Meghan and the color of her son’s skin

There’s a hilarious scene in one of Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour series where he follows Chris Rock into a joint run by black brothers.

Chris, being black, goes something like “Wassup Nigga” and gets a friendly reply. Then Jackie, who plays the role of a cop from Hong Kong who knows little about American culture tries it on his black hosts – with disastrous results.

That scene of how its OK for a black to call another a Nigga while someone else of a different shade couldn’t, is, for me, emblematic about how Americans and much of the west approach color: with a hypersensitivity bordering on the ridiculous.

Color to us coloreds, or if you want to be politically correct about it, the pigmentally advantaged, is a fact of life. We talk about it all the time, joke about it, acknowledge it and the fact that darker hues are generally not that desirable even among huge swarthy of the swarthy.

But to whites, or shall we call them the pigmentally disadvantaged, and those who have drunk the liberal kool aid, all talk of color is somehow abhorrent and racist. It’s as if we are all expected to tiptoe around the room not acknowledging that there is a colored elephant in the room.

It is this mentality that has conditioned the shock and awe that greeted Meghan Markle’s revelation to Oprah Winfrey that someone from the Royal Family asked if her son might pigmentally gifted.

Why is it racist to wonder what shade the baby would come out, since the mother is partially Indian, is beyond the reasoning of many mixed couples and multiracial families.

The English language, does not different between racialism and racism. Perhaps it should. The former an acknowledgement that the world is not monochromatic and needs to be perceived in all its hues and shades; the latter a description of prejudice because of someone’s skin tone.

When I was working in Malaysia in The Star many decades ago, before the country descended into its racial stereotyping and tropes to what it is today, we all used to be totally aware of our race.

We’s rib each other mercilessly and tell racial jokes to each other, have good laugh about it and ed up in Rennie’s for a beer or eight. At the end of the day we were all racialists, in the sense that we were not color blind.

This did not shield us from the realization that beyond our racial stereotypes and traits we were all humans and friends. We could live with those difference and we did.

The Rich and Patti Arguments over Rich Brian

Former US Ambassador who reinvented himself as the organizer of Supermentor,   Dino Patti Jallal, has a point in the ongoing feud with BEKRAF chief Triawan Munaf over Indonesian Rapper Rich Brian where children are concerned.

Children should not be exposed to obscenities. But the whole episode is not as clear cut as he makes it out to be.
The feud has its roots on 7 July when Jokowi met with Rich Brian, accompanied by Triawan Munaf, at the Istana, a huge endorsement and praise for the 19 year-old that has been making waves overseas.

Netizens loved the populist move and heaped praise on the President for being so cool.

Not everyone was happy though. On July 16, seemingly out of the blue, Dino sermonized on Twitter, saying that even though Brian may be a great performer he (Dino) as a father thinks that Brian would not make a good role model for Indonesian youth because Brians tweets often contained profanity, obscenity and disgusting elements and looked down on women.

That children should not be exposed to obscenity etc is easy to agree with but there were two problems with Dino’s argument.

The first is that its not cool to dump on Rich Brian after you tweeted back in April for help on getting him to be a speaker for your Supermentor in LA event.

Spying what she must have thought to be hypocrisy, Rich Brian’s sister Sonya Erika tweeted an eloquent screen cap of the invite. This prompted Triawan Munaf to virtually stab himself with a retweet that said only ”jlebs!

This set off a shitstorm in the Twittersphere as well as the media, to the point that Dino felt he had to clarify his change in attitude toward Rich Brian, not once but twice.
In one Tweet he said that he changed his mind about inviting Rich Brian after reading his tweets that contained obscenities.

In another Dino asked a rhetorical question:would any parent feel that a musician, even though well-known, should be free to use obscenities on social media because they would be emulated by children who idolized them? He then hectored his audience: “My answer as a parent is clear: NO. What’s your answer? Don’t lose perspective.”

A greater shitstorm ensued.

Which brings us to the second problem with Dino’s argument about exposing children to obscenities from their idols.

The Supermentor talks attract youths, young men and women to be sure. But not children. It’s a bit ingenuous in this day and age to think that these youths would be anything but nonchalant to Rich Brian’s obscenities on social media. if they are the type who like Rap and Hip Hop they would already be exposed to that kind of language. And guess what? Most of them have not turned into peverts, mysoginists or depraved layabouts.

