In his latest novel, 11/22/63, author Stephen King wonders what might have happened had John F. Kennedy been spared assassination at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald and lived to serve out the term or his Presidency. For myself, I wonder why we always use Oswald’s full name. Is there another Lee Oswald we might confuse him with, such that the middle name, Harvey, must always be included? It’s a small point, but a point of interest to me -- of more interest, actually, than the plot of this tedious novel turned out to be.
Nonetheless, the book got me to thinking. What if there had never been a John Kennedy, or anyone like a John Kennedy? What if Kennedy had never existed, and therefore never stepped forward to lead the nation through those critical times during the early 1960s? What would our society be like now had our government and its leadership been devoid of moral integrity, courage, conviction, and a commensurate will to implement the values of the majority? What if Kennedy had bowed to a small though loud fraction of society out of fear of offending, or of losing votes, or of confrontation, the spectre of trouble? What would America look like now?
It would look like Bogor, in Java. It would look like Ambon, Aceh, Sulawesi. In short, it would look like Indonesia.
In Aceh dozens of “punks” were arrested by regular and Shariah police. They had committed no crime, other than the crime of being different. Their heads were shaved, their clothes were confiscated, and the punks were then taken to the Aceh State police school for “re-education.” Re-education? Hmm. Where did we last hear that sort of thing? From Nazi Germany? The Khmer Rouge?
In Java several members of the Ahmadiyah sect, considered heretical by mainstream believers, were murdered by equally heretical extremists. The perpetrators of this crime received prison sentences of 3 to 6 months, while one Ahmadiyah sect member who sought to defend himself received several years. Why was nothing done? Why was justice not served?
Once upon a time in America, and, as fate would fortunately have it, during Kennedy’s presidency, a man named George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, sought to defy the law of the land and the will of the majority, not to mention the direct order of the President, by barring a black student from registering at the University of Alabama. Wallace said that the people of the State of Alabama expected it of him. And in fact, some of them no doubt did. The white ones, anyway. Wallace himself went to the front steps of the University, inspiring a mob to do the same, all for the purpose of upholding a social convention of intolerance and bigotry sewn deep in the Southern soul, and yet foreign, even despicable to the wide majority of Americans.
Sound familiar? Well it should. For here in Bogor, Java we have a mayor who stubbornly refuses to return to the Yasmin Christian church its house of worship -- this despite a Supreme Court decision ordering him to immediately do so. Here we have a mayor, not unlike Governor Wallace, who proudly discounts the will of the majority, not to mention the central tenants of Pacasila behind the Indonesian government, in favour of the loud but few -- those extremist Muslims who gather every Sunday at the Yasmin site to shout slogans, raise fists and tote placards as if they had nothing better to do with their time and energy. It’s ironic, given that Islam shares many of the same beliefs with Christianity -- the belief in Jesus as a great prophet, that he was born of a virgin, that he did great works, performed healings and miracles, and that he was raised to God’s side in heaven, to return one day. Do they even know the foundations of their faith, these people? Or are they victims merely of the same sort of social intolerance and ignorance that afflicted George Wallace and the people of Alabama?
What would Kennedy do? What did he do? Say a few words of general censure? Express a hope that all would turn out well, while privately wringing inactive hands over the prospect of losing votes or offending special interest groups (as Presidents in certain other lands have been known to do)? No, Kennedy upheld the law, took decisive action, insisted on personal and moral integrity, as well as the duty of every elected official to obey the law. In short, he sent a contingent of the United States Army to Alabama, thereby removing Mr. Wallace and his mob from the scene rather than the lone black man. Moreover he set an unmistakeable precedent -- that the only thing deserving of intolerance, be it racial, religious or cultural, is intolerance itself.
The “silent majority” elects officials for one mission only -- to give them a voice. Now it’s high noon in Indonesia, and therefore high time that those governing the country remember the common people who put them in office, and actually do something that is in accordance with the will of their constituents. In other words, stop hiding, stop running, stop procrastinating -- Speak up! And if you cannot obey the laws of your own country, then move aside for someone who can.