Hoaxes from the Top of the Ladder

A “hoax” in common Indonesian parlance is equivalent to the American terms of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” They are quintessentially falsehoods or deviations from truths—minor or major—spread about by multiple sources, with either clear or vague purposes. We can easily see these sorts of fabrications in any media outlet.

Take social media for example. How often do we open up our Facebooks, Twitters, et cetera and find friends, family, colleagues posting nonsensical articles. For instance, cures for cancer through vegetarianism, flat earth hypotheses, and any other topic which are supported by no concrete fact whatsoever (UI, 2017). These tall tales are bad enough as they could be both misleading and at worst, grant false hopes to their readers. But it would be a mistake to think that hoaxes can come only from members of the general public. As unfortunately, these items of untruths could also originate from the most powerful entities of society, including news corporations and governing bodies.

What I have essentially uttered is that sometimes, the people who we are supposed to entrust with our understanding of the world can, would, and have lied on multiple occasions. Furthermore, these instances are not isolated to merely a few nations. Rather, it happens—I would wager—in nearly all countries that exist across the globe. However I cannot provide such a complete analysis as my knowledge is sadly still limited. What I can showcase is how both Indonesia’s government has manipulated information to be more palatable to its citizens, and thus allow it to gather support for their operations. One particular event in Indonesia’s history illustrates this point succinctly.

Nearly all Indonesians are familiar with Indonesia’s second president, Muhammad Suharto. Suharto is a man who causes debate whenever his name pops up. Some Indonesians consider him to be a better leader than his predecessor, Sukarno, as he was capable of uniting Indonesia by means of force—something Sukarno was incapable of doing through his comparatively softer approach. Yet many would also denounce him to be a murderous tyrant, who does not care for the needs of the common folk, merely seeking means to entrench his power (Berger, 2008). Which of these judgments are accurate? That depends on who one seeks information from.

During the Suharto era, free speech basically became a myth for Indonesians; be they journalists, writers, or ordinary citizens. As any who dared to raise a finger against Suharto would be swiftly subdued, either through imprisonment or sudden and unexplainable disappearances. Even if their forms of verbal and written retaliations are completely based on facts (Erlanger, 1998).

But what kinds of atrocities did Suharto commit—other than strangling the freedom of expression—that warrants condemnations from the Indonesian peoples? For starters, he initiated the hunt for Indonesian communists in the first of October 1965. A campaign that started with the murder of six army generals, a complete takeover of all media and communication outlets, and the detainment of then President Sukarno. All on the false basis, as told by Suharto and his cadres, that the Indonesian Communist Party—PKI—were attempting to establish a wholly communist state in Indonesia through violence (McVey & Anderson, 1978).

The anti-communist crusade continued with the killings of any communist sympathizers. Pro-communism government official, ordinary civilians suspected to be sympathetic to the communist cause, or those merely associated with communists were subject to government-mandated persecutions, assaults, and executions. The result was the deaths hundreds of thousands of Indonesian lives (Chomsky, 2011 ).

At the end of the anti-communist purge, Suharto took power over Indonesia, becoming its president without any electoral process. Although he had managed to obtain the highest level of political power in the archipelagic state, he did not stop his murderous streak. As any territory—such as his invasion and occupation of East Timor—organizations and individuals who rose up against him were pursued, and suffered similar fates to those of the purged communists.

The crimes Suharto committed to his dissidents, the ones who dared to criticize his leadership are nothing short of inhumane. Yet not all Indonesians or peoples of the international community viewed Suharto as the dictator and tyrant he was. Why? Because neither the Indonesian media nor the news streams of other nations, particularly the West, reported Suharto’s actions with complete honesty.

In Indonesia, it was completely impossible to criticize Suharto publicly. Or at least do so in an effective way, in other words, widespread and acknowledged by the common people. Indonesian media outlets were after all controlled by Suharto’s government, and all reports published by said outlets had to be approved by the governing body (Erlanger, 2008). Otherwise, the media bodies and persons pertaining to what is perceived to be a distasteful story by Suharto and his crew may very well have their corporations brought down, the employees relinquished from their respective positions, or at worst individually disappear. Thus there was practically no report published with truthfulness, for to mention facts would incite aggression from the government.

Meanwhile in the Western hemisphere, particularly in the United States of America, a similar dishonesty in news reporting was also taking place. It is no longer a secret that the US was directly involved in aiding Suharto execute his takeover to further its own agenda—an Indonesia more cooperative to the West than the East, which is another way to say that the US sought an Indonesia obedient to the US’ whims and not the communists of the East; the modus operandi of the US in regards to states likely to align themselves with the Eastern Block (Chomsky, 2016). In order to do so, they had to transform Sukarno’s pro-communism Indonesia and they managed to do so by way of Suharto.

Hence whilst Suharto was massacring the peoples of Indonesia who were discontent with his rule, the US media did not shine an objective light towards these state-sponsored acts of terror. Rather, they portrayed Suharto as a beacon of hope for democracy, even though he was not an elected president, who in addition enacted a law that pretty much amounted to coercing every single government of employee to vote for him and his political party, Golkar, in any and all upcoming elections (Staff, 2017). The enactment of such a law, needless to say, is an act that directly contrasts with the notion of democracy, where the common people should be free to choose whomever they see fit to shepherd them. Yet the US, the supposed champion of democracy, blinded its eyes to all these anti-democratic deeds.

As for the aforementioned acts genocide Suharto launched in the purge of communists from Indonesia, with an estimated civilian death toll ranging from 200,000 to 1,000,000 souls, the occupation of East Timor which decreased its population by 200,000 people, the US media quickly found ways to justify his actions (Tanter, 2007). With most of their news illustrating the killings as a necessary evil for Indonesia to ensure stability within its own borders. For instance, the New York Times repeatedly threw praises at Suharto for his murderous streak (Naureckas, 2017),

[…] the Times’ commentary and analysis viewed the destruction of the Communist party quite favorably. “A Gleam of Light in Asia” was the headline of a James Reston column. “Almost everyone [Indonesians and Americans] is pleased by the changes now being wrought,” C.L. Sulzberger commented. The Times itself editorialized that the Indonesian military was “rightly playing its part with utmost caution [in eliminating perceived threats].”

Thus the US media blatantly disregarded the fact that many of the countless murdered were ordinary civilians, incapable of launching any form of disruptive military attacks in Indonesia. Instead the victims were painted to be armed rebels, legitimate threats to Indonesia’s security who needed to be brought down (Chomsky, 2002). And thus another portrayal of Suharto was born, that of the war hero who seeks peace by any means necessary, even if it meant bloodying his hands with the blood of his own people.

However, Indonesians and the people of the West were showcased a benevolent crusader who would never waver from securing Indonesia’s independence no matter the cost. A leader who knew how to build a prosperous, stable nation out of chaos. Yet as stated above, nothing of the sort could be said to be truthful.

What Indonesians actually had was a dictator; a man who sought nothing but power for himself and his cadre through sacrificing the well-being of those under his rule. Yet many Indonesians, and the people of the West saw the fictitious, noble version of Suharto as a consequence of active manipulation from the media. Thus enabling further support for the tyrant, minimizing the willingness of the Indonesians to rebel against Suharto’s regime.

Though Suharto has fallen from his throne, we must make no mistake, as the case of Suharto-esque media manipulation continues to this day in Indonesia. Television channels, newspapers, magazines, any platform of media one could dream of is either funder or owned by members of Indonesia’s various political parties (Staff, 2014). Ownerships that result in a media landscape populated by conflicting news reports with repeated occasions of one news station reporting favorably on a member of the party which owns it, while the rivals proceed to try their best at discrediting the positive reports, or painting entirely different pictures—sadly I must again be vague, as though there are cases to be shown, publicly pointing them out would likely put myself in jeopardy.

As a consequence of the torn media landscape of Indonesia, not a soul—except those in power—can truly tell what is happening within their country. Those who tune in only to select channels or read certain newspapers exclusively would not obtain the full picture of the events that surround them. To the people who cling to only one or two news sources, they are essentially reliving the era of Suharto’s media manipulation. Although journalists may no longer be murdered by the state, the power to alter the public’s agenda remains, in the shape of members of political parties actively tampering with journalism. Meanwhile, the common people can easily be driven into confusion, fear, anger and so on, courtesy of the shaped perspectives given to them.