Dino’s argument also begs the question of what the parents are doing if they allow their children to be on social media. Shouldn’t they be interacting with their children and teaching them about life rather than allow them to roam unsupervised on social media, which has places much more dangerous and obscene than Rich Brian’s feeds?
The curious are now wondering what is the motive behind Dino’s sudden burst against Rich Brian.

Should we take things at face value and suppose that Dino’s a model parent and passionate about parenting, so could just not stand the attention lavished on Rich Brian by the President of Indonesia?

Or should we speculate on what other factors there are that could motivate a once political insider, now locked out of the corridors of power, to resort to such undiplomatic Tweets?

Does Indonesia Suck as a tourist destination?

@anakcerdas just alerted me to this blog posting in Travel Blog with the terse and succinct message: “Memalukan yah” (Shameful, isn’t it?).

Yes, it is indeed shameful if even half of what the blogger, Mike Foster, says is true. As someone who’s adopted Jakarta and Indonesia as my home I feel duty bound to defend Jakarta and Indonesia. As have a few Indonesians who have seen the Twitter message.

I tend to agree with @crivenica and @heradiani in their Tweets that the Mike Foster does come across as an uptight tourist. Indonesia, after all, is a Third World country, only that the phrase has become unfashionable, being substituted by the more politically correct “Emerging Country” label. Foster comes across as uptight because in a city of more than 14 million people all he could see was the frightening and negative aspects of the city. He was unable for some reason, to peer beyond the negatives to see something, anything positive. perhaps his friend Andy is a really crummy tourist guide but one suspects that Foster is one who would rather whine than accept the fact that he is in a Third World country, accept the filth, contradictions, traffic congestion and contrasts as facts of life and get over it to enjoy his stay here.

Foster also makes the terrible mistake of equating Jakarta with Indonesia, which is unfortunate. Indonesia is so much, much more and different than Jakarta and if he were to go to Flores or a dozen other choice sites in Indonesia he would know what heartwrenching beauty Indonesia has in store for those who venture beyond the Big Durian.

Having said that, however, a lot of Foster’s complaints about Jakarta is legit. Us old Jakarta hands realize that Foster’s complaints are only some of the myriad aspects of the city that makes Jakarta Jakarta. Bu to a fresh pair of eyes, especially if they aren’t the adventurous types (and how many tourists are really adventurous?) Jakarta can come across as dirty, chaotic, unsafe and congested.

If Jakarta wants to attract the tourists, both to the city and to Indonesia, the authorities will have to acknowledge that the traffic, cleanliness and safety (or at least the perception of safety from a tourist’s viewpoint) are problems that need to be addressed. Like many other Twitterers, Unspun was inclined to use the argument of “but other countries are worse than Jakarta” but its a temptation best not given to as it i a false argument. So what if other countries are dirtier and worse off than us, we do not have control over what they do or do not do. We have control over, how our countries (adopted or native) functions and that’s what we should take responsibility for and try to change.


I just visited Indonesia some time ago, to visit my friend from the university. He’s an Indonesian, so during my vacation I decided to go to Indonesia for a vacation and visit him.

I must say that Indonesia is not a country worth visiting … sorry about this, Andy if you read my posting. For starter, Jakarta is very dirty, you’ll see trash and litter everywhere you go. I just can’t imagine a capital city with this poor level of cleanliness. I was fortunate to have Andy my friend to show me around Jakarta, in which rarely tourists are shown to. Areas that you may see quite clean and sophisticated are only in the downtown area. I only remembered the streets named Sudirman, Thamrin and Kuningan that are quite representative for a capital city. Any other areas you go, you’ll feel like that you’re in some third-world country with poor people and trash everywhere (I think Indonesia is still considered a third-world?)

