Jakarta. Three local and international scholars who have devoted their lives to literature and social issues spoke during the fourth iteration of the Asean Literary Festival on Aug. 5 in Jakarta.
The Asean Literary Festival is a cultural event that aims to promote Southeast Asian authors and journals. The festival also emphasizes the importance of literature for people of all ages as a way to foster faith in the written word’s ability to enact change.
This year, the festival invited volunteers and renowned literary figures in the region to encourage hundreds of schoolchildren to write and get acquainted with local and international literature through seminars, interactive workshops and competitions.
A discussion session, called “Populism and Radicalism,” attended by Australian writer Michael Vatikiotis, Mizan Group president Haidar Bagir and Malaysian lecturer Azhar Ibrahim, was held in the Tjipta Niaga building in the capital.
Haidar, speaking on religious radicalism in the country, said curbing extremist views can succeed by encouraging youth to read more often.
“The simplest way to mitigate radicalism is to enjoy artwork. I believe that artwork can soften the soul and create the nature of anti-radicalism,” he said.
However, Haidar said there is not enough literature about radicalism and the threats it poses in Indonesia.
“Young generations face great challenges when it comes to tackling radicalism. In Indonesia, school has become a burden and art subjects are not appealing to students. In fact, the least favorite subject at schools is Indonesian.
“Actually, if we are creative and innovative, there are a lot of ways we can promote local literature through film or novels. Publishers also have to be more creative in engaging into visual aspects,” Haidar said.
“A great example can be seen in Jostein Gaarder’s novel, called ‘Sophie’s World.’ Teens can learn philosophy through an interesting novel so they won’t get bored easily. This is an important thing that we [schools] should implement in our educational systems.
“When people like to read literature, they won’t be interested in the idea of radicalism.
“As I said, reading literature pieces can soften the soul. If they already instilled that mindset, we can hope that they can be the agents to fight radicalism by promoting peace, tenderness and tolerance to the people in their community.”
Besides literatures, Haidar said education is crucial in preventing radicalism from spreading further.
“I don’t have data or statistics with me right now, but I dare to say that school is the main source of radicalism in Indonesia. When I grew up, there weren’t a lot of Islamic teacher recruits yet, so Islamic teaching was channeled through Islamic organizations [Rohis] at mosques, schools and universities.
“To tackle this challenge, the government is now beginning to try to take action by creating a religious educational curriculum that can be directed to a more refined attitude of peace and tolerance.
“Younger generations spend most of their lives in school, so teachers must raise further debates in religious education, promoting the high value of critical education in schools and teaching their students about the importance of human rights,” he added.
In addition, Haidar emphasized that parents should get involved in their children’s education.
“Like teachers, parents also play an important role in ensuring their children’s schools are not a place that spreads radicalism.
“Young generations are vulnerable to new ideas and values. Therefore, parents should make sure that their children are on the right path,” he added.
Haidar also encouraged young generations to voice their concerns on social issues through literary works, like essays, books and novels.
“We need more literature about radicalism and other social issues so people can get more access to that information. Young people today are more creative and smarter than my generation. Therefore, we need to recognize their abilities so they can continue to flourish.”
The Asean Literary Festival wrapped up on Aug. 6 with a number of workshops and seminars on feminism, travel stories, politics and society.
Writing by Lisa Siregar