Understanding anti-Malaysianism in Indonesia

— Farish A. Noor
The Malaysian Insider
Oct 14, 2011

OCT 14 — And so, as it happens time and again, there appears to be yet another diplomatic spat looming over the horizon between Malaysia and Indonesia. The cause of it, this time round, is a dispute over border-land markers somewhere in East Malaysia/Kalimantan that appear to have been moved by persons yet unknown and unidentified. Some Indonesian legislators have called for an investigation, while others have tried to ease tension by saying that spurious accusations without proof are useless at this stage.

I will not comment on the exact circumstances and details of this dispute, for I am frankly in the dark about what really happened — along with millions of other Malaysians and Indonesians. Thus far according to some accounts it has been suggested that some of the border-markers may even have been moved by Indonesians themselves, who seem to think it would be better to live in Malaysia. Should that be the case, however odd and unlikely, it would still be a legal matter that has to be investigated before any resolution can come.

My concern here has less to do with this singular issue, but rather the wider picture of Malaysia-Indonesia relations and the internal politics of both countries.

The Malaysian press has highlighted that the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta has once again been surrounded by angry members of the infamous Laskar Merah-Putih, right wing preman (gangster) types who seem to have nothing better to do than to threaten to ‘sweep’ the streets of Malaysians. These are the same Laskars who, last year, threatened to seek out and sweep Malaysian tourists in Jakarta, and whose exploits include throwing rubbish and even faeces at the Malaysian embassy compound. Needless to say such pyrotechnics do little to cool tempers, and we will recall that during a similar dispute last year the Malaysian flag was also trampled upon, spat on, torn and burned. The result was as expected, with Malaysians suddenly becoming united in a show of trumpeted patriotism and jingoism, befitting a bad slapstick comedy.

So while this latest episode meanders on at its own slow pace (to be forgotten, for sure, like all other episodes in the past), allow me to interject with some points that I think need to be borne in mind by my fellow Malaysians and Indonesians alike:

Firstly, let us remind ourselves that this is yet another political event, and like all political events it is hostage to realpolitik and political calculations and interests. It is almost a truism by now that whenever the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia are at some crisis point, they seek out external bogeymen — real and imagined — to project their own insecurities. Yes, Indonesian politicians seem to use Malaysia as a punching bag all the time, but should Malaysians be surprised by this? How many times have Malaysian politicians done the same, hitting out at the so-called ‘evil West’ (America, Australia, UK and the rest of Europe minus Monaco)? We should all be familiar with this by now, and realise that much of this is just chest-thumping and grandstanding, nothing more. Malaysian leaders have also condemned the West tirelessly, but aren’t America, UK, Australia and Europe among our most important trading allies?

Secondly, the fact that a few Indonesian politicians seem to be in a Malaysia-hating mood at the moment does not mean that all Indonesian politicians agree with them. Credit must be given to level-headed Indonesian statesmen like Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa who has called upon other politicians to get to the facts of the matter, and not play to the gallery or their rowdy followers. In the same way that one Abu Bakar Ba’asyir does not and should not be equated with the entire Muslim community, likewise a handful of hoodlums under the banner of the Laskar Merah Putih must not be seen as the public face of all Indonesia and Indonesians.

Thirdly, let us look at some real facts and figures: Malaysians and Indonesians remain the closest relatives in the wider Asean family till today. For a start millions of Malaysians (this writer included) happen to be of Indonesian origin; and we have never abandoned our friends in Indonesia next door. Look at the number of Malaysian tourists going to Indonesia and spending money there: At the peak of religious violence in 2001-2004, in the wake of the Tsunami of 2004, and even at times when Indonesia was put on ‘terror alert’ by Western agencies, Malaysian tourists and students continue to go to Indonesia because we love the country as much as our own. Others may have abandoned Indonesia when it was deemed unsafe for foreigners, but never Malaysians. The Malaysian ringgit has been instrumental in keeping up Indonesia’s tourist industry, and Malaysians in turn bring back with them happy memories, friendships and learning experiences that have enriched them too.