I was lucky I have a friend in Jakarta, otherwise I wouldn’t dare goind around in public transportation. I was told to be careful when selecting cabs. I remembered there is only one company considered safe, called Blue Bird or something, with their cars painted in blue. I was told not to take just any cab since it wouldn’t be safe. I was told there are so many crimes occured involving taxi drivers. I certainly didn’t want to take the public busses. Wait until you see them yourselves, and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride in one either. The busses are so dirty, so packed with people and the vehicles themselves look as if they’re very poorly taken care of. I couldn’t even find a decent information of which bus should I take if I would want to go somewhere, and what is the fare. Those busses have someone (or sometimes two) called “conductor” hanging around in the door, collecting money from passengers. I was terrified to see them hanging like that in the door while the bus were driving quite fast. Well, yes they have now a network of public busses called TransJakarta if I’m not mistaken, but the network was not vast enough to cover the whole city.

Not to mention the streets from hell. The traffic in Jakarta beats the hell out of any traffic I’ve ever seen in the world.

Traffic jams everywhere. People driving with only one or two inches away from each other. The worse of all is the motorcycles. I even said to my friend that they are like motorcycles from hell. They squeezed their way to very small gaps between cars, sometimes even hit our rearview mirrors. They constantly cut your way, so my friend always to be extra careful with them and sometime he even had to hit the brake brutely to avoid collisions. What an experience … I must say. I sometimes jumped from my seat when suddenly a motorcycle speeding through our side of the cars with just few inches away, in a traffic jam, with their loud noises …. a hell indeed. Andy even told me that be very careful not to hit a motorcycle, since even that you’re not the one causing the collision, the car driver would be the one blamed and they could go rough on you asking for money. I said “what the hell …. what kind of people are they … we’re not living in the dark ages are we?” … and Andy could just shrugged with bitter smile.

Another important thing … be careful of the food. I got stomachache for 3 days because Andy took me to this food stall that he said very delicious. Well the food was alright … but I got diarrhea the next day. Well, if you go to this food stall, you wouldn’t be surprised why I got the diarrhea. It was a very small food stall, on a pedestrian. Just next to the pedestrian was this open sewer, and guess what … people threw away trash into that sewer. Not to mention flies everywhere and I could have sworn a saw a cockroach running around. My advice is to stick to the food from restaurants, clean restaurants. It’s a bit expensive, but at least your stomach would be safe.

I’ll continue with my experience in Indonesia …. more surprises coming from this unbelievable country … which I don’t intend to visit again, at least not in several years until they could improve to be a more civilized country.

Why Western men like slutty looking Asian women: the sequel

The age-old enigma of the attraction of pembantu looking women to Bule men once again gets an airing in the Indonesian blogosphere. This was an question that Unspun tried to deal with quite some time ago (see this link) but till this day puzzles observers as to why relatively well-off and sometimes even good-looking bule men usually have such peculiar tastes in their choice of Asian women partners.

For a good laugh and especially if you are a single Western or westernized  woman living in Asia you might also want to entertain yourself with the concept of Charisma Man.

Yin & Yang: Bules & Pembantus

Feb 18th, 2010, in Opinion, by Dikkiman Sujengkol

Expat men in Indonesia and their love affairs with lower class women, opposites attract.

The Friend,

Late one night as my Kampung friends and I were guarding our neighbourhood, the age-old question came up: why does the Bule Man (Bulman), like the Pembantu (maid) face ? We contemplate many such questions as I tap on my Bongo drums and my friends sip their Kratingdaeng, staring out from our little pos jaga (guard post) at the corner of the street under the Jambu tree.

Yin YangIndeed, it is like Yin and Yang: white (or pink), tall, educated, from the city, versus dark, short, from the village. For me, the Bulman’s taste is his own business; that is how our Indonesian system of Bhinekka Tunggal Ika, or Unity in Diversity works. But many big-haired society Matrons, funky university hipsters, and ordinary Indonesian people alike wonder about the strange attraction of the White Man for his maid.

At our guard post, we try to help the country, so for you, my Indonesia Matters friends, I return to this burning question.

via Yin & Yang: Bules & Pembantus.

Establishing Ketuanan Melayu with an Indonesian heritage?

When Unspun was growing up in Malaysia he was told that the kris was an intrinsic part of the Malay identity.The kris was such a big deal that some years ago when the son of a former Malaysian prime minister and UMNO big shot wanted to establish Malay supremacy over the other Malaysian races he waved it around more vigorously than a koteka would be rattled in a tribal dance.