Unfortunately I cannot explicitly or even implicitly state the contemporary, probable hoaxes Indonesia’s current elites feed to the masses. As doing so would likely land me in prison, or at the very least force me to apologize in public against those I wish I could openly speak out against. Indonesia’s laws against slander are incredibly vague, allowing any critic who provides inputs perceived to be “inappropriate” or “impolite” to be sued by the government—a tool commonly used by politicians or other persons of power to beautify themselves and throw down almost all dissenters (Schonhardt, 2010). These laws are why I chose to write about the Suharto’s era of governance, which is now fortunately open for discussion, debate, and of course criticism as a demonstration of a government eagerly altering information consumed by the Indonesian public.

Essentially, even with the end of a media-manipulating dictator’s era, hoaxes continue to pour out from the political elite. Hoaxes that directly affect how the people of Indonesia see and act within their nation. Thus even if their hearts are in the right places, their actions may not be beneficial to the country, as they might be operating on an agenda not entirely of their own.

Although I showcased a bleak landscape of how ordinary Indonesians have and continue to be lied to by their more politically savvy counterparts, this does not mean that we cannot find truth in Indonesia. The simplest method to counteract the rhetoric of conflicting media is to read as many sources as possible concerning any news reports, including sources originating from outside the country. As more information is gathered, despite the risk of being overwhelmed by the amount of data, there is the possibility of gleaming truth from all that was gathered. Simple yet difficult, much like digging in a mine and refining the chunks of rock to find the gems hidden within.

For those with an interest in political matters, there is a more complex but easier method of gleaming truth from the media. For this approach one must first understand the political climate of Indonesia along with which party controls which media outlet. Should one be able to do both these things, then they would be capable of clearly seeing biased reports and find one that is most accurate. Of course, the challenge comes with comprehending Indonesian politics, though the bounty that comes from accomplishing such an endeavor is having a lens capable of seeing through the fog generated by conflicting media reports.

In alignment with the idea of extending comprehension, the last method I can propose would be to read as much unbiased material as possible; be they newspapers from various sources alongside magazines, non-fiction books related to current matters, journal articles, essentially anything that is produced by sources not under the control of Indonesia’s political entities.

We are not powerless against the influence of Indonesia’s politically-tainted media, nor should we surrender ourselves to it. To do so would be to undo the efforts of those who have sacrificed their lives to overthrow the manipulative regime of Suharto. Indonesians, as a people, must not believe all the tales told to them.

Should we ignore the existence of hoaxes thrown at us from political elites, then we would be nothing but mere pawns. Mindless drones ready to be fed information, or instructions, depending on whatever the powerful feel would be suitable for their agenda. In doing otherwise, in acknowledging that we must remain vigilant against hoaxes from any and all sources, we are actively refusing and rebelling to be the sheep the powerful yet devious wish us to be.

Reference

Berger. (2008). Suharto Dies at 86; Indonesian Dictator Brought Order and Bloodshed. The New

York Times. Retrieved from

 

Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New

York City: Pantheon.

 

Chomsky, N. (2011). How the World Works. California: Soft Skull Press.

 

Chomsky, N. (2016). Who Rules the World? New York City: Metropolitan Books.

 

Erlanger. (2008). The Fall of Suharto: The Legacy; Suharto Fostered Rapid Economic Growth, and

Staggering Graft. The New York Times. Retrieved from

 

McVey & Anderson. (1978). What Happened in Indonesia? The New York Review of Books.

Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1978/06/01/what-happened-in-

indonesia/

 

Naureckas, J. (2017). No, US Didn’t ‘Stand By’ Indonesian Genocide—it actively participated.

FAIR. Retrieved from http://fair.org/home/no-us-didnt-stand-by-indonesian-genocide-

it-actively-participated/

 

Schonhardt, S. (2010). Indonesia and Free Speech. The Diplomat. Retrieved from

https://thediplomat.com/2010/06/jakarta-threatens-free-speech/

 

Staff. (2014). The business of politics in Indonesia. Inside Indonesia. Retrieved from

http://www.insideindonesia.org/the-business-of-politics-in-indonesia-4

 

Staff. (2017). Indonesia Under Digital Hoax Attack. University of Indonesia. Retrieved from

http://international.ui.ac.id/news/international-event-indonesia-under-digital-hoax-attack.html

 

Staff. (2017). Orde Baru Suharto: Pembangunan Indonesia di Bawah Pemerintahan Otoriter.

Indonesia Investments. Retrieved from https://www.indonesia-

investments.com/id/budaya/politik/orde-baru-suharto/item180?

 

Tanter, R. (2007). Suharto, war criminal. Inside Indonesia. Retrieved from

http://www.insideindonesia.org/suharto-war-criminal

 

 

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Don’t Ever Forget Wisdom

Indonesia has a peculiar obsession with IQ tests. The populace believes that the series of exams are capable of accurately judging one’s intellect, be it in the sphere of academics or otherwise, and that those with high IQ scores are hence guaranteed to succeed in whatever field they choose to pursue. Unfortunately the truth is not so simple. As even if IQ tests are 100% accurate—and this is just a supposition—they are not mystical crystal balls able to predict an individual’s future.

For one, intelligence is an extremely abstract concept. For instance, one who excels at mathematics may very well have a lacking capacity for writing in a comprehensible, engaging manner. And those who are more than capable at writing may have troubles with solving the most basic of equations. A problem then appears with us being unable to determine which of these two characters are more or less intelligent than the other. Thus it is a rather impossible task for anyone to conjure an exact definition of what intelligence is.

Yet despite our inability to define intelligence sufficiently, we still managed to come up with a definition that is relatively easy to understand. Intelligence, according to most English dictionaries is defined as, “The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Not the most robust of definitions, but at least it allows us to comprehend that to be intelligent, a person must be capable of quickly assimilating brand new information and successfully apply the aforementioned info in real-world situations—be it in problem solving, writing, teaching, et cetera.

IQ tests are designed to measure how efficiently and effectively one could utilize his mental assets for something concrete—intelligence, according to the aforementioned dictionaries. The tests gauge how quickly an individual performs calculations, follow obscure instructions, solve the most devious verbal and written riddles, construct random blocks into a distinct structure, and many more, depending on the types of tests given. When one has finished being evaluated for his IQ, he would receive a numerical score which tells him how “smart” he is. These numbers range from 40 to 175, with multiple ‘Intelligence Intervals’:

40 – 54 Severely challenged (Less than 1% of test takers)
55 – 69 Challenged (2.3% of test takers)
70 – 84 Below average
85 – 114 Average (68% of test takers)
115 – 129 Above average
130 – 144 Gifted (2.3% of test takers)
145 – 159 Genius (Less than 1% of test takers)
160 – 175 Extraordinary Genius

 

As we can see, IQ tests have provided us with an easy to understand classification system, for us to know where exactly we are on the intelligence hierarchy. However, the test’s meticulous structure notwithstanding, IQ scores still fail to predict the future successes of tested persons.

An ongoing research originally conducted by psychologist Lewis Treman in the 1920s, was concocted to assess the reliability of IQ tests as a predictor of success. Treman gathered a test pool composed of 1,500 children between the ages of 8 and 12, with a minimum IQ score of 140 points while around 80 had scores around 170. In other words, these are some of the brightest elementary-school children in terms of IQ.

Treman’s research entails observing the 1,500 highly talented individuals from childhood to adulthood, and in some cases until the observed person’s death or resignation from the project. Throughout the decades-long observation, Treman observed where these gifted peoples ended up in life—whether they became successful, middle-class, impoverished, or worse, Treman and his successors would know.

Now if we consider the IQ test to be omnipotent in nature, then Treman would find himself awed by 1,500 adults who have managed to excel at any and fields that interest them; be it in the natural or social sciences, politics, business, what have you. Yet the truth of the matter is, not all of observed subjects turned out to be what we’d call the cream of the crop.

Two-thirds of the Treman’s subjects did manage to succeed in life. They became wealthy businessmen, scientists, doctors, university faculty members, essentially the kinds of vocations that demand extensive mental acuity. But what of the rest?

The less successful one-third succumbed to numerous maladies; divorce, alcoholism, drug abuse, and other woes. The luckiest of the unlucky one-third had menial jobs such as providing janitorial services, bottom-ladder corporate work, and the kinds of occupations that do not reflect these high-IQ individuals’ aptitudes. What happened to these men and women? How did they fail to realize their incredible potentials? There are of course many factors at play.

A harsh truth of life comes in the form of things that we cannot control. The death of a loved one, sickness, poverty, these are the types of things that many men and women have suffered despite having contributed nothing to their realization. The research subjects of Treman underwent problems outside their control as well; issues primarily originating from their socioeconomic environments and their internal psyches.

