AIYA Links, 12 December

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  • Tonight, 18:00, Yogya: AIYA Yogyakarta’s careers night at Pecel Solo Restaurant will bring together a panel of experts from who’ve made a career working within the bilateral relationship. (Only for those already registered).
  • Saturday, 09:30, Sydney: the University of Sydney will host the Gus Dur Memorial Lecture, a reflection on the progressive legacy of former president Wahid by his daughter Yenny. Info here.

Living in Norway and Making Friends for Life

Eline Widani is an Indonesian currently living and studying in Norway. Below is her story about studying in Norway and making new friends for life!

Hiking in Norway. Photo: Eline Widani

1. What do you miss about Indonesia whilst living in Norway?

FOOD and the nongkrong culture. There is no food culture here in Norway. They said that Norway has seafood, meat, other food and the quality is so much better than in Indonesia, but Indonesia has them as well. I used to hang out with friends at a cafe or a coffee shop in Indonesia. While in Norway, hanging out at the cafe is so expensive, especially if you are a student. So, I just manage to go to my friends’ flat or invite them to go to mine for some parties and of course we cook by ourselves. Here eating out costs an arm and a leg. Moreover, coffee here is not as good as in Indonesia. If you want to buy a very good coffee, go to the coffee shop, but then again it is so expensive. Since I used to be surrounded by people in Indonesia, here I am challenged to do everything by myself because Norwegians are not as open as Indonesians. I don’t say Norwegians are not warm, but it takes so much effort and time (3 months more or less) to be their friends because you have to be in the same bubble with them such as in class, at work, organisations and sport activities. This is an issue for every international student/expat when they live in Norway. Thus, it is recommended international students attend a seminar on how to socialise with Norwegians (here is the link, but once you are a friend with them, you have friends for life.

2. What do you like about living in Norway?

I love eating seafood here because it is healthy, tasty, and cheap. My lifestyle is healthier because I walk a lot and eat healthier. There is no gorengan (fried stuff) and I eat less rice and sugar (you know most snacks, especially traditional snacks in Indonesia contain a lot of sugar). It is nice to do outdoor activities such as running, hiking or just take a walk by the lake while enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings. This is the thing that all Norwegians are proud of: their beautiful nature. It is so peaceful and can release stress. I have never been sick since I arrived here because the air is so fresh and the food is healthy. I have met very interesting people from different countries and shared stories, experiences, and discussed many things with different perspectives since I have been in Norway. Living here has enhanced my knowledge and given me a completely different perspective on things. To me, it is very interesting to have a dialogue with them because there are always many things that we can learn from the people here. Women are treated equally, there is no excuse that saying, ‘you cannot or are not allowed to do this because you are a woman,’ the excuse will be, ‘you cannot or are not allowed to do this because you do not have the capacity to do this.’ Moreover, men will never act brash towards women or shout at them in the street. That is why it is very safe for women to walk down the street by themselves at night. I did not expect anything before I moved to Norway since I knew everything would be different such as the lifestyle and culture. I think by letting yourself go with the flow, accepting the challenges and do your best, those will give you very great experiences in life and you will know that you actually can do something you thought you could not do beforehand.

Eline 2
Norway has great nature. Photo: Tiffany Hacquebard

3. What are the similarities and differences between the education system in Indonesia and Norway?

There is no similarity. The differences: the lectures are more organised. So, I know exactly when the exact dates of the exams are. Assignments, reading lists and exams are well prepared before the semester starts. The lecturers are more serious. They will just explain about the course material only, they will not randomly talk about something else that does not have anything to do with the course such as family, private life, etc. Overall, it is more disciplined and requires students to work harder every day. There is no attendance list in class because it is up to us if we want to go to class or not. The administrative staffs are more helpful and nicer and they work professionally. Since equality is very important in Norway, students are not allowed to write their name on their exam paper, they are asked to write their student number only. This is for avoiding bias from the lecturers when they grade the paper and a C grade is good. They keep telling students that over and over. The smartest students in class have obligations to help other students to get better grades. This is simply if everyone has the same level that means they are equal.