Stop waving an Indonesian heritage around Hishamuddin. It’s embarrassing.

Unspun was awed. But now Unspun feels cheated.

According to UNESCO the kris isn’t even Malaysian, let alone Malay. And not only that. Even the batik and the wayang is Indonesian. So what’ Malaysia got left to wave with? Malaysia, Truly Indonesia.

Batik, kris and wayang get UNESCO world heritage status

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 02/06/2010 1:02 PM | Headlines

UNESCO on Friday awarded Indonesia four certificates, three stating that it recognized three intangible cultural heritages and one stating its recognition of the country’s efforts to preserve its culture.

The three intangible cultural heritages were batik, a method of decorating fabric with a special dyeing techniques producing specific patterns, wayang, a traditional shadow puppet play, and kris, a traditional ceremonial dagger.

The certificates were symbolically handed by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, to Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik and Coordinating Public Welfare Minister Agung Laksono.

After the awards were given, Agung said, the country should preserve the heritage to prevent the recognition from being withdrawn.

“Batik can be preserved by always wearing it. What will be hard is preserving wayang and kris,” he said.

Agung added he had issued a letter requesting that offices and hotels display the three objects.

Tresna Dermawan Kunaefi, Indonesia’s Ambassador to UNESCO, said the recognition as intangible cultural heritage was not based on the objects’ physical aspects, but the stories and ideas behind them.

via Batik, kris and wayang get UNESCO world heritage status | The Jakarta Post.

Karim on why race is not so stifling an issue in Indonesia

This is an interesting perspective of the question of Malayness from Malaysian writer Karim Raslan.

His last paragraph is especially sobering for ketuanan Melayu types:

“History’s record is cruel and unforgiving. Winners shape history and erase the achievements, even the existence of the losers. For many Malaysian Malays it is eye-opening to come to Indonesia only to discover that their community — their people — have long been on the receiving end of history’s lessons, suffering and losing out to more dynamic, driven people.”

It must be tough being a Malaysian Malay in such transparent times that give the lie to the totally ersatz view of Malayhood, as Umno would have them believe.

Karim Raslan: Tale of Two Malays

From the viewpoint of race, Indonesia is a liberating, even intoxicating place, especially for Malaysians like me who’ve been conditioned to view people in cultural and religious “silos” — Malay, Chinese and Indian. The Indonesian approach to race is infinitely more fluid. Distinctions are relatively unimportant.

These contrasting ways of perceiving the world lie at the heart of many of the squabbles that arise between Indonesia and Malaysia. These emanate from a sense that we really ought to understand each other better when in fact history and politics have long intervened to create two very different polities.

On the one hand, there is Malaysia, where political power is in the hands of the Malay-Muslim community. Indeed, Malay identity has been very broadly defined. People of Arab, Javanese and even Turkish descent are considered Malay, thereby consolidating power in the face of a large and dynamic non-Malay population.

In Indonesia, however, the challenge has always been how to unify this archipelagic nation and prevent its fracturing. As a result, there’s the uniting and all-embracing rhetoric enshrined in the phrase, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” unity in diversity. People seem to be able to shift between boundaries easily. Javanese, Muslim, Christian, Batak, Hindu and Balinese merge into one another.

via Karim Raslan: Tale of Two Malays – The Jakarta Globe.

Serumpun, but different lingo

Unspun readers who liked the previous posting on the pecularities of the Malaysian language (at least in hospitals) may find this fascinating – an Indonesian-Malaysian dictionary produced by the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to help promote understanding between both countries.

Can’t wait to see what the definition of words like “batik” is like. The Embassy is printing 10,000 copies. If anyone has a spare copy please forward it to Unspun.