Fourthly, lets look at some more figures: Despite the threats of ‘sweeping Malaysians’, beating up Malaysian students, burning the Malaysian flag, etc., exactly how many Malaysians have been attacked, beaten up, abused by these right-wing groups? The figure, I believe, is zero. There are tens of thousands of Malaysians who live, work, do business and study in Indonesia. There are also thousands of Indonesians and Malaysians who happen to be married and who have mixed Indonesian-Malaysian families where the children enjoy the best of both worlds. Yet not a single Malaysian student or tourist in Indonesia has been violently attacked or killed by any of these so-called nationalist ‘mobs’. No Malaysians have been bombed or murdered. Which underscores my point that one must see beyond the rhetoric of a small number of vocal nationalists and understand the complexity of Indonesian society.

In the final analysis, Indonesia and Malaysia have a unique relationship that neither country has with any other country in Asean: We joke together, laugh together and at times even insult and abuse each other.

But consider this: How many Malaysians joke about Thailand? Or Cambodia?

And how many Indonesians joke about Laos? Or Burma?

We don’t, for the simple reason that in the subjective and relative gradations of familiarity and difference, we — Malaysians and Indonesians — know that we are infinitely much closer to each other than the rest. And talk about who is the ‘elder brother’ and the ‘younger brother’ in this relationship is equally silly and non-productive. The fact is that Indonesia and Malaysia are twins, separated at birth perhaps.

So back to the current brouhaha over the border markers in East Malaysia and Kalimantan. One hopes that in the days and weeks ahead cooler tempers on both sides will prevail and that the issue will not be played up by either side just as an expedient means to exteriorise local, domestic problems that need to be addressed anyway. I personally have little faith in some of our politicians (on both sides), for we have seen how some of them are prone to hysterics and hyperbole when they think that it might win them a vote or two.

But my faith lies elsewhere, and it is in the peoples of Malaysia and Indonesia themselves, who have shown time and again that despite the cupidity and unscrupulousness of some of our politicians, we are still more level-headed, human and humane, then those whom we have elected to high office.

As a Malaysian of distant Indonesian origins myself, I long instead to see the day when the political and ideological boundaries between the two countries will be overcome by a higher humane spirit that transcends the narrow parochialism of cheap, crass politics. May that day come sooner than later, and in the meantime, let us keep visiting, joking, shopping, loving and courting one another!

* Dr Farish Noor is a Senior Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

  1. #1 by Taxidriver on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 2:20 am

    These Laskars think we are a small country and the can use the laws of the jungle to intimidate us. Perhaps they are not aware that we have acquired 2 Scorpene submarines with one more yet to be delivered to defend our territorial soverignty. Our multinational army of Malays, Arabs, Indonesians, Yemenians, Chinese, Indians, Dayaks together with our second line of defence comprising of Perkasa members, UNMO youths and 50 thousand silat exponents are capable of defending Malaysia at whatever cost even if it means dead and crushed bodies running into tens of thousands. Surrounding our Embassy in Jakarta and hurling faeces inside the compound warrants retaliation in similar fashion. Hoi, UNMO Youths, Perkasa and Silat Exponents, where are you???

  2. #2 by monsterball on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 3:30 am

    Always remember….Indonesia has 250 million population.the biggest Muslim country in the world…and yet for decades UMNO and UMNO b keep belittling Indonesia and act big.
    Naturally…when clean leaders are being corrupted by Mahathir…how to rule forever…using MONEY…there will always be split opinions.
    Mahathir is the Devil in Muslim world.

  3. #3 by HJ Angus on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 6:30 am

    monsterball :

    Naturally…when clean leaders are being corrupted by Mahathir…how to rule forever…using MONEY…there will always be split opinions.
    Mahathir is the Devil in Muslim world.

    And he comes from a different part of the world!

  4. #4 by chengho on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 6:35 am

    monsterball getting insane…

  5. #5 by monsterball on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 6:58 am

    My comment must have hurt chengho like hell…..exposing his hero ….hahahahaha

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 7:02 am

    ///Yes, Indonesian politicians seem to use Malaysia as a punching bag all the time…..///

    But, don’t forget that Malaysian politicians also use Singapore as a punching bag all the time!