An unspecified number of Treman’s research subjects did not enjoy the most pleasant of lives. While they retained their IQ—the score fluctuated every once in a while but eventually returned to above 140 points—thus intelligence throughout their growth, they did not have environments supportive of intellectual development. For instance they may be unable to afford higher education, or they fell in with a bad crowd, grew up in a household uncaring of academics, the possibilities are rather endless.

Another series of hindrances plaguing Treman’s unsuccessful research subjects partially come from within, but is as uncontrollable as a natural disaster. I am clearly speaking of psychological disorders.

Those born with high IQs are more vulnerable to Asperger’s Syndrome—an inability to understand subtle social cues—Major Depressive Disorder—absence of self-worth accompanied by suicidal tendencies—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder—inability to direct one’s attention on a specific subject for longer than a few brief moments—plus a plethora of other mental illnesses.

Although Treman acknowledged the fact that not all of his subjects enjoyed perfect lives, they considered the uncontrollable factors to have minimal effect. Even if a subject lived with a dysfunctional family, or is haunted by the ghosts residing in his own mind, he is still capable of attaining success. The reason being that to Treman, and anyone who actively studies psychology, is that intelligence isn’t everything. After all, the subjects who proved to be successful also underwent numerous challenges in their lives, with some having undergone identical or at the very least similar pains of the less successful group.

What the unsuccessful group lacked was clearly not intellect. Instead, it is something far more abstract, and thus even more difficult to define. The element missing from these failed geniuses is “wisdom.” I.e. the quality of wanting to and knowing how to propel oneself against whatever blockade standing in the way of our objective.

Treman noticed that successful test subjects shared certain traits: They are prudent, patient, possess a long-term outlook, perseveres whenever they meet the most daunting challenges, and most of all are hungry for success.

I personally agree with Treman’s assessment. My IQ is above 130, thus allowing me to stand alongside the privileged 2.3% of “gifted” individuals.          Unfortunately, as with Treman’s less successful subjects, my life does not exactly radiate intelligence.

For one thing, I cheated my way through high school, grabbing my diploma through less than legitimate means. When I first entered university in 2012, I had to drop out after two years. There were external factors at play, but to be perfectly honest I was simply being a lazy imbecile. Now I’m attending another university with an altogether different major. At 23 years-old I am still in the sixth semester with next to no chance of graduating on time, as I have piled up a debt of more than 36 college credits due to my inherent laziness. My desire to excel, to preserve, to be patient, to overcome challenges continue to waver or disappear altogether. And more often than not I fall into the lethargic embrace of apathy. Clearly, I am not living up to my intellectual potential.

What we can take away from Lewis Treman’s research is this: Intelligence isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, and IQ is at most a predictor for how one would perform in school. No matter how quickly one can solve equations, how elegantly he could write poems and novels, how accurate one can be when conjuring up hypotheses, all these abilities are next to useless should they wisdom be absent from them.

High intellect is undoubtedly a useful perk to have. It permits us to assimilate knowledge quickly and then use what we have learned to aid us in real life at speeds unimaginable to the less intelligent. But as we have seen from Treman’s research and my minuscule anecdote, intelligence does not equal success.

Intelligence is nothing more than an asset. It is not the secret ingredient for success. What likely plays a greater role in determining one’s fate is wisdom. How he handles the problems facing him, deals with failures, resists the temptations to abandon his long-term plans for immediate yet meager satisfaction; a wise man realizes that whatever beneficial qualities he has, they mean nothing should he not use his gifts as best as he can.

Wisdom is the more accurate predictor of success. As the wise would do anything in their power to accomplish the tasks set out for them, and to never stop chasing after their respective goals. Such a drive is necessary for anyone to succeed, as no matter how bright one is, if he lacks the motivation to push himself, he would end up as just another forgotten character in the tapestry of history.

Change, Sometimes: Why Bush-era Policies for the Middle East Continued under Barack Obama

Change (Terms and Conditions May Apply)

George W. Bush is not a man who will be remembered fondly by history. The 43rd President of The United States is widely considered to be an instigator of conflict, both by his own people and the international community. He embarked the US on a crusade against terrorism, following the events of 9/11—when the terrorist organization al-Qaeda managed to hijack three airliners, crashing two of them into the US’ World Trade Center thus utterly destroying its two towers, with the third smashing into the west side of the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon (CNN, 2016).

In retaliation to the attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda, the Bush administration set in motion plans to crush terrorists found in all corners of the Earth. Beginning in October 7th of 2001, the US led a “coalition of the willing to” to combat terror cells with the moniker of Operation Enduring Freedom, or as it is widely known by the public, the Global War on Terror (Schmitt & Shanker, 2005). To this day—2017—the anti-terror enterprise continues, despite the dismay shown by US citizens and leaders of states worldwide (Monbiot, 2003).

The American public protested against Bush’s campaign against terrorism (Sullivan et al, 2005). Though at first they were on board with the plan, due to a thirst for vengeance caused by 9/11, the people grew tired of a military crusade which has no end in sight. Americans rightly objected against the wasting of US soldiers’ lives, the ever-increasing budget of the military, violations of Human Rights, along with countless other issues. Hence Americans began looking for a new leader, one who could perhaps bring an end to the boundless cycle of violence their nation was pulled into. Ergo the rise of former US Senator, Barack Obama.

Obama promised a number of things throughout his presidential campaign. One which struck international headlines was a vow to decrease, or at the very least alter, the US’ involvement in the Global War on Terror. One of the first things he would do, was withdraws US troops from the Middle East as quickly as possible, until none or only a minimal number would remain. Furthermore, he emphasized that he would use diplomacy, not force in order to combat terrorism—putting an end to the Bush’s continuous violations of sovereignty for to states “suspected of harboring terrorists.” Lastly, Obama assured the Arab World that the US would no longer commit humanitarian crimes, cause unceasing deaths their people, nor demolish their infrastructure (Soffen, 2017). Obama gave hope to Americans and the peoples of the Middle East of a more peaceful era, yet unfortunately it is but a pipe dream.

The seemingly virtuous president did fulfill some of his promises. The withdrawal of troops for instance, was completed by 2011 (Landler, 2011). He was also willing to negotiate with leaders of the Arab World, publicly supporting the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—where the two nations would have respective areas of sovereignty—and supporting the Iran Nuclear Deal—permitting Iran to harness nuclear energy, so long as it uses atomic power solely for deterrence and an energy source (BBC, 2016). On top of that, Obama utilized the US army mainly when Middle East nations are requesting international aid.

But is Obama as virtuous as he seemed to be? To anyone who has devoted time to studying international politics, it would not be a surprise to find the former president to be as ruthless as any of his predecessors. While Obama indeed withdrew US forces, the move did not mean the US would no longer intervene with the affairs of the Middle East.

Rather, it meant the conventional soldiers would simply be replaced by Private Military Contractors (Scahill, 2007)—essentially mercenaries—and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Scahill et al, 2016)—drones as they are commonly known, capable of constant surveillance and launching missiles at a moment’s notice without posing any risk to US military personnel. Consequently, the Bush-era War on Terror continued unabated. As what Obama did was essentially maintain the policies of his predecessor, but through a different shape.

Yet a question rose from Obama’s policies: Why? Why did Obama sustain policies that were abhorred by the peoples of the world, although having the chance to initiate a revolution regarding the US’ approach to the Middle East? Answering this question will be the primary focus of this essay, as it is a conundrum that demands further investigation. Since whatever the answer might be, its implication might be that the US’ conduct could never be altered by its leadership, thus making the concept of democracy seem like nothing but a cruel joke.

Grounded in Reality

It would likely be most suitable to solve the Obama foreign policy conundrum by using the theory of neorealism. Established by Kenneth Neal Waltz, Neorealism posits the notion that the behavior of states are dictated primarily by an anarchic nature of the international system; a world where there are no rules and regulations, where no actor is capable of enforcing others to abide by its bidding, basically a realm where one could do whatsoever they so wish so long as they have the power to do so (Waltz, 1979).

Neorealism’s relevance to the case of the United States of America’s aggression towards the Middle East comes chiefly from the fact that under neorealist lens, no actor is considered to be more significant than the state. That is to say, non-governmental entities have next to no effect on the behavior of nations. And as the US and Middle East countries are within the category of meaningful actors—as the interaction mainly involves the two parties—neorealist thought would be proper for the analyzing their interaction, and solving the mystery of why the Obama administration was willing to continue the unpopular Bush-era policies.