This from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s website:

KBRI Kuala Lumpur Edarkan 10.000 Eksemplar Kamus Indonesia-Malaysia

Rabu, 04 Nopember 2009

Pada cetakan pertama yang berisi 4.700 entri ini KBRI Kuala Lumpur telah mencetak sebanyak 10.000 eksemplar untuk dibagikan gratis kepada masyarakat Indonesia di Malaysia. Adapun pembiayaan untuk pencetakan kamus ini ditanggung seluruhnya oleh sponsor dari perusahaan lokal sehingga KBRI Kuala Lumpur sama sekali tidak mengeluarkan biaya.
Kamus saku Bahasa Malaysia – Indonesia – Inggris ini, bertujuan untuk dapat menjembatani perbedaan arti bahasa ini, sehingga miskomunikasi dapat terhindar. Sejauh ini belum ada penerbit resmi yang menerbitkan kamus Bahasa Malaysia – Indonesia – Inggris, untuk itu diharapkan kamus ini dapat menjadi langkah awal menambah khazanah kamus-kamus yang telah ada.
Kamus Bahasa Malaysia-Indonesia
Sebanyak 10.000 eksemplar Kamus Saku Indonesia-Malaysia dengan tebal 25 halaman diterbitkan oleh KBRI Kuala Lumpur pada 2 November 2009. Indonesia dan Malaysia adalah dua negara yang memiliki hubungan yang telah terjalin sejak lama. Kedua negara dikenal sebagai negara serumpun karena memiliki berbagai kesamaan akar budaya, sejarah kerajaan, agama bahkan keturunan yang sama. Kesamaan tersebut menyebabkan warga Indonesia merasa tidak asing lagi berada di Malaysia. Namun demikian, ditengah kesamaan tersebut terdapat berbagai perbedaan pula. Salah satunya adalah bahasa.
Walaupun memiliki akar bahasa yang sama yaitu Melayu, bahasa Indonesia dan bahasa Malaysia memiliki perbedaan. Sebuah kata dalam bahasa Indonesia bisa memiliki arti yang sangat berbeda dalam bahasa Malaysia, dan apabila tidak dimengerti, dapat menimbulkan perbedaan pemahaman ataupun miskomunikasi. Sebagai contoh kata ‘jemput’ dalam bahasa Indonesia, tidak memiliki arti yang sama dalam bahasa Malaysia. ‘Jemput’ dalam bahasa Malaysia berarti ‘undang’. Contoh-contoh lainnya adalah kata ‘kereta’ dalam bahasa Malaysia berarti ‘mobil’ dan ‘belanja’ dalam bahasa Malaysia berarti ‘mentraktir’.

The Indonesia-Malaysia broughaha: Political, cultural and personal?

So reports the LA Times. Unspun even got his 5 seconds of fame from the article (you have to go down the paragraphs in the story) but seriously, the two countries have much more to gain than spitting and spatting with each other.
clipped from

Indonesia vs. Malaysia: a cultural war

The neighboring nations are engaged in a tense struggle for superiority, and the rift is widening: It’s cultural, it’s political and, recently, it’s gotten personal.

October 21, 2009

Reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia –
For decades, Uni Histayanti has performed the enigmatic movements of her country’s traditional pendetpendet dance. She learned the rhythms as an infant and years ago opened a dinner theater here in the Indonesian capital where, dressed in native costume, she performs nightly.

As she flutters her arms bird-like, darts her eyes and tilts her head at exotic angles, she invokes the welcoming spirit of the Hindu-majority Bali island where it originated centuries ago.

That’s why it floored her to hear that neighboring Malaysia had reportedly tried to seize the pendet as its own. It’s pure cultural piracy, Histayanti insists. And it makes her mad.
blog it

Coming soon on Oct 8: An Indonesian invasion of Malaysia

Probably not since the Taiping rebellion has so much idealism, foolishness, naivety and stupidity has been combined with so much misguided idealism, nationalism and foolishness.

The Benteng Demokrasi Rakyat intends to invade Malaysia with bows and arrows, black magic and other paraphernalia on October 8. One doubts if they would be able to even mount anything on Malaysian soil on that day but if they do so one can only hope that they make a bee line for KJ so he can show how brave he is in the face of hotheads like himself.

What’s remarkable about this whole thing is that there is this bunch of hotheads arming themselves, giving themselves paramilitary training and making public statements about how they intend to invade a neighboring country – and the police in Indonesia do not do anything about it.

And what’s the invovement of the PDIP in all of this? The HQ of the Benteng guys is in a former operations center of the PDIP. What’s the connection?

