Relief in air as 2016 ends
By Agnes Anya, Ivany Arbi Atina
31 December 2016

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The year 2016 has been exhausting for Indonesians, with the country descending further into sectarianism and the political temperature rising ahead of the concurrent regional elections.

Worldwide, the year 2016 has gained notoriety for various reasons: the war in Syria, which has triggered a wave of refugees and inspired deadly terrorist attacks, the rise of bigotry and the deaths of pop icons, such as David Bowie and Prince.

In Indonesia, the year that shall pass has also been exhausting for many of its citizens, with the country descending further into sectarianism and the political temperature surging in the run up to the concurrent regional elections.

Farid Mardhi, 23-year-old South Tangerang resident, said 2016 was the year of conflict, with rifts appearing between religious groups.

“I initially thought President Jokowi and Ahok would bring new hope and create unity in the country, but instead, there are lots of fractures caused by them. I don’t blame them though. It just means Indonesians are not mature enough to accept differences,” he said. 

A 27-year-old member of the Nahdlatul Ulama Budy Sugandi who lives in Pondok Cabe, South Jakarta, said he felt intolerance and sectarianism had been worse this year compared to the previous years. 

The two religiously driven rallies in November and December that witnessed hundreds of thousands of Muslims taking to the streets to demand the prosecution of a Christian governor over blasphemy allegations showed that identity politics was rising in the country, he said.

Budy expressed hope that in 2017, law enforcers would not tolerate intolerant groups and those who violate the law. 

“I also expect the people to be more critical,” Budy said.

Social media has turned into a menace in Indonesia in 2016, with the rise of fake news and hoaxes, which government officials said could fan sectarianism and therefore threaten the fabric of society.

Even as the year is closing, sectarian issues still pervade social media conversations.

As local administrations and business venues prepare for New Year’s Eve celebrations, a group of people have launched a campaign urging people to not celebrate New Year’s Eve, as they say it is not Islamic.

“Let’s see that New Year’s Eve parties are empty! Enliven Mosques instead with prayers. Spread this invitation!” Syarifah Lulu Assegaf, a Facebook user, wrote on Friday. 

In spite of all that, university student Divio Tanod said he was optimistic 2017 would be better, hoping there would be less debate over religion on social media.

“I have grown up in an environment where my friends are mostly Muslims. Despite all the (sectarian) issues, we still live side by side without any religion- or race-related conflicts,” Tanod noted.

“I do hope in 2017, Indonesia will be as harmonious as my neighbourhood,” the Tangerang resident said.

Housewife Marisi Dameria Hutajulu, 51, of Duren Sawit, East Jakarta, seconded Divio by saying she was optimistic that in the forthcoming year, Indonesians, regardless of their race or religion, would be able to work hand in hand to develop the nation.

Apart from sectarianism, 2016 also witnessed the rise of terrorist groups linked to the Islamic State (IS) movement that have been relentlessly trying to hurt the nation.

As early as January, IS-linked militants carried out their first attack on Indonesian soil, with a bomb and gun attack on January 14 on Jl. MH Thamrin in Central Jakarta that left four civilians dead and injured more than 25. After Jakarta, militants carried out attacks in other cities: Surakarta, Medan, Tangerang and Samarinda.

The November attack on a church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, shocked the nation, as it took the life of a 3-year-old toddler and injured three others.

Police in major cities have also prepared tight security measures for New Year’s Eve celebrations amid possible threats of terrorism following a string of arrests of terror suspects and the discovery of bombs in several places.

“I hope there will be fewer or no more wars and attacks in the world, particularly Indonesia. I want my dream to come back to Indonesia realised in 2017,” Japanese citizen Rinko Yamashita, who spent a year in Yogyakarta learning Indonesian, said.

Yamashita said she had initially planned to reunite with her friends in Indonesia earlier this year. However, she had to cancel her trip after her parents did not give her permission to travel to Indonesia.

“My parents refused to allow me to visit Indonesia because of their concerns about my security. I felt miserable (while cancelling the plan) at that time, as I was missing my friends,” Yamashita said.

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  • Relief in air as 2016 ends

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