It must also be noted however, that the significant actors within the eyes of neorealism are states, not the men and women who lead them. Hence, neorealist conceptions would be of utmost use in assessing whether or not the US would maintain its behavior, no matter who the leader of the superpower might be.

To further support the ideas of neorealism, and determine whether or not the US truly is an actor that will not alter its approach, we must briefly mention the possible causes of why the US is willing to pour its resources into the Middle East. Oil is a popular candidate for accusing US interventionism in the Middle East, but the US itself is capable of producing enough fuel to support its own energy needs. Regional dominance is perhaps a more likely motive, as the US does have a robust alliance with Israel, which could allow the US to dominate the Middle East by proxy. Yet we must not ignore the probability that the US is in its very essence, an imperialist nation—as countless critics have repeatedly pointed out.

But we do not expect the reader to be convinced by our arguments from providing introductory and theoretical framework segments alone. For us to be able to accomplish this rather challenging goal, we would need to delve deeper into the policies formulated by both the Bush and Obama administrations, primarily for the purpose of unraveling why Obama and the US are consistently keen to meddle with Middle East businesses.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

 

As mentioned in the introductory section of the paper, George W. Bush began a particularly intriguing era for the United States of America; one where the US and its soldiers were sent to far-flung corners of the Earth in the name of a Global War on Terror. For the Bush administration, sending tens-of-thousands of American lives posed a significant challenge. Which takes the form of convincing the American public that it is essential to endanger their friends and families, in the name of justice and the safety for all Americans.

Hence numerous campaigns were launched under the banner of anti-terrorism. Bush made numerous speeches stating that terrorists are existential threats to America as a nation and to the ideology of democracy. He further expressed that nations who were unwilling to support the war on terror were “against us [America],” indirectly implying that Americans who were also unsupportive of the US’ battles as unpatriotic, ungrateful of the sacrifices done by US soldiers.

Despite the many efforts made by the Bush administration to advertise its War on Terror as a righteous movement, both Americans and the international community widely condemned the US’ actions. Protests repeatedly arose within the US, with anti-war groups forming on a regular basis, and academics the likes of Rachel Maddow, Christoper Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, and so on; declaring that the war is nothing but a waste of American and Middle Eastern lives with no end goal and a cover-up of actual US objectives (Chomsky, 2011)..

Bush’s critics were also right on another matter, that of how Bush utilizes force in the Middle East and towards suspected terrorists. On the home front, Bush violated numerous rights for both Americans and possible agents of terror residing in the US. In regards to US citizens, Bush granted sweeping powers to intelligence agencies to gather information on Americans by way of the Patriot Act—essentially a program designed with the aim of gathering information about everyday Americans allegedly involved with terrorism. To those detained by American forces, as suspected terrorists, torture and other breaches of basic inalienable rights were permitted in Guantanamo Bay. These humanitarian crimes were eventually publicized, throwing further fuel into the fire of demonstrations.

Abroad, Bush launched invasions into multiple sovereign territories, most notably Iraq. Bush was determined to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, whom he accused of possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Yet when such weapons were not found, Bush continued the campaign under the excuse of “assuring the national security” of the United States.  Despite the US in previous years considering Iraq and Hussein as a valued ally, who was granted the honor of being an honorary citizen of Detroit.

It was only when Hussein began to show indications of disobedience to US whims that the Bush administration considered him to be a threat. Thus portraying him to be a danger to US national security. This move drew remonstrations from the international stage, as they begin to perceive the Bush administration’s objectives as not a hunt for terrorists, but a method to encroach US influence to the Middle East (Pressman, 2009).

We can see that Bush’s publicized aims were designed to essentially persuade the American peoples and the international community that his policies were devised to protect all citizens from the globe. Yet this is plainly untrue, as the Americans and the international community have noticed. The US likely has multiple, immoral motives—oil, regional dominance, imperialism, etc.—that aren’t shared to the public. These probable objectives on Bush’s mind are perhaps ones that are shared by Barack Obama, contrary to the latter’s presidential campaign promises.

Noticing how Americans abhorred the War on Terror and the deaths it brought to their loved ones, Barack Obama used the Americans’ outrage as a platform from which to launch his presidential campaign; Vowing to bring home American troops, forming alliances with Middle East nations to combat the terrorist threat—ensuring that less and less American lives would be lost—all in an effort to signify that Obama would not be following the steps of George W. Bush

Furthermore, Obama ensured the international community, particularly the Middle East countries that he would minimize US involvement and abate collateral damage caused by US forces in the region. He would use means that are far more precise than those utilized by Bush, affecting the rate by which innocent Middle Easterners perished at the hands of the US military. But did Obama actually follow through with these pledges? Indeed he did, but at a very limited level (McCrisken, 2011).

Obama did encumber the use of force in the Middle East, by way of withdrawing American soldiers from the region. As exemplified by the reduction of US troopers in Iraq from tens of thousands to practically none (Landler, 2011). The move seemed to indicate that the US would actually, for once, be willing to reduce its influence in the Middle East.

Then were the anti-terror coalitions Obama erected with Middle East partners. Around 10 nations were persuaded into an alliance to crush the terror-organization Daesh, otherwise known as the Islamic State (Reuters, 2014). The move to consort with states—such as Iraq—formerly considered to be threats to US security was a convincing sign of a US that perceived nations of the Arab world as equals, and not hazards that demanded subjugation.

On the non-military side of things, the US promoted and showcased its approval of a controversial deal involving Iran obtaining and harnessing nuclear power. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as it came to be known, permitted Iran to use nuclear power; provided that it would only do so for deterrence and energy production, as it would undergo repeated examinations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (BBC, 2016). Again, another Bold move by the Obama administration for demonstrating that the US is willing to do whatever it takes to triumph over chaos in the Middle East with minimal use of violence.

But are these aforementioned indicators legitimate proofs that the US would no longer excessively intervene with Middle East affairs? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

In spite of the rhetoric of peace uttered by the Obama administration, the US proceeded to unduly exercise force throughout the Middle East. The withdrawal of US soldiers was not a sign of peace, but nothing more than a change in the US military’s approach. Deaths of Americans did lessen to a significant degree, but the more than one million dead people of the Middle East weren’t so lucky (Lazare, 2015).

Instead of risking American lives, the US military simply replaced its conventional soldiers with PMCs and UAVs.

The benefits being that the US military would not be held accountable to the actions of PMCs—they are not, after all, American troops—nor would the methods used by the soldiers of fortune need to be revealed to the public, corporate secrets and all that—although contractors the likes of Blackwater have been found guilty of allowing its employees to use mind-altering substances, assaulting civilians, and other humanitarian crimes.

While UAVs, in the eyes of most US citizens, are nothing more than expensive toys of their military. Each drone deployment did not risk the safety of any American, only those deemed, by both the public and the US government, to be targets. Even though each “successful kill” done by drones are somewhat imprecise, more often than not having their missiles not just blasting their target(s) but also innocent bystanders from caught in the blast radius.

Thus, should a drone be shot down, PMC squadrons be annihilated by Middle East militias, innocents Middle Easterners be maimed or murdered for no reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is minuscule risk of inciting the ire of everyday Americans (Maddow, 2012).

Of course, the Obama administration concealed their deployment and modus operandi for PMCs and UAVs from American eyes. Quite successfully too, as protests against the War on Terror began to wane. The ones who are still against the anti-terror crusade are mainly interested in the amount of money the US spends on military operations, not so much with the deaths of innocents in the Middle East.

But here we must remind ourselves of how the US is capable of doing whatever it wants in the Middle East. To neorealists, it is no surprise at all for a nation as mighty as the US to act however is so wishes due to the anarchic nature of the international system. More so due to neorealism’s central notion that any and all states would be willing to do whatever is necessary to further enhance their prowess—without regard for abstract concepts the likes of justice and morality—be it by increasing their wealth, bolstering their military might, et cetera. The US is of course no exception to these rules, as will be shown with why Obama resumed the policies of his predecessor in spite of his slogan of “Change.”

Obama had the incredibly rare opportunity for drastically changing how the US viewed and treated the Middle East. So why didn’t he take that chance? Sadly it is impossible to answer such a complicated question with a single answer, as the US has many reasons for continuously intruding itself into Middle East affairs.