Living in Norway is very fascinating. It challenges me on how to be independent, adjust with the lifestyle here, use many perspectives to solve problems and see life, and use my social skill to interact with the international community. It is not easy especially if you are use to living in your comfort zone, but once you give it a go the challenge is in front of you. Living overseas you will realise that the world is not small, it offers you so many things in life. I would never say that I am done learning since my experience in Norway makes me realise that there will always be so many things you have to know, understand, experience and learn which I want to explore more and more. So, hopefully I can contribute something for society in the future. Importantly, experiencing a different educational system can enhance my knowledge, as I see things from a different angle and compare with the educational system back home which later I can make some contributions for a better change. In addition, equality is not only about talking the talk in Norway, but they actually impose it into practice for building peace and justice in society.

What the Hajj Means to Me: My Journey to Mecca

Before I left Australian authorities had conducted sweeping and much-criticised anti-terror raids across Sydney and Brisbane. In Melbourne, a young man thought to be sympathetic to the Islamic State had been shot dead after he’d tried to stab two police officers. The number of attacks on Muslims – particularly women – rose. I knew I’d be leaving for Hajj under these strained and tense circumstances and did various media interviews about how Muslims felt they were under siege.

Indonesian pilgrim taking a picture of a well which was used to draw Zamzam water, circa 1299 Hijrah (or the year 1882). Photo: Nasya Bahfen

In preparation for Hajj I collected the du’as people had requested me to make, and added my own for everyone close to me. Everyone advised me to build up a reservoir of patience. I mentally prepared by scaring myself stupid reading reviews of Jeddah’s international airport.

There was no need to worry, however. The Saudi hajj authorities ran a tight ship. The Hajj and customs officials at King Abdul Aziz airport were helpful, courteous and friendly even though they help out millions of pilgrims each year. They’d figured out that Indonesians were bad at queues – when our host showed a customs officer my Australian passport under my parents’ Indonesian passports, the customs officer thought we were part of a group traveling from Jakarta, and told us to ‘antri, antri’. Our host explained we were guests of the Muslim World League, and the customs officer waved us through.

The immigration officials, however, were something else. They deserved all the negative comments they receive in reviews of Jeddah’s airport.

We were picked up by our MWL hosts, and a driver who looked about fifteen. He was actually nineteen, spoke very little English, and expertly navigated insane traffic to Mecca-a journey of about one and a half hours from Jeddah. By ‘expertly navigated’, I mean he drove like a maniac. I traded worried glances with my parents all of us thinking the same thing: this kid – who we can’t communicate with – is holding our passports and driving like he’s possessed. But we got to Mecca safe and sound. While most pilgrims stay near the Haram – the Ka’aba and its surrounds – we were put up in a guest house at Mina. For the Umrah or minor pilgrimage that most pilgrims do before the actual Hajj (with a break of a few days in between), we were driven to the Haram, which was six kilometres from Mina, and back by bus.

My first sight of the Ka’aba was emotional. We were fortunate and managed to do our first circumambulation (the seven circuits the pilgrim does of the Ka’aba) on the ground floor, and very close to the building itself. Because Indonesians make up the largest single group of pilgrims for Hajj (and for Umrah throughout the year) many of the officials in the Haram spoke some bahasa. One showed me the direction I had to go in by saying ‘Hajjah! Jalan terus! (Female pilgrim, go straight ahead!)’. He waved and replied, ‘kembali’ when I smiled and said ‘terima kasih’.

Back in our home country life went on – it was late September, which meant the AFL and NRL finals in Melbourne and Sydney. A newspaper in Australia wanted to do an interview about the link between Muslim NRL fans and the Canterbury Bulldogs – a topic I’d researched and written about. The reporter kindly mentioned in his story that I was speaking to him while doing the Hajj.

Our Umrah completed, we waited until the 8th of Dhul Hijjah – the first day of the actual Hajj. After doing the dawn prayer Fajr, I grabbed my camera and ran to the highest floor of our guest house, and took a photo of Mina, which had turned into the world’s largest tent city. Muslims believe that doing the Hajj is accepting an invitation to visit Allah (God) and at that moment I knew that the three and a half million people who’d been lucky enough to score an invite this year were there, in that tent city that stretched for miles, waiting to begin their Hajj. The pilgrims’ refrain ‘Labbayk Allahumma labbayk (Here I am my Creator, here I am)’ reached my lips and I went back downstairs to wait with our group to depart for the plains of Arafat.