This from The Jakarta Globe today:

A young recruit from anti-Malaysia group Bendera taking part in combat training. (Antara Photo)

A young recruit from anti-Malaysia group Bendera taking part in combat training. (Antara Photo)

Indonesian Vigilantes Prepare For Battle in Malaysia

At this moment in Jakarta, a group of Indonesians are putting the final touches to their plan to invade Malaysia and wage war. Benteng Demokrasi Rakyat has announced Oct. 8 as the date of this D-day, when it says it will avenge all the wrongs committed against Indonesia by its neighbor .

Established during this year’s presidential election, the group, also known as the People’s Democratic Defense, has attracted public attention with its protests calling on Indonesians to “kill Malaysians.” Earlier this month, the group set up roadblocks in Menteng, Central Jakarta, in an attempt to detain Malaysian citizens.

However, the roadblocks failed to net any Malaysians, according to Mustar Bona Ventura, the group’s coordinator. “If we had caught them, we would have sent them home,” the 32-year-old economics student said.

He said the group’s anti-Malaysian stance was not motivated solely by claims that the neighboring country has been busy stealing Indonesia’s culture.

“It’s the whole thing, including the claims on our islands and the abusive treatment of Indonesian migrant workers,” he said. “The breaking point was when they insulted us through our national anthem, ‘Indonesia Raya.’ ”

For more of the story read here.

Whose Chicken Rice is it anyway?

There is a hilarious opening scene in the comedy film Thank You For Smoking where the film’s protagonist, Big Tobacco Spokesman Nick Taylor is hemmed in by anti-tobacco guests in a talk show.

He panics for a moment but then decides that the best way he could defend himself is to attack the other parties.

For some reason this tactic comes to Unspun‘s mind when he read this delicious story in The Jakarta Globe’s website today.

Even as Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was talking to her counterpart in Jakarta to solve the spats between both countries, most of them over accusations of how Malaysia had “stolen” its culture, the Malaysian Tourism Minister is announcing an initiative to crack down on other countries that “steal” its food.



Of course this may potentially open up huge debates on whether ketupat, satay (or sate) etc rightfully resides in Indonesia or Malaysia but for sure the Lion City, that bills among its cultural exports Singapore Chili Crabs, won’t be amused.

And what about the residents of Hainan Island? If Malaysia “owns” Hainanese Chicken Rice then that do the Hainanese themselves own? Can the Hainanese claim royalties because Malaysia is using their ethnic grouping on Malaysian food?

So much to chew on over things that matter so little. One can’t help feeling that Malaysia has bitten off more than it can chew in this instance.

Malaysia Fights Back: Tourism Minister Vows To Stop Other Countries ‘Hijacking’ Its Cuisine

Malaysia will lay claim to its signature dishes like laksa and nasi lemak, which is popular in Indonesia, to stop them being “hijacked” by other countries, the tourism minister said according to a report on Thursday.

Those on the list include the fragrant coconut milk rice ‘nasi lemak’, spicy soup noodle ‘laksa’ and pork ribs herbal soup ‘bak kut teh’, Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen said according to the Star newspaper.

“We cannot continue to let other countries hijack our food. Chili crab is Malaysian. Hainanese chicken rice is Malaysian. We have to lay claim to our food,” she was quoted as saying.

“In the next three months, we will identify certain key dishes (to declare as Malaysian). We have identified laksa… all types of laksa, nasi lemak and bak kut teh,” she added.

Ng said her ministry will announce a strategy on how to brand the dishes as Malaysian.

“That is Part Two. We cannot reveal it yet, but we will let you know soon,” she reportedly said.

via Malaysia Fights Back: Tourism Minister Vows To Stop Other Countries ‘Hijacking’ Its Cuisine – The Jakarta Globe.

Another Anti-Malaysia sweep on Sunday

After all the summoning of the Indonesian Ambassador in Malaysia, after the mysterious appeal to former Vie President Try Sutrisno of the Eminent Persons Group and a rap on the knuckles by President SBY, some hotheads in Jakarta are still conducting sweeping operations against Malaysians in Jakarta (see story below).

The Sweep I - now the sequel
The Sweep I - now the sequel

Like before, the real cause of the sweeping operations is frustration at the Indonesian government for perceived failure to act against Malaysian infringement in human rights, culture and tradition.