It is perhaps an impossibility to demand the US to leave the Middle East alone. The region is, after all one of the wealthiest areas of the globe in terms of oil. Dominating such a sought-after and increasingly scarce resource—let’s not forget about Hubbert’s peak oil theory (Peak Oil Barrel, 2013)—would allow the US to attain riches beyond what we could imagine, and leverage over all countries incapable of producing their own fuel—i.e. nearly every developing nation on Earth (Yergin, 1991).

Control over the Middle East’s oil would mean energy security for the United States, ensuring that it would be capable of developing its industries without limit. And in terms of militaristic needs, the US would be free to employ their forces without having to worry over the costs required to do so. Since, after all, they would be the ones who own the fuel required to execute military operations.

Yet energy security is not the only advantage the US would attain should it manage to take control of Middle Eastern oil. A combination of US and the Middle East’s oil production capacities would mean an entity unrivaled in its capacity to generate fuel, and thereby control its supply. In other words, the US would be able to wrest control of global oil prices, away from OPEC—Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries—or significant oil producers the likes of Russia, Latin American and Asian countries.

Control of the globe’s largest oil supply would grant the US enormous power. An ability to do whatever it so wishes, without necessarily having to use force. Dare to disobey US demands? Say hello to inflating energy costs and maybe even a reintroduction of the pre-industrial era.

Thus would be born a superpower whose might originates not just from its military’s strength, but also from the pull it has over others as provided by oil (Yergin, 2011). An achievement that would impress anyone who adheres to the notions that the international system is an anarchic one, and that any actor with sufficient power would essentially obtain a permission slip for anything and everything.

Yet for the US to be able to attain the Middle East’s oil supply, without an outright military invasion on all of the region’s countries, it would need a partner already operating in the area. Luckily for the US, such an ally already exists in the form of Israel. We previously glanced at how the US stated that it would be willing to support a two-state solution to resolve The Israeli-Palestinian conflict; an outcome Israel would in all likelihood despise, as it considers Palestinian territories to be rightfully Israeli. Obama is aware that providing actual assistance to Palestine would mean alienating Israel.

Therefore, what did the US do about the two-state solution? Nothing, really. The US seems to be turning a blind eye to whatever Israel is doing in Palestinian territories—including the latter’s construction of illegal settlements. The US’ effort for a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine essentially amounts to “let them sort it out themselves.”

Unless the US does wish to form new, equally concrete alliances in the Middle East, it would be the wisest move for them to not meddle with Israeli affairs—and if possible, provide support for Israel’s actions. Should the US commit to a path opposing Israel, it would also be losing its only Middle Eastern ally with nuclear weaponry. Needless to say, access to nuclear energy equates to Israel being one of the likeliest candidates of reaching hegemonic status in the Middle East—the ultimate objective of the US in the region, as it would be granted the similar levels of power to Israel but by proxy (Chomsky, 2016).

The anarchic nature of the international system allows the US and Israel to accomplish any objectives they set out for themselves, provided the two nations possess enough power to do so. If they wish to rule over the Middle East, then by all means do so. Non-state actors would also have minimal effect on the relationships between the US, Israel, and Palestine. As despite the countless militia campaigns launched by Palestinians, Israel looks to be unfazed and remain dead-set on conquering as much Palestinian land as possible.

George W. Bush has showcased that the US’ War on Terror is not entirely honest. The campaign cloaked itself under the guise of vengeance and justice. But in truth, it is nothing more than a quest for the wealth of the Middle East and for dominance over the region. Fortunately, no matter how much the Bush administration tried to sell their anti-terror campaign as a righteous endeavor, neither the Americans nor the international community bought their pitch. Hence diminishing domestic and international support for the War on Terror.

Barack Obama picked up on how the Bush administration failed to garner the necessary support for continuing the US interventionism in the Middle East. Thus his campaign platform and administration portrayed him as a bringer of peace, one who would not needlessly risk American lives, and a man who would rather fight with a pen in his hand instead of a sword.

Yet from the cases we have reviewed, we can clearly see that Obama always has his sword at the ready. Should Middle East states resist the demands of the US, then Obama would send in his cadre of mercenaries and drones. He was essentially able to avoid the publicity of deploying military force without actually having to employ conventional US soldiers, but achieving the same effect nonetheless.

Why did two different administrations, with seemingly distinct leaders have and conjure up policies with essentially identical aims? The reason isn’t as philosophical as “there is no such thing as individuality.” The root cause of the similarity between the Bush and Obama administrations concerning the Middle East stem from the imperialist nature of the United States.

From the period of the Cold War, the US has repeatedly engaged itself with obtaining control over territories that it does not strictly own—though back then it was for legitimate security reasons (Dobbs, 2008). During Obama’s time in office, this particular habit of the US seems to have embedded itself on US foreign policy. The US does not wish to be rivaled by any nation on any front: economically, militaristically, et cetera. The main problem being, for non-Americans and non-allies of the US, the superpower does have the capability to do so; therefore permitting the US to behave in manners that should draw international interventions, though as no nation could stand up against the might of the US—at the time of writing—then the US can proceed to go on its merry path of sowing chaos wherever it goes and whenever it pleases (Chomsky, 2004).

 

Change (Minus the Terms and Conditions)

 

Is it possible to one day see a United States of America that does not freely interfere with the affairs of other nations? Perhaps.

The American public nearly managed to halt the US’ War on Terror during the Bush Era. Their protests did not go unnoticed to their peers, the international community, and US politicians. Barack Obama successfully acquired control of the White House from his slogan of “Change,” with one of his main propositions being less US militaristic interventions in the Middle East. But Obama, either willingly or otherwise, lied to the American public as he basically only modified the approach of the Bush administration. Though because of how Obama deployed not US soldiers, replacing them with PMCs and drones, American anger subsided and Obama could continue the legacy of the Bush administration without much fear of public protests.

Another possibility for altering the US’ approach on international matters would be if another state could rival the power of the US and be willing to interfere with the superpower’s actions and decisions. For now, the likeliest candidates seem to be Russia, China, and maybe India. Although they have traded diplomatic blows with the US on occasion, it does not yet look that either of the three are in a position to directly challenge the US’ global hegemony.

Presently, there are not enough factors for the US to do a one-eighty on its foreign policy, nevertheless on the ones it designed for the Middle East. The American public lie in slumber as they are no longer perturbed by the constant bombardment of news concerning the deaths of US soldiers. The international community is either too fearful of the US or structurally restricted to affect US actions—it needs to be remembered that the US is a permanent member of United Nations Security Council, granting it dominion over international, interventionist actions by way of veto power. Simply put, there isn’t any method in existence for inhibiting US desires as anarchy reigns and the US revels in it.

Until the time comes, when a solution that we the writers cannot imagine arises, the US is as free as a bird. The atrocities it commits on a regular basis, its leaders who promise peace and democracy for but never bring these vows into reality, are all parts of life that we as citizens of Earth must humbly accept.

 

REFERENCE

Books:

 

Chomsky, N. (2004). Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance. New York

City: Holt Paperbacks.

 

Chomsky, N. (2011). How the World Works. Berkeley: Soft Skull Press.

 

Chomsky, N. (2013). Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the

New Challenges to U.S. Empire. New York City: Metropolitan Books.

 

Chomsky, N. (2016). Who Rules the World? London: Penguin Books.

 

Dobbs, M. (2008). One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castron on the Brink of

Nuclear War. New York City: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

 

Maddow, R. (2012) Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. London: Penguin

Random House.

 

Scahill, J. (2007). Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New

York City: Nation Books.

 

Scahill et al. (2016). The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare

Program. New York City: Simon & Schuster.

 

Shibudi, R. (2007). Menyandera Timur Tengah. Jakarta: Penerbit Mizan.

 

Toaldo, M. (2012). The Origins of the US War on Terror: Lebanon, Libya, and American

Intervention in the Middle East. Abingdon: Routledge.

 

Waltz, K. (1979). Theory of International Politics. New York City: McGraw-Hill Higher

Education.

 

Yergin, D. (1991). The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York City: Free

Press.

 

Yergin, D. (2011) The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.

London: Penguin Press.

 

Journals:

 

Delacoura, K. (2005). US Democracy Promotion in the Arab Middle East Since 11 September

2001: A Critique. International Affairs, 81. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3569070

 

Hudson, M. (1996). To Play the Hegemon: Fifty Years of U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East.

Middle East Journal, 50. Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-

10032997/to-play-the-hegemon-fifty-years-of-us-policy-toward

 

Kim & Hundt. (2011). US Policy Toward Rogue States: Comparing the Bush Administration’s

Policy Toward Iraq and North Korea. Asian Perspective, 35. Retrieved from

http://journals.rienner.com/doi/abs/10.5555/0258-9184-35.2.239?code=lrpi-site

 

McCrisken, T. (2011). Ten years on: Obama’s War on Terrorism in Rhetoric and Practice.