Arafat is a desert, and searingly hot. My survival kit – sunscreen, wet wipes and moisturiser, all fragrance and alcohol free – was made redundant by the cool, air conditioned tents and prayer room tent provided by our hosts. They even set up a coffee stand under a breezy tent – a hipster Hajj. The ABC called, and wanted to speak with an Australian on Hajj. While standing on the plains of Arafat I did a phone interview, exploring issues of technology-infused worship (or the problem with ‘Hajj selfies’) as well as my dismay at not having any fellow Australian pilgrims around with whom I could discuss James Hird and the Essendon Football Club.

Over the next couple of days we did the ritual stoning of the devil after collecting pebbles at Mudzalifah, and our farewell circumambulation of the Ka’aba, which was a far more crowded affair. From the second floor we took the classic photo of the Ka’aba surrounded by masses of people, and saw a couple of selfie sticks – though to the credit of those people using them, these were generally used in a way that did not inconvenience the pilgrims who were still walking around the Ka’aba.

The tent city of Mina, nestled in the mountains surrounding Mecca. Photo: Nasya Bahfen

With the Hajj officially finished we were able to make a quick visit to Medina. Luckily for me this year the Hajj coincided with mid-semester break and while I wish I could have stayed a bit longer I had to rush back and finish teaching and marking. In Medina, seeing the Prophet Muhammad’s final resting place was just as emotional as seeing the Ka’aba for the first time. After doing a short, two unit prayer, I addressed him directly in my head and heart. “I’m the crappest Muslim ever, but I’m a Muslim,” I thought. “I’ll continue to stumble, but I’ll try to live my life according to the values you set in this crazy land fourteen hundred years ago. So please intercede for me and acknowledge me as one of your followers on the Day of Judgement. I bear witness that there is no God but God and that you are the messenger of God. Peace be on you Muhammad son of Abdullah, and your entire Ummah (community).”

AIYA Links: 28 November

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AIYA Links, 21 November

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Monolingual Australia and the “Language” of Justification

When it comes to Language learning in Australia, it seems that the most common language being practised and used regularly is the “language of justification”. Whether it is politicians, language advocates, teachers or students, we all find ourselves at some point using this language in our attempts to further the cause of languages education. But what exactly is a “language of justification” and why does it matter?

Hello Pic

                    The Impact of Language Learning (Photo: ICDC College)

The language of justification is what emerges when a society’s overarching attitude towards languages is governed by what Michael Clyne calls a “monolingual mindset”. In such a society, the existence of a single and dominant language is seen as desirable, natural and vital to the maintenance of that society. The acquisition, study and existence of any other language is therefore viewed not as something which is intrinsically valuable to that society, but as something that needs to be justified in terms of the goals and rationales of the monolingual society.

The fragility of Australian languages education, combined with the prevalence of a monolingual mindset, has meant that those working in the field have found themselves repeatedly having to justify language-learning according to the rationales of public discourse. In Australia, this discourse has tended to focus on the economy, jobs, security and globalisation as justifying the learning of languages. Such a discourse serves to damage, rather than promote quality languages education and policy.

We don’t have to look far to find examples of the “language of justification” in action. At the political level, Lo Bianco and Slaughter have described changes to languages policy over the past few decades as a “policy parade”, moving through phases of being “ambitiously multicultural” to “energetically Asian” and more recently to being “fundamentally economic”. This view of languages seeks to publicly promote and justify language learning in terms of changing economic imperatives.

Meanwhile at the level of school curriculum the very language that is used to discuss education policy positions English as the superior and desired literacy standard, presenting all other languages as “additions” to this standard. While the Languages Curriculum is often accompanied by lengthy rationales, subjects such as English and Maths are explicitly described as “fundamental” for primary school learning, over and above Languages. In some parts of Australia, languages have been removed from the curriculum altogether in order to build literacy in English. The attitude that underpins such decisions carries misconceptions about the role of languages in building literacy in English, and in learning more generally. Any potential discourse about the transformative value of languages in education is therefore stifled by the need to “justify” language-learning.

At the school level, many of us would have been exposed to arguments about the benefits of language learning to future career prospects and aspirations. Those who have “mastered” a second language to help advance their career prospects are held in high esteem in society and within language-teaching communities. Without having to test the validity of these arguments, we can see that they subject discussions of language to economic justification. Hence, while the intentions of language students and educators are no doubt good, discourses within these communities can actually serve to reinforce monolingual mindsets.

