Sunday, 21 June 2009

Against Culture of Fear

Meicky Shoreamanis Panggabean, Keberanian Bernama Munir: Mengenal Sisi-Sisi Personal Munir, Mizan Pustaka, Bandung, December 2008, 290 pages

Military forces had significant role during Indonesia New Order regime. But their roles tend to be negative. Thirty years in the course of the regime, military forces didn’t act as the guard of national defence. They served the regime to secure its power and protect its policies from people’s resistance. In this context, we can easily understand that according to Louis Althusser military forces are a part of Repressive State Apparatus.

In the realm of New Order regime, anyone who opposed government policy will be stigmatized as an extreme left/right-winger, betrayer of Pancasila, communist, or anything else and the military forces, in the name of national stability, will use their authority to fight down the opposition movement in any way they want.

As a result, New Order regime established the culture of fear among the citizen. People were afraid of expressing their opinion and critics to the government. Mass media applied self-censorships to ensure sustainability of their business.

This book recounts a fascinating story about Munir, the defender of human rights in Indonesia. Panggabean, the writer of this book, focused his narration to the bravery of Munir to reveal the human rights violation carried out by state apparatus, especially military forces. She explored personal aspects of Munir to catch the spirit of his life.

Munir Said Thalib, born in 1965, first came to public prominence when he founded the human rights organization KontraS (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence) on March 20, 1998, two months before the resignation of Soeharto. KontraS engaged intensely on advocating the victims of politics of violence. Between late 1997 and early 1998, in the twilight of Soeharto regime, twenty three pro-reformation activists were abducted, including Wiji Thukul, and KontraS fight for exposing this sensitive case into public sphere.

Based on this specific concern, Munir with KontraS gradually broke down the culture of fear and political silence among people. Munir emphasized that Indonesian people were not critical of the authoritarianism of the regime because of this culture. Munir encouraged people to speak up against oppression of the regime. Besides advocating the victims, Munir used various ways to revitalize spirit of the fight towards despotism and political violence. He set billboards contained the list of the victim of political disappearances on the strategic places to remind people about the violence.

Panggabean, who had worked as a volunteer in KontraS Munir in 1998, gave us several good pages of her interview with Munir, when Munir told about a mother of a victim of political disappearances, Mrs. Tuti Koto, which was afraid to speak out when her son, Yani Afri, was disappeared on July 1997. When Tuti reported the case to KontraS, Munir helped her to speak up the case, until she was brave to give a public speech in front of the armies. Munir underlined that this was a great achievement in the context of culture of political silence.

Fighting the culture of fear actually wasn’t a new activity of Munir. When involved on the case of Marsinah murder in 1994, we can saw Munir’s position at that time which showed his strong character to confront the power and pressure of military. He also involved in advocating the victims of Priok in 1984 and Lampung in 1989 and others, the cases that have strong connection with military. For his courage and dedication in fighting for human rights and the civilian control of the military in Indonesia, Munir received prestigious Human Rights Livelihood Award in 2000 from Sweden.

Fighting spirit on what Munir have done to fight the culture of fear maybe was a result of long education started in his family. Panggabean described detailed narration about Munir’s neighbourhood where he had grown up: discipline and confident character of his mother, his interaction in the market when he was a youngster and must help to earn his family with his brothers to live on, his experiences and his interactions with his friends, etc. One of his impressive experiences is when Munir was a junior high school student reported a murder of his neighbor in Batu Malang to the police. That was his early struggle for his own fear and maybe also his initial encounter with the meaning of justice and humanity in the context of social life.

This book has an important meaning in the context of Indonesia at this time, at least in two perspectives. First, as we know, the death of Munir, after more than four years, still became a mystery, and disclosure of this case is a must as an effort to sustain the fight of Munir itself against culture of fear and political violence. This book reminds us about our duty to insist revelation and subsequent investigation of this case and to educate people to bravely fight oppression and violence. Second, this book is an inspiring treasure to keep the spirit of Munir in existence, which is his courage, integrity, enthusiasm, and commitment to humanity. Panggabean successfully revived these spirits with his a remarkable account on Munir’s everyday life.

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