 

Pressman, J. (2009). Power Without Influence: The Bush Administration’s Foreign Policy

Failure in the Middle East. Quarterly Journal: International Security. Retrieved from

https://www.jstor.org/stable/40207155

 

Articles:

 

CNN Library. (2016, 09/08). September 11, 2001: Background and timeline of the attacks. CNN.

Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/september-11-anniversary-fast-

facts/index.html

 

Goldberg, J. (2014, 03/03). Obama To Israel – Time Is Running Out. Bloomberg. Retrieved from

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2014-03-02/obama-to-israel-time-is-running-out

 

Lazare, S. (2015, 03/26). Body Count Reveals at Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US Led War on

Terror. Common Dreams. Retrieved from

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/03/26/body-count-report-reveals-least-13-

million-lives-lost-us-led-war-terror

 

Landler, M. (2011, 10/21). U.S. Troops to Leave Iraq by Year’s End, Obama Says. The New

York Times. Retrieved from

 

Monbiot, G. (2003, 03/11). A Willful Blindness. The Guardian. Retrieved from

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2003/03/11/a-wilful-blindness

 

Reuters. (2014, 09/11). 10 ARAB STATES AGREE TO JOIN US-LED MILITARY

CAMPAIGN AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE. Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/10-Arab-states-agree-to-join-US-led-military-campaign-against-Islamic-State-375137

 

Schmitt & Shanker. (2005, 07/26). U.S. Officials Retool Slogan for Terror War. The New York

Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/26/politics/us-officials-retool-

slogan-for-terror-war.html

 

Soffen, K. (2017, 01/23). After 8 years, here are the promises Obama kept—and the ones he

didn’t. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/obama-promises/

 

Patterson, R. (2013, 12/03). What is Peak Oil? Peak Oil Barrel. Retrieved from

http://peakoilbarrel.com/what-is-peak-oil/

 

Staff. (2016, 01/16). Iran nuclear deal: Key details. BBC News. Retrieved from

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33521655

 

Sullivan, et al. (2005, 09/24). Thousands Protest the Iraq War/SF also crowded with Loveparade

revelers. SF Gate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Thousands-

protest-the-Iraq-war-SF-also-crowded-2606441.php

 

It’s the Demons, I Tell You!

Misfortune strikes in a multitude of ways. One could be born into utter poverty, where she could only view education as a far-fetched dream. Largely cutting her chances of attaining high level jobs, the type where one could sit in front of a desk, in a climate-controlled room, without fear of losing a home or having nothing to eat. Yet as bad luck would have it, there is another way for which misfortune could strike with a subtle savagery: by taking control of our minds, against our will.

Mental illness is perhaps one of the most devastating things that could happen to a human being. Imagine living a life where we constantly hear voices within our heads—saying whatever they wish, at times screaming at us to end our lives—and seeing what does not exist whenever and wherever, as if being stalked by invisible entities whose wills we could never understand. Basically living the life of every character in horror films, except taking place in reality. That, is what having schizophrenia is like (NIMH, 2016).

But what of those who undergo depression? Do they simply feel an endless sadness? Yes, though sorrow is a minuscule part of the depression experience. The depressed feel almost nothing. No joy, no excitement, curiosity, desire, even love. Leaving only the exhaustion of never having the relief of pure happiness. It is no wonder then, that many of the depressed choose to end their lives over having to endure never-ending days of torment (NIMH, 2016).

There exist also the men and women who could lose control of their emotions at the flip of a switch: those plagued by Bipolar Disorder. In this case, the sufferers go through cycles of emotions. Ones that they cannot control, and are mainly controlled by random factors. Anything from a dramatic event such as a death within their families, to insignificant ones the likes of failing to wake up on time, could trigger a depressive side of the disorder’s cycle. On the other hand, getting a promotion on their jobs, reading an entertaining book could spark the opposite half of the cycle. That of complete, unadulterated glee. For many of the bipolar, they have next to no clue as to why their minds could switch at a moment’s notice, inducing a sense of paranoia about one’s self at all times (NIMH, 2016).

What should we, as a society do to those who are plagued by mental disorders? Should we shun them, as they are certainly more burdensome than the average human being? Or should we endeavor to aid them, as we are obliged to do for anyone in suffering? The latter, for anyone with a conscience is clearly the path that we should collectively take.

The mentally ill, are no different from those burdened by physical diseases. They require the help of medical professionals, support from their friends and families. But before they could be aided in any way, shape, or form they require the acceptance of society; to not be viewed as oddities or freaks, rather people who are simply in need.

Developed countries such as Italy understand the needs of the mentally ill. Thus striving to meet the psychological help the mentally ill yearn for (Frances, 2015). Sadly, the same cannot be said for other nations. Particularly, the archipelagic state of Indonesia.

Indonesia, both the nation and its citizens have a unique understanding for mental illness. Both the people living in rural areas and those residing in upscale cities share a similar perception. That the psychologically ill should be avoided, seen as a menace, and are nothing more than a nuisance. It is not odd at all to see individuals in dire need of medical care wandering garbage-ridden streets, sometimes without clothes, mumbling incoherently to themselves, or screaming their lungs out at nothing. The weirdest part however, is that when a common Indonesian passes these sufferers, they avoid offering any form of help. Not even contacting authority figures for assistance.

But why do Indonesians possess such a callous attitude for the mentally ill? One reason comes from the realm of superstition. Some Indonesians believe that the mentally ill are not sick at all, but afflicted by something else altogether; they could be possessed, cursed by a rival, punished their ancestors, or have failed to appease the gods. Thus, instead of looking for a doctor, they opt for a shaman instead. That is, witch doctors that prescribes herbs, and act out rituals to rip out the supposed demons possessing the psychologically disturbed. The approach of the shamans are of course, utterly useless. However, shamans, as unhelpful as they might be are not the worst “cures” for Indonesia’s mentally ill.

The practice of ‘pasung’ which basically amounts to shackling people—without clothes or just the bare minimum, regardless of gender—with iron chains, tying them up to wooden stocks, or simply locking them up is another method for handling Indonesia’s mentally ill. According to The Human Rights Watch, more than fifty-thousand people—fifteen percent of Indonesia’s mentally ill—have been “treated” with pasung. It is easy to predict the consequences of being subjected to pasung: filth from having to defecate and urinate in a locked and unclean room, severe lack of nutrition, disease, the list goes on. Although the practice of pasung has been declared to be illegal, an estimated eighteen-thousand individuals are currently still chained, tied, or locked-up across the nation. The Indonesian justice system has unforgivably failed the mentally ill.

While proclaiming to be willing to take all steps necessary to help the mentally ill, the Indonesian government’s performance has been quite lackluster. Mental health-care professionals amount to less than a thousand, for a country that has a population of more than 250-million peoples. Such a number is the opposite of adequate. But what is perhaps the worst blunder of Indonesia’s government concerning its citizens’ psychological well-being, is their feeble attempt at constructing mental-health institutions.

In Indonesia, mental-health facilities are, in the words of one of their former patients, “Imagine living in hell, it’s like that here…” Not a particularly flattering statement for Indonesia’s mental institutions.

Said remark can easily be accepted as truth, since it is true that basic human rights are ignored within these institutions’ confines. Physical, verbal, and sexual crimes are regular occurrences that the patients have to endure. Whilst the supposed caretakers act as the perpetrators.

Reality rarely offers an idealistic portrayal of the world, but some of what the Indonesian mentally-ill population have been subjected to–from the callousness of the public, to the most obscure and harmful of remedies, and the state-sponsored institutions that assault their patients rather than assist them–would shock nearly all who read, listen, or see their tales.

Reference

Frances, A. (2015). World’s Best and Worst Places to be Mentally Ill. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/saving-normal/201512/worlds-best-and-worst-places-be- mentally-ill

Staff. (2016). Bipolar Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Staff. (2016). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Staff. (2016). Indonesia: Treating the Mentally Ill With Shackles. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/20/indonesia-treating-mental-health-shackles

Staff. (2016). ‘Living in hell’: mentally ill people in Indonesia chained and confined. Retrieved from http://www.globalmentalhealth.org/category/country/indonesia

Staff. (2016). Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml

Weaponized Literature

Indonesia does not possess what we could call a rich reading culture. That is to say, few of Indonesia’s populace spend much of their time gathering information, knowledge, et cetera from literature—be they fiction or non-fiction. A worrying insight into our nation’s intellectual landscape. As it would mean that most Indonesians are deprived of what could arguably be called the richest recourses for academic development.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture—known as KemDikBud in Indonesian parlance—released in 2016, a survey conducted by  an anonymous United States of America university. Among 61 of the countries included in the survey, Indonesia placed 60th. Peaking just slightly above the impoverished African state of Botswana. How could Indonesia, a nation that has been independent for more than seventy years only managed to beat one which has held independence for a mere fifty-something-years? The answer lies in multiple places.