This is all very weird. You have to wonder what goes on in the minds of SBY and the Indonesian police. Not cracking down on sharpened bamboo-wielding demonstrators can send, at best, only the message that the government does not have the political will to enforce the law to ensure the safety of its guests. At worst it allows people to speculate that the government may be using these demonstrations cynically to pressure Malaysia toward some sinister end.

How can Malaysia and Indonesia end this constant brouhaha?

The suggestion that comes to mind is to increase understanding among Malaysians and Indonesians about each other, what are each’s hot buttons, why and what can be done about it.

Official diplomatic channels are too stiff and formal. Political action is also a long shot, given the character and caliber of Malaysia’s  and Indonesia’s political leaders.

One solution that comes to Unspun‘s mind is for both countries to start a dialogue with its bloggers. And why not? Bloggers do not really represent anyone else but themselves so they have no compunction to fly the flag, they also come from all over the political spectrum, and they are used to the give-and-take that the openess of the Net requires from all of its participants.

Why not start off by inviting a group of varied Malaysian bloggers to Indonesia. Pesta Blogger on October 24 (disclosure: Unspun is part of Maverick that’s the main organizer behind Pesta Blogger. Have them meet a group of similarly varied Indonesian bloggers. Let them talk and then share their discussion with the others at Pesta Blogger that would likely be broadcast on TV and picked up by the other media.

Wouldn’t that be a great start to cooling down overheated Indonesia-Malaysia relations? Unspun just had a chat with a prominent malaysian blogger who is eager to come to Pesta Blogger, if nothing else, to see for himself what lies beneath the anti-Malaysia sentiment here. With any luck an airline that we are working with for Pesta Blogger will bring him here.

He too, agrees that it would be a good idea to get a bunch of bloggers form Malaysia here so that they can meet and talk with Indonesian bloggers and others first hand.

The next step is to arrange a reciprocal visit of Indonesian bloggers to Malaysia. Unspun would seize on this opportunity if he were a large Malaysian business operating in Indonesia, a large Indonesian business operating in Malaysia of if he heads the Foreign or Tourism Ministries of either countries. Alas, Unspun has no such lofty positions and, since Pesta Blogger is  not-for-profit event we have to rely on sponsors to make such events happen. So any takers out there?

There is one more thing about the story below: The last three paragraphs quote Khairy Jamaluddin, shortened to KJ by fiends and foes who are legion. KJ is UMNO Youth head but he’s known to be no better than the hotheads manning the barricades with sharpened bamboo poles.

One of KJ’s traits is to overstate things and issue empty threats, so if there’s any Indonesians reading those three paragraph then give KJ the treatment he deserves: studied neglect. It’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing but a politician trying to get in from the cold in Malaysian politics.

This from The Jakarta Globe today:

Indonesia’s Anti-Malaysia Sentiment Still Boiling

Despite calls from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for police action against anti-Malaysia demonstrators, another rally involving bamboo stick-wielding protesters took place on Sunday. reported that about 50 people from the Indonesian Contract Labor Association gathered at the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in Jakarta before marching, to the chant of “destroy Malaysia,” along Jalan Diponegoro to the scene of last week’s controversial protest, where the People’s Democracy Defense set up a roadblock to search for Malaysians.

“Malaysia has mistreated Indonesia and the government just doesn’t seem to care,” Neni, one of the protesters, was quoted as saying. Continue reading “Another Anti-Malaysia sweep on Sunday”

How should Malaysia read the Jakarta “sweep” for its nationals?

Wrote this piece on request for a Malaysian newspaper but they had to hold it for a day and then decided not to run it because relations between Malaysia and Indonesia have “cooled down”. Could never figure out what the roles of the media should be in such times but it’s their right. So, since I had gone to all that trouble of writing it I might as well post it here:

Screen Grab of Metro TV broadcast from

What is Malaysia to make of the roadblock in Jakarta yesterday in which some Indonesian ultra nationalists,

Screen Grab of Metro TV broadcast from

armed with sharpened bamboo poles,  set up a roadblock in Jakarta to look for Malaysians?

On one level, nothing much. Demonstrations like these pop up and disappear in Jakarta all the time without anyone being the wiser who actually organized them, why, what they got out of it or why they stopped as mysteriously as they started. Often such demonstrations have to do with a group wanting to extort money, vent their frustrations or prove a point.

