Some time after the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels were bombed last Friday, presidential spokesman Andi Malarangeng conveyed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s concerns on television, and said the President intended to visit the site immediately, but since it was “Friday, and almost prayer time”, the visit would be postponed until after the prayers.

The visit was eventually postponed to the next day, due to “security considerations”, as stated by President Yudhoyono himself in his televised press conference.

I am not talking religion here, I am just doing a little introspection: what would I do in a similar situation? What if someone I loved was staying in one of the hotels?

All considerations aside, I would have rushed to the site. I would not need any scriptural sanction to prompt me to leave my prayers and do so. My answer is not hypothetical, but based on a personal experience in a not too distant past.

We have made a serious blunder by defining ritual as religion, and prioritizing it over the performance of our duties.

Rituals are means of awakening the spirit of religiosity within us, not the end of religion. By becoming ritualistic, I do not necessarily become religious. Hands that help are better than lips that pray.

I can worship while working, and pray while performing my duties not only toward my immediate family, but also toward my country, my nation and the world family.

Indeed, I can perform my duties in the spirit of devotion and prayerfulness. Duty and devotion, worship and the world, prayer and performance of duties – all these can go together. Religion must be freed from its long confinement to manmade closets, and brought to the marketplace.

Still on the same Friday evening, a young newsreader on television kept mispronouncing “Syailendra”, the name of a restaurant at the Marriott. “Syailendra” is not French. Mispronouncing “Syailendra”, one of the great dynasties of the archipelago, proves how little respect and regard we have for our history and culture.

For the young newsreader, perhaps the mandala of Borobudur means nothing. Perhaps he is one of those who still mistakenly refers to Borobudur as a temple or candi, and does not understand the meaning of mandala.

One may brush this off as something of very little significance. It is not. A nation that has a little regard for its cultural values, heritage and past history is a nation without roots. Such a nation has no self-identity. And this is the case with us today. We are happier and more comfortable with an imported identity, be it Arab, Indian, Western or Chinese, than with our own identity.

The suicide bombers, terrorists, radicals and extremists in our country suffer from an identity crisis. And our education system is responsible for this. What we need today is a “universal religious values-based” education system, and not a “religious rituals-based” one. Our history books must be rewritten to make our children proud of their culture and at least 5,000 years of history.

We have to rebuild our nation upon the solid ground of our ancient heritage, indigenous wisdom and cultural and spiritual values. We honor the wisdom and the values of other cultures.

We can learn from them. But we have no reason whatsoever to build upon such imported values.

Still glued to the television, I watched with disgust and dismay the first amateur video recording to be broadcast. It was very hurting to see “our people” busy taking pictures rather than rushing the victims to the hospital. Perhaps the pictures shown were those of PT Holcim Indonesia president director Timothy David Mackay, who died in the hospital, or of one of the survivors.

I would like to believe it was not Mackay. I would like to believe the person on the video survived. But what if he was Mackay? How hurtful it must have been to those who knew him?

As if that was not enough, one of the TV stations invited the two who filmed it. It was very surprising to see them giggle so many times throughout the few minutes they were on the “show”.

They were commoners like me, rakyat jelata in Indonesian. But they were not alone. In the evening, when a minister appeared on TV, he had even more giggles. The state official claimed to have good relations with the secretary-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and was rather pleased to share with the viewers that the bombing would not “so much” affect the industry and the economy at home.

Where is our sense of empathy? I am sorry. I apologize for my inability to be a good host to foreigners living in my country. I am sorry I could still find time to say my prayers before rushing to the scene or to the hospital where the wounded were being treated. I realize now that I was being insensitive to the cries and tears of the bereaved family members of the deceased and the injured victims in the hospital.

I apologize for finding it more important to take pictures, rather than help Holcim’s Timothy Mackay. Indirectly, or directly, I stand responsible for his death. I am sorry for sharing those pictures on television amid giggles.

I am sorry for allowing our children to be brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers. I apologize for not being vigilant enough toward people spreading hatred in the name of religion and education.

I also apologize for my unwise remarks, finding scapegoats for the incident, rather than blaming my own incapability in securing my neighborhood. I now realize this incident was very carefully planned, and perhaps for months. I can see a clear pattern connecting this with similar attacks in the past.

Anand Krishna ,  Jakarta   |  Tue, 07/21/2009 2:28 PM  |  Opinion
The writer is a spiritual activist and author of more than 120 books.


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