Reasons for why Indonesians sway from reading are several. The baseline however lies with the fact that Indonesians prefer other medias, the likes of television and radio, the internet, over those of newspapers and books. Each of these non-literary mediums provide information at a much faster and accessible pace than those reachable through text alone (Staff, 2016). But should the advantage of speed outweigh all that literature has to offer? Certainly not.

Books grant their readers several, invaluable powers. They allow us to sift for truth within the barrage of narratives provided by mainstream media. They empower skepticism, instead of discouraging it. Most important of all though, is how they compel us to question and debate all the information presented to us—including those found in the books themselves. Clearly it would take more than a single paragraph to induce the desire to read, thus I ask of you for the chance to further elaborate my arguments. Starting with the diverse offerings of the literary world, and how they might unshackle our minds.

It would be a mistake to think that only the works of academics and scientists—in other words, nonfiction—could bestow readers the powers I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph. Fiction too are great drivers of truth-seeking, questions, and debates. We need only look at the work of George Orwell to understand fiction’s prowess.

Orwell’s novel, 1984, illustrated a world where a government dictates and observes all that its denizens do and think. Wherein all the thoughts that flow through its world’s common people’s are watched and evaluated. Have ideas that are in alignment with the governing body’s agenda, and you’re perfectly fine. Think in the opposite direction however, and the police would be eager to imprison you. Censorship reign as well, with the narratives presented to the citizenry always concocted and approved or disapproved by the powers that be. Essentially, the state controls the people directly, by manipulating the latter’s thoughts, ideas, flows of information, as permitted by its countless prying machines and absolute authority. All for the purpose of creating a population that does not dare challenge or even question the decisions of the rulers (Orwell, 1949).

1984 is an almost clairvoyant allegory for present-day state-sponsored intelligence gathering programs, and government censorship. Alongside the effects they already, and would one day have on ordinary citizens. Prying on citizens, as revealed by whistleblowers the likes of Edward Snowden, exerts a certain pressure for compliance; as the observed would be fearful of punishment should they be caught committing what the governing body deems to be unseemly. Whilst censorship would compel obedience since what could and could not be said are clearly outlined, and those who stray from the norm are punished in one way or another (York, 2014)—imprisonment, in the case of Indonesia.

What 1984 arms readers with however, is the armament of prediction. Should powerful nations the likes of the United Kingdom or the United States of America continue to peer into the thoughts of peoples across the globe; should Indonesia’s government continue to shut the mouths that speak in ways that does not appease it, then the future would be akin to the dystopia of 1984. Readers are given the power to argue that what they are currently witnessing and experiencing could spiral out of control, leading us all into a world without privacy, without free speech, for fear of the ever-seeing eyes of the state. A reader would likely ask and challenge the decisions made by states that mimic those made by the powerful in 1984.

Thus the way fiction empowers its readers: By way of presenting tales that could very well be our upcoming and unpleasant futures, ones that must be halted at every step of its actualization. But how does fiction’s polar opposite, nonfiction, strengthen its consumers? In a way it does offer possible futures as well, albeit with less fantastic predictions. But its strength lies in how it propels the search for truth, skepticism towards conventional narratives—mass media—an unwillingness to lie down and accept the lies thrown at us on a daily basis.

Take the works of Noam Chomsky. From his essays and lectures that aim to criticize both domestic and foreign policies of the US, alongside the war crimes committed or made possible by the decisions of the superpower. Chomsky aims to showcase his readers the darker sides of governance, the ones that aren’t easily visible when one only tunes to the news provided by mainstream media.

An excellent introduction to Chomsky’s ideas would be his tome titled, Who Rules the World? A probing analysis of how the United States maintains its global empire through the shadows and in broad daylight. From examining the impacts of the US’ military-first policies—ones that have enabled genocide, ethnic cleansing, and so on in countries from the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia—to the US’ unquestioning support for autocratic regimes that support it. What a reader would gather from reading Chomsky’s book would be a critical view of the West’s paragon of democracy, justice, and human rights.

Who Rules the World? illustrates how the US is not nearly as honorable as it makes itself seem. The US would ceaselessly use their drones on either militants or civilians, so long as it is necessary for them to hold power over a region, as is the case with the Middle East. They would overthrow democratically elected leaders, should said leaders prefer to not cooperate with the US; as can be seen in Latin America. Then the US would provide support for any group, even though these organizations may well be called terrorists by Western standards, such as the case with Reagan’s support for the Contras in Nicaragua. A faction completely willing to commit atrocities—mass murder of innocent men, women, and children for one—to achieve their US-approved objectives.

In Indonesia, the US propelled the rise of the Soeharto regime; a military coup which resulted in 31 years of genocide against anti-Soeharto groups, censorship that employed violence as its primary method, essentially an era of Indonesians being prohibited from voicing their thoughts at the risk of imprisonment, abuse, or straight-out murder. And how did the US respond to all the crimes Soeharto committed? It hailed the dictator as a hero, a herald of stability and peace to a land where chaos prevailed over order and peace. Despite all proofs pointing to the contrary (Chomsky, 2016).

Chomsky highlights nearly all the hypocrisies the US has engaged in. His works allow readers to understand that the world is not as black and white as the US would like us to believe. It is rather, various shades of gray. Where no action, no matter how sugar-coated it might be, can never wholly be justified. It is through the minds of authors akin to Chomsky, that a reader may arm himself with the idea that they would have to be a complete skeptic to be able to sift for truth in a world dominated by the narratives of the powerful. Essentially granting readers the opportunity to question, and the foundation to debate the claims presented by the entrenched elites.

Reading either fiction or nonfiction reveals to us countless things. From the information that governing bodies may not want us to see, to the brave predictions that may be in line with how we as societies are developing. With these glimmers of wisdom, a reader would be able to better understand the reality of what is happening around them—either through fiction or otherwise.

Whatever types of books, articles, journals that we choose to read, all of them embolden us to strike back against the convenient—but not necessarily true—information presented to us. A reader can understand, they can argue with the powerful through provable facts, and see truths even when they are buried under countless lies. Most of all, literature allows us to see a better world for all, one that we may well be able to realize in the coming future.

REFERENCE

Chomsky, N. (2016). Who Rules the World? New York City: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt &
Co.

Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. New York City: New American Library.

Staff. (2016). Gerakan Indonesia Membaca: “ Menumbuhkan Budaya Membaca”. Jakarta:
Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan

York, J. (2014). The harms of surveillance to privacy, expression and association. California:
Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Censorship, by the People for the People

Freedom of speech is perhaps one of the most significant indicators of nation’s tolerance for diversity. It is a right that grants a citizenry the ability to speak their mind without fear of reprisal from fellow citizens, the government, essentially any entity which may or may not agree with the thoughts expressed—even if the thought could be considered as offensive or inappropriate depending on one’s standard’s.
Sadly the freedom of speech  is not a privilege enjoyed by all. Indonesia for instance, is notorious for its willingness to control the thoughts and words of its people. From jailing bloggers who express dissenting ideas, categorizing Communist sympathies as a criminal act, forbidding the common peoples from cracking jokes at the expense of powerful individuals, and so on (Schonhardt, 2010). Essentially, what an Indonesian may or may not speak of depends on the whims of whoever currently sits in power.
It would be depressing enough to know that the Indonesian government prohibits its inhabitants from speaking their minds; but impeders of free speech could also be found among everyday Indonesians. A quick showcase of how intolerant Indonesians can be to the ideas of their fellow peoples, is easily seen from how they reacted to the “mockery” of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.
On March 1st 2017, the King of Saudi Arabia landed on Indonesian soil. Many Indonesians, especially those who adhere to Islam were ecstatic for the king’s arrival. To the government of Indonesia, Salman is seen as an opportunity for Indonesia to increase cooperation with Middle East states—not just Saudi Arabia. However, the Indonesian populace view Salman as something more than just a sign of Indonesia’s warming relationship with the Saudis.
To Indonesian Muslims, particularly those of the more fanatical nature, Salman is a sign of a changing paradigm. The man who represents the end of Indonesia’s secularist facets and acceptance of beliefs other than Islam (Staff, 2017). At worst, he would be a symbol of Islam’s superiority in Indonesia. They were, and still are, quite fervent defenders of Salman and his reputation.
When the immensely popular comedy show Opera van Java—commonly known as OVJ—performed a skit involving Salman, his Indonesian defenders were quick to react. One of OVJ’s main actors, Denny Cagur, played a caricature of King Salman. He did not insult Salman’s beliefs, the culture of Saudi Arabia, or behaved in any way that could be seen as malicious. What Cagur sought to do was basically make people laugh. A goal as innocent as any. Yet apparently such an aim is a sin to some Indonesia.