It is clear that the monolingual mindset governs the way in which languages education is viewed, discussed and promoted in Australia. This is obviously a hard dilemma to escape, because in order to alter monolingual mindsets, vulnerable language programs and advocate communities must first appeal to them in some way that will be understood. It is possible, however, to avoid the language of justification- if not in the things we do, then in the very language we use to promote learning Indonesian, English, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, or any other language.

First and foremost, we must seek out opportunities to establish independent discourses about languages. We must seek to demystify the skill of language learning by raising awareness of the many and varying reasons for language-learning, as well as the diversity of language-speaking communities within Australia. We are languages advocates living and working in a multilingual society with a monolingual mindset. Our discourses must acknowledge and embrace Language acquisition as something natural and achievable for everyone, not merely as some sort of “complimentary” addition to an English-speaking Australia. Only then can we hope to escape the monolingual language of justification.

Jokowi: A Mental Revolution

Indonesia is celebrating a new era of democracy marked by the inauguration of its 7th President, Mr. Joko Widodo (Jokowi).  But, what makes him the new hope for Indonesia?

Joko Widodo

 Indonesia’s new President Joko Widodo (Photo: ABC Australia)

Jokowi is a leader who inspires and listens to the voice of his citizens and is well renowned for his “blusukan style”, characterised by his visits to local people and talking directly to the citizens to solve their problems. He is making a real difference by closing the communication gaps between government and its people.

One of the main characteristics of Jokowi’s emerging vision for Indonesia is his mental revolution policy. The mental revolution policy focuses on changing the mindset of Indonesian people to have great manners and strong principles based on the value of Pancasila (Indonesia’s Ideology) towards great capacity of nation building. Pancasila is the philosophical basis of Indonesia’s life and society that consists of “Five Moral Principles”: democracy, the unity of Indonesia, social justice, civilised humanity and the belief in the one and only God. Pancasila embraces humanitarian principles that have become the true and core identity of Indonesia.

Jokowi’s mental revolution policy is an answer to Indonesia’s need for a breakthrough in its human and social development, especially to remove the habits of corruption since the Orde Baru (New Order) era. The New Order was the period under the second Indonesian President Suharto (1965- 1998), thas was characterized by extravagant nepotism and government corruption.

The implementation of the mental revolution policy is highlighted in the education sector. Jokowi believes that the effectiveness of the mental revolution should be developed from the start of primary education. In Jokowi’s opinion, Indonesia’s primary schools students should be educated about the importance of character development, manners, and etiquettes. These subjects should comprise 80% of the curriculum and students should spend the remainder of their studies focusing on scientific discovery.

As students reach junior high school, there will be a greater emphasis on scientific learning, but the essence of character development, manners, and etiquettes must remain strong according to Jokowi and his new government. Jokowi states a 60%: 40 % proportion in favour of character development.

Jokowi emphasises the science education on the high schools education stage as 80% and 20% for the manners education, character development, and etiquettes. He also wants to build more vocational schools for Indonesian students. Jokowi contends that developed countries such as Japan, Germany, and Republic of Korea are growing because of the enrichment of practical skills, which are acquired in vocational schools.

He has confidence that the implementation of his mental revolution policy will foster a new Indonesian generation. The new Indonesian generation with a great mental outlook and work culture with integrity and strong competitive advantages. A new generation that in the long run will increase productivity for the nation and the country. As Mr. Joko Widodo states, “It’s good to be an important person, but it’s more important to be a good person, and what’s most important is to be a good important person.”

To learn more about the 7th President of Indonesia, Mr. Joko Widodo, you can visit his website or Facebook page.

AIYA Links, 14 November: Jokowi steps out


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Review: ‘Risky Business’ by Ari Sharp

Sometimes, it seems Indonesia can be its own worst enemy. Over a dinner in Jakarta recently, a businessperson with long experience interacting with Indonesian policymakers lamented that politicians and bureaucrats here ‘had begun to actually believe their own rhetoric’.

The easy years of the commodity prices boom, he said, gave rise to a complacency that prompted some Indonesian bureaucrats to essentially tell foreign investors that — no matter what the issues with the investment climate — they’ll come anyway because Indonesia is too important a market to ignore. From the economic disaster of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98 to the commodities boom years under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia swung from despair to hubris mighty quickly, some foreign observers worry.

