Friday, July 8, 2011

Peaceful Indonesians

Reader Fred Rice pointed me to this clip seen at Japan Probe the other week.

"A Japanese TV show found an international survey that ranked countries where people were least likely to become angry. Indonesia was ranked #1. To test this claim, they sent comedian Udo Suzuki to Bali, where he acted like a jerk and tried to provoke the anger of Indonesian people.
Just to test his anger-inducing abilities, he first tried sneaking up behind a white woman and popping a balloon next to her head. Sure enough, she got visibly angry and left the area.
He then targeted Indonesians. First, he did a couple surprise balloon pops. Next, he randomly poured water on somebody. He cut in line at a grocery store. Then he put super spicy hot sauce into an ice desert.
One guy seemed very uncomfortable after eating the hot sauce, but nobody became visibly pissed off. Nobody yelled at him. Nobody stormed away in anger. Suzuki’s antics provoked no rage.
According to post-prank interviews, Indonesian parents teach their children not to get angry over small matters and not to fight with other people. A lot of Indonesian people don’t think it would be worth getting worked up over a little prank."

try to make them angry by cicacocadou3

Now obviously that show is pretty staged and proves little or nothing. And obviously I'm biased being part-Indonesian myself, but as far as I'm concerned, the study is pretty accurate. It may be a huge and culturally diverse country, but as a general rule, Indonesians are a very easy-going people. Of all the countries I've been to around Asia, only the Thai people seem to match Indonesians in the polite and friendly stakes.

Or alternatively, you could take a completely different view.

This is of course the same country which has suffered several internal terrorist attacks in the last decade. It's the same country in which up to 1 million people were murdered in anti-communist pogroms during the civil unrest of 1965-66, with the killing often carried out by civilians. It's the same country guilty of bloody repressions in West Papua, Aceh and its former province East Timor. It's the same country that in the last 15 years has witnessed sectarian conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Sulawesi and Ambon, mass beheadings of Madurese transmigrants by Dayak tribesmen in Kalimantan, and mass gang-rapes of ethnic Chinese women and looting of Chinese shops in the 1998 unrest. Indonesia is frequently lauded for practising a moderate, secular and tolerant form of Islam; yet Muslim militancy has been on the rise in various forms with groups like the Islamic Defenders Front, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the terrorist Jemaah Islamiyah. It is notable that one of the few words to have entered the English language from Indonesian/Malay is amok, meaning to suddenly snap and start attacking people indiscriminantly. It's a very Indonesian phenomenon.

In other words, it looks like an extremely violent and aggressive place. So which is the real Indonesia?


  1. Good question. I have family members (Chinese-Indonesians) that have moved to the US after the 1998 riots (though most have stayed). I really don't know what to make of the whole dual-naturedness of Indonesia. Sometimes I wonder if it is the whole idea of being taught not to get worked up, to sort of bottle emotions up, that just explodes into these incidents of running "amok", violence, etc. I dunno...
    Interesting post!

  2. @83silverfish:
    I agree with you that "amok" could be related to containing one's emotions. Javanese in particular are renowned for their cultural value of being "halus" (smooth), meaning practising civility and not being overly emotional.

  3. Interesting article. Many Asian nations seem to share this duality - a peaceful, tolerant and non-aggressive nature on a personal level but with histories that are blighted by examples of extreme violence and brutality. It's somewhat suprising that it's the distinctively Buddhist nations such as Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka that have had such violent recent histories. Perhaps it's just the governments and politics are just really messed up and the spiritual underpinnings actually mitigates the violence. Thoughts?

  4. @ praveen:
    India and China have also been strongly influenced by Hindu-Buddhist principles including pacifism and vegetarianism... yet look at the Chinese attitudes to animal welfare, and the extreme indifference to human welfare that often exists in India.
    It's true that governments are often the root of the problem. Religion is often only a thin veneer and has minimal impact on human behaviour overall. Consider the stereotypes of Buddhism and Islam regarding violence; and then compare the recent histories of Buddhist Sri Lanka to Muslim Bangladesh.

    It can't be forgotten that Indonesia, like most of tropical Asia, is riddled with poverty. Competing for limited resources is a sure-fire way to brew tensions. Also because of the ineffectiveness of government, mob rule is very common in Indonesia.

  5. Having lived and worked in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam the last 10 years, I’ve come to see firsthand how important “face” or keeping cool is in each of these countries. But I’ve also seen mobs on rampages acting very un-cool, though this is a fairly global habit.
    About the “amok”, I agree it’s bottled up frustrations and emotions finally being released. Comparing Australia to these countries; a big difference is if you get into a fight in an Australian pub or wherever, there’s a build-up of arguing, pushing and shoving before the first hits are thrown. So you can feel it escalating and have time to walk away.
    However in SE Asia I’ve seen locals being abused and pushed around by foreigners or disgruntled customers, keeping their cool and offering little or no resistance, and then snap! Out comes the knife or coke bottle with no warning.
    Don’t get into fights here because you won’t know what hit you, just that you were being unreasonable beyond what was acceptable.