Viewers of OVJ, or anyone who heard the news of Salman’s portrayal by Cagur immediately called for Indonesia’s government to take action. KPI—Broadcast Commission of Indonesia—was stormed with countless complaints. With internet users voicing their disapproval of OVJ’s skit. One anonymous poster expressed his outrage (Staff, 2017),

OVJ needs to be put down, it has no sense of ethics. Even nobles from other countries are made into jokes[…] Why should majestic guests be made into jokes? […] It’s really not funny. KPI, please do something, just shut down OVJ.

I dare say that I do not need to elaborate on the ridiculousness of the above fusser’s complaint. As his words truly do reflect how particular citizens of Indonesia cannot accept that a figure they worship are not immune from the mildest teasing. Though it should still be noted that the anonymous complainer failed to illustrate why poking fun at Salman is an immoral act; merely howling that it is, well… wrong.

The anonymous poster is a reflection of how numerous Indonesians conceive of free speech. That is to say Indonesians are allowed to voice their ideas, praises, criticisms, et cetera. But God forbid anyone speak ill of an idolized character. In a sense, the Indonesian public act in a manner identical to their governing body. They may have different standards and agendas, but they are completely willing to prevent their fellow men and women from voicing their thoughts.

Indonesia is by no means a state that values humanity’s right to free speech. Its government as well as certain crowds from the common people may say that man has the right to say whatever they want. Yet should we speak in a fashion that upsets them, then our right to free speech would be immediately revoked. At the government’s hands, we would face the threat of jail time, whilst when the public are involved we would either be beset by mockeries, threats, or whatever else could be conjured up.

REFERENCE:

Schonhardt, S. (2010). Indonesia and Free Speech. The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://
thediplomat.com/2010/06/jakarta-threatens-free-speech/

Staff. (2017). Bergaya Ala Raja Salman, Candaan Denny Cagur di ‘OVJ’ Dikecam Netizen. Wow
Keren. Retrieved from http://www.wowkeren.com/berita/tampil/00151829.html

Staff. (2017). Raja Salman, Renggangnya Hubungan dengan Mesir dan Kunjungan ke
Indonesia. Media Dakwah Islam. Retrieved from https://mediadakwahislam.com/
2017/02/27/raja-salman-renggangnya-hubungan-dengan-mesir-dan-kunjungan-ke-
indonesia/9754.html

A Particular Kind of Education

What is the purpose of education? Is it to push students to know as much about the world as they possibly can? Is it for them to build upon the discoveries unearthed by our predecessors? Or is it primarily concerned with urging the best and brightest to dig up brand new revelations by themselves? All of these guesses are quite accurate, as they cover partial aspects for why education is a necessity for each and every member of humanity. But they are, in my personal opinion, not the primary motivation for why we learn. The attribute I’m alluding to, is most commonly known as ‘curiosity’.

 
A desire which conjures up an obsession with finding out as much as we can about the world around us, by whatever means available. It may not strictly be directed at the natural or social sciences, but it is unquestionable that all of us have at one point in our lives, desperately wanted to know about something. Regardless of our personal motivations, our penchant for learning has granted us the capacity to develop as individuals and as a species. Our brains have collectively given us abilities far beyond those bestowed by claws, fangs, tentacles, et cetera. It is rather puzzling then, to witness certain institutions actively strive to hamper what is arguably the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. I am of course referring to education systems.

 
Educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities supposedly have the goal of encouraging their pupils to learn. In the sense of broadening the interests of students, assisting them in their quest to understand, to discover, and find joy in sating their curiosity. Yet in most cases, at least in Indonesia, this is not what happens by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead of hypothesizing, experimenting, or even simply observing, Indonesian students are implored to memorize and obey authorities without question. And startlingly, at least for myself, there is a political motivation behind the two teaching practices, one I will discuss later in the text.

But first, I ask you dear reader, to imagine a group of pupils that are currently in a biology classroom. Do they discuss theories or perform experiments—ones that aren’t directed step by step by the teacher? Nope. What is likely to happen is a bunch of students sitting silently at their desks jotting down notes, while the educator preaches of material treated as dogma. If one of these learners muster up the courage to trigger a debate about the accuracy of the subject at hand, he would in all likelihood be treated as nuisance to the class, both by his peers and mentor. An implication that the students should all simply memorize the topics presented instead of questioning them, should they wish to get a passing grade. This scenario may sound plausible on the middle-school or even high-school levels, but sadly its plausibility reaches beyond those early stages of education. Instances akin to this hypothetical scene also plays out in universities.

In well-respected Indonesian universities, the likes of the University of Indonesia for instance, certain lecturers are equally intolerant of student behavior that deviates from the pre-planned curriculum. I learned from a source that in a Philosophy of Politics class, none of the pupils are allowed to question the information presented to them. In a philosophy class! A subject birthed by questions, critiques, and debates! I find it difficult to conjure up a more explicit exhibit of how overvalued memorization is, and how insignificant actual learning is perceived by Indonesia’s education system. A problem which, surprisingly, segues into the issue of obedience without question.

The social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky made a noteworthy statement regarding education systems,

“…let’s have a mass education system, but of a particular kind, one that inculcates obedience, subordination, acceptance of authority, acceptance of doctrine. One that doesn’t raise too many questions.”

What Chomsky meant is that quintessentially, education systems have a purpose outside of teaching. We have seen so far that arguing with established curriculum is a pointless exercise that is often treated with hostility. It would be reasonable to make an assumption that the rigidity of educational institutions stems from laziness, conservatism, or other equally feasible reasons. But what Chomsky proposes is that behind the inflexible characteristic of academies, lies a political motive.

Let us turn back to the remark, “[An education system] that doesn’t raise too many questions.” Why build an establishment which actively discourages inquiries, especially when the establishment should be encouraging students to inquire. It’s a method that is both ironic and convoluted. However, that is not to say that the technique is pointless and ineffective.

Why are students dissuaded from putting forward questions? The answer involves the concept of indoctrination; inducing peoples’ inquisitiveness into a state of unconsciousness, by providing them with information that cannot and must never be disputed. This intellectual comatose is instilled early on through Indonesia’s education system, by way of forbidding students from challenging the information forcibly embedded into their minds.

The process takes many years, and could potentially never end, but the student then increasingly becomes more and more obedient. They would rather not elicit a debate for fear of chastisement either from their equals or superiors. Answers to questions are chosen not for their accuracy, but because others—especially authority figures—decided that the answers are correct, despite arguments to the contrary. The effect of the Indonesian education system is essentially the transforming and conditioning of students into becoming gullible pawns. Through the lens of realist politics, a voter-base consisting of the unquestioning and the compliant, is a goldmine for securing power.

When the majority of a population accepts the decisions of the ruling class, then they have turned into nothing more than servants of the powerful. Repressing peoples’ urges to call into question the actions of a society’s elites equates to allowing them to conduct themselves in whatever way they see fit. Even if their behavior actively harms the interests of the many and benefit only their coterie. The government is then run not by the people for the people, but by the powerful and for the powerful. This state of affairs is a standard in Indonesia.

The Indonesian people must take action to reform the current education system. Not only due to its failure in evoking the curiosity of students, but primarily because of how it is used for engendering compliance with the status quo, and misplaced trust in the words of the unethical yet powerful.

A nation must not be run by those who seek only to satisfy their own cravings. As such a nation would amount to a playground for those who managed to come into power. While those who are less fortunate, would be forced to stay at the peripheries, with their needs largely ignored. In spite of how the weak are mistreated, they are still content to remain at the beck and call of the elites. How could they not? They have, since their childhoods after all, been taught that to obey is good and to disobey is bad. Thus, the necessity to rebuild Indonesia’s education system.