia and other conflict-affected countries in Asia that young people without jobs are lured into terrorist groups for just some money. Young people blindly accept a promise to get out of poverty, even if it is a situation that easily drives them to death. Therefore, religious hostility, poverty, and inequality in Indonesian society become fertile land where violence and extremism flourish. Nevertheless, statistics show that nearly half of Indonesia’s young people feel happy, and that this is one of the happiest people in the world. If we focus on the latter without considering the former we can’t but help to end up with prejudice and even distortion of the reality young people in Asia face. It could be “moderate and reformative Islam”, “development of democracy”, “participation in intercultural dialogue and collaboration”, which make young ones in Indonesia smile, laughter and lots of jokes for the bright future. Where is the place or role of religions especially Asian Christianity among them?.*