Jakarta. Growing radicalism is a worrying issue for many Indonesians. As they say here, the issue is so sensitive that many people are “kebakaran jenggot” (literally, setting their own beards on fire – the local equivalent of the English idiom “getting one’s knickers in a twist”) over it.
To stem radicalism, the government has already published Perppu Ormas, a regulation in lieu of law that can be used to disband anti-Pancasila groups, currently shorthand for radicals.
Not everyone agrees with Perppu Ormas. Some see it as a resurrection of the New Order regime’s haatzaai artikelen, or “rubber rule” – a deliberately vague regulation that can be used to stifle anyone criticizing the government.
Norbertus Riantiarno, better known as Nano, a stage legend and director of Teater Koma, a theater troupe whose performances were frequently banned during Suharto’s New Order (thanks to those haatzaai artikelen), agrees that radicalism in Indonesia needs to be tackled.
But pointing to the bans that were frequently slapped on his plays in the 1980s and 1990s, Nanto gave a stark reminder that everyone needs to be clear on the meaning of the word “radicalism” first.
“Can we call every organization that criticizes the government a radical group? No. You can’t just go banning everyone,” Nano said.
Nano agrees that Perppu Ormas can help the government keep the country united, but only if it is implemented objectively and fairly.
“The Perppu can be used to stop groups being radicalized. We don’t want to see this country destroyed by sectarian conflicts like the Middle East. It’s the people who are going to suffer,” the 68-year-old artist said.
He said art could be the savior that this country needs, to stave off radicalism and prevent the “balkanization” of Indonesia.
Nano said he had seen how revolutionary plays staged in Latin American and Eastern European countries had helped usher in much-needed changes.
“I once saw a play in a South American country and the next day there was revolution on the streets!” he said.
“To me, theater and poetry play an important role to provide lessons for people, so they learn not to repeat the same mistakes in the future,” he added.
Nano said he has a set of ethical codes that all Teater Koma disciples must follow. One of them is believing that theater is the path to happiness.
He said people are happy when their needs are fulfilled. Everyone wants to be happy, but if we can’t get it, problems start to appear. If you get involved in theater, you have to believe that it is one way of trying to attain that happiness. Nano pointed out that people who join religious groups should also believe the same thing.
“I built Teater Koma from the ground up. What was I looking for? Happiness. You can also get happiness from believing in a religion. That’s the only point of believing in anything. When you’re happy, what else are you going to be looking for?” Nano said.
Writing by Diella Yasmine