On another level, Malaysia needs to come clean about its concept of what’s Malay because it clashes with the Indonesian concept. Failure to address this would result in future spats and embarrassments as Indonesia accuses Malaysia of “stealing” its songs, culture and traditions.

To Indonesians, Malay is an ethnic group that exists in Riau and a small part of Kalimantan.  They  are an ethnic group, not a race and things “belonging” to the Melayu are dances such as the Tarian Lilin…… The Melayu, in Indonesia, is no different than other ethnic  groups like Sundanese, Batak, Balinese, Dayak, Javanese and Chinese. Each have their own ethnic identity but they are all Indonesians and are equal before the Constitution and the law.

In Malaysia, however, the word Malay is understood differently. Under its Constitution, Malay is defined as a race, or to be more precise an ethno-religious group since you have to be Muslim to be Malay. Under this definition virtually anyone that’s not Chinese, Indian or of any other distinctive ethnic grouping in Malaysia is considered Malay, if they are Muslim.

Hence you have people who are distinctively Indian Muslims (example, Mahathir), Arab Muslims (Hussein Onn) and Sulawesi Muslims (Najib) being considered Malay. From there it is only a small leap of logic to claim that any culture belonging to them also belongs to the Malay race, and hence to Malaysia.

This is not necessarily wrong but it infuriates in the Indonesians, most of whom have been educated from school to recognize and appreciate the diverse cultures that make up the nation of Indonesia. Indonesians are understandably proud of this culture and the nation’s diversity and therefore irritated if they perceive someone as claiming any of that as their own.

Irritation, however, doesn’t explain the anger and even malice that has marked some Indonesian anti-Malaysia actions of late, such as the cyber attack of Malaysian websites on the Malaysian Independence Day on August 31, and the “sweeping” roadblock looking for Malaysians in Jakarta yesterday.

What may help explain these actions, however, is the saying that the basis of all enmity is a feeling of being slighted. Where many Indonesians are concerned they have been constantly slighted as they feel that Malaysia constantly looks down on them as a nation of domestic helpers, construction workers and criminal elements. They feel even more slighted when they read reports of domestic helpers being abused by their Malaysian employers.

To make things worse, their feelings of being slighted are being compounded with a sense of helplessness, largely because their own government seems incapable of looking after their rights and interests.

Thus when Indonesia lost Sipadan to Malaysia, the anger was directed at Malaysia but the nagging feeling was that Indonesia could have done better to fortify its claims and to provide a better argument at The Hague.

Each time a maid was physically abused  by a Malaysian employer, the anger was ostensibly directed at Malaysia but lurking at the back of their minds was the nonchalance and impotence of their own government to protect their rights of its workers abroad.

When Malaysia used songs such as Rasa Sayange and dances such as the Reog Ponorogo and the Pendet dance to promote Malaysian tourism, Indonesians railed against Malaysia but deep down they decry their own government’s inability to promote, market and “own” their own culture more.

What then should Malaysia do to diffuse such situations in the future? There is nothing it can do with how the Indonesian Government does or doesn’t do to take care of the rights of its citizens and to market and protect its cultural heritage, but it can do something about how Malaysians relate to Indonesians.

The first is an honest examination of what constitutes Malaysian and Malay culture. But this would require delving into the very heart of Malayness and it would take a minor miracle of political will to make this happen.

The second is to educate Malaysians, starting from the Tourism Ministry up, the traditions and cultures of its neighbors. If Malaysian producers were more educated in this respect they would not have made the mistake of thinking that the distinctively Balinese Pendet dance was Malaysian.

The third is to realize that the Indonesians think, with some justification, that Malaysians are arrogant and look down on Indonesians. The government from ministers down to those in the front line of interfacing with Indonesians such as immigration officers, need cultural sensitivity training.

They need to be educated that their exposure of Indonesians has largely been conditioned by exposure to the lower strata of society, that Indonesians like people everywhere, have their middle and upper classes that are no different from themselves.

It is only when Malaysia is able to do all these that the friction points with its neighbor will be reduced. Anything less and we’ll be bickering until the cows come home.