Australian journalist Ari Sharp is one of them. In his new book, Risky Business: How Indonesia’s economic nationalism is hurting foreign investment—and local people, Sharp provides a reality check on the Indonesian boom narrative, using stories of troubled foreign investment projects to illustrate how ‘through a combination of legislative edicts, ministerial utterances and dubious court rulings, Indonesia’s elite has sought to demonstrate that the country is not open for business’.

A few tales stand out: the Australian mining company which discovered a huge coal deposit in Kalimantan, only to be pushed off its concession by a politically-connected firm after some suspicious court decisions; threats of revoking visas made to executives of ExxonMobil to speed up production at a local field; the crazed Attorney-General’s Department prosecutors pursuing Chevron executives for trumped-up corruption allegations in the face of bafflement from regulators, the industry, the anti-corruption commission and the mining ministry; and, of course, the complete debacle that was the recent ban on the export of raw minerals, enacted with apparent disregard for its effect on the Indonesian economy.

Written from the perspective of a journalist and editor (Sharp spent two and a half years at the English-language Jakarta Globe newspaper), rather than a businessperson or consultant, the nine case studies which the book deals with illustrate convincingly that Indonesian policymakers often display little regard for what might be described as Creating a Healthy Investment Climate 101: the rule of law, policy stability, and functional communication with the private sector.

This could easily have turned into an exercise in tiny-violin-playing on behalf of multinational corporations (won’t somebody think of poor old ExxonMobil?), but to his credit Sharp always keeps the Indonesian public as his main protagonist. If the Indonesian government restricts imports of food to ‘promote’ local production, he points out, the ones who suffer are poor Indonesians when food prices spike. When Indonesian authorities give foreign resources firms a hard time, it’s the Indonesian economy which misses out on jobs and capital. And so on. The overriding theme is that Indonesian elites are often happy to place some notion of national ‘dignity’ and disdain for foreign companies over hard-headed analysis of what’s best to grow the economy—or worse, cloak rent-seeking behaviour in the language of economic nationalism.

Indonesia-watchers with pre-existing knowledge of the book’s case studies will probably be left wanting more in-depth investigation of processes which Sharp describes largely based on media reports. But as the author points out, the book is first and foremost aimed at readers overseas with an interest in Indonesian affairs. Aside from its accessibility to non-experts, these readers will benefit from the fact that Sharp is a good writer, his journalistic experience and sense of humour giving him a knack for storytelling.

So the big question is whether the picture Sharp seeks to draw from these case studies is an accurate one. Needless to say, the book’s general attitude towards free trade and investment is what would be denounced as neoliberalisme in Indonesia. The book’s publisher, Connor Court, is known for its focus on conservative screeds from authors like Cory Bernardi and Ian Plimer, so the free-market bent of the book is not surprising. This doesn’t necessarily make it wrong—indeed, most Australians would recognise the book’s remedies for Indonesia’s investment climate funk as common sense economics.

I do wonder, though, whether the case studies’ being weighted towards resources projects overstates how bad things are overall. As Sharp mentions in his conclusion, there are plenty of success stories of foreign firms’ involvement in consumer services in Indonesia, for instance. Another tremendously important issue for Indonesia is growing its labour-intensive manufacturing sector, which is being held up not by economic jingoism (Indonesians love their Samsung phones and Levis), but the more mundane issues of poor infrastructure and rigid workplace relations laws. It is only in particular sectors, it seems, where foreign investment really pushes the buttons of protectionists.

In the highly-politicised resources sector, researchers like the ANU’s Eve Warburton caution against reading the current nationalist climate in the resources sector as a cloak for rent-seeking, seeing ‘a strong ideational component to the rise of [economic] nationalism in Indonesia that deserves greater…attention’ from those commenting on the foreign investment regime there. While Sharp does put the current nationalist zeitgeist in historical perspective and rightly identifies rising inequality as aiding popular disillusionment with globalisation, I though there was room for a more detailed explanation for outside readers of the deep ideological roots of Indonesian protectionism.

With those few issues aside, Risky Business is overall an insightful, useful and timely book for Australians, given the tendency of our political leaders and pundits to shy away from the tough realities of Indonesia’s political economy which hold up greater economic integration between us and our neighbour. In his debut book, Ari Sharp has delivered an entertaining (sometimes perversely so) and critical look at Indonesia’s foreign investment scene which deserves to be widely read by those keen to go beyond marketing slogans.

You can order Risky Business online through Readings, Amazon or the Book Depository. Thanks to Ari Sharp for providing a review copy.

AIYA Links: 7 November

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