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 8:28 am

    Politics is about winning voters’ hearts and minds. Where masses are not that educated, the emphasis is more on the heart than the mind. Scare the sh*t out of them, whether its about race, religion, culture, language, national sovereignty or territory under threat and one immediately has a constituency to further one’s political ambitions. This is nothing new in conjuring some convenient (foreign) bogeyman that people can easily identify, feel threatened and blame and get their emotions worked up to a frenzy. This has been repeatedly done over the course of human political history: only difference is the context and the bogeyman chosen. We are often Indonesian politicians’ bogeyman; Singapore is sometimes ours (remember sale of sand is giving away a piece of Malaysian territory) – for the more matured electorate in (say) US, its Osama bin Ladin, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Kaddafi!

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 8:50 am

    Malaysia is convenient bogeyman in Indonesian domestic political competitions for a couple reasons. The first is historical, Sukarno’s “Ganyang Malaysia” or “Destroy Malaysia” 48 yrs ago. The second, is sharing of common territorial and maritime boundaries (eg present dispute on borders markers and previous dispute over Sipadan and Ligitan islands. The third is common cultural/ethnic background that provides context to compare and compete against the backdrop of perceived power differential as assumed by perceived size of country/population (which is actually not that accurate a measurement in case of (say) S’pore or Israel in terms of actual military prowess). The bigger has a tendency to bully the smaller when its politician aspires that he and his country ought by power and size have greater dominant say of the affairs of the region or if under siege from internal dissidents or oppositionist he needs to galvanise mass support by painting the country’s pride or sovereignty in threat or slight by outsiders. The fourth is the proximity & frequent interactions between the two peoples which afford innumerable opportunities and excuses for friction: for eg deportation of Indonesian illegal workers, treatment of their maids, and in one case even allegedly of their beauty queen by one of our royalties, and in the case of their being bombed, a Malaysian-born mastermind (allegedly) Noordin Mohammad Top!

  9. #9 by dagen on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 9:17 am

    Border markers moved? Ask EC. Just a theory. Well my theory. And were moved deep into indon land so that more indons could be registered to vote for umno in GE13. Given the sort of stupid brainless idiotic things they are capable of, I wont put this pass umno. Look at money politics. Its illegal. So what? Just legalise it. Include it in the budget. Get parliament to approve it and then gazzette it as law in the form of wot? Finance Act 2012.

  10. #10 by monsterball on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 10:38 am

    Now Cambodia ban workers to Malaysia.
    Is it anti Malaysia or anti UMNO b Govt…..chengho?

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 11:45 am

    Ya, man, dis is d best time 4 our neighbor 2 start Konfrontasi II, more efektif dis time round cos there r so many agents n sleepers in M’sia – almost every household there is an agent who can easily knock out d household through d food dat d agent cooks n serves
    Dis applies 2 those who live in Putrajaya n after d konquest, who knows Toyol’s Balinese palace may b d REAL palace n he d paramount RULER of d latest colony of his fatherland

  12. #12 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 1:21 pm

    Based on the territorial boundary drawn by Van Doorn’s Samba Borneo map of 1906 & 1824 London Treaty between the former colonial rulers Netherlands and Britain, Tanjung Datu and Camar Bulan belong to Indonesia. It appears that there’s a latter 1978 treaty between 2 countries by which 3.3 km of land was recessed into the Indonesian West Kalimantan side causing Indonesia to ‘lose’ & Malaysia to gain some 1400 hectares as part of Tanjung Datu national park in Sarawak. What Indonesian House of Representatives’ (DPR) Defense and Foreign Commission deputy, T.B. Hasanuddin alleged on Oct 10 is interesting. He made two claims: (1) apparently border marker stones there have been repositioned/recessed (2) “I received intelligence information that the Malaysian police patrol entered the area which they claim belongs to Malaysia”, he said.

  13. #13 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 1:22 pm

    What needs to be resolved is firstly whether the border marker stones, allegedly changed (whether by natural forces or mischief makers having interest in logging ), if true, now mark the boundaries based on1978 treaty or a further change from it. There’s nothing a joint survey by both cannot settle regarding boundary if they agree on which map or treaty to take reference. The issue is whether both sides agree boundaries are based on Van Doorn’s Samba Borneo map or the 1978 treaty. If we say the treaty is more binding than Van Doorn’s mere map and Indonesia’s armed forces TNI already declared that they were ready to guard and defend the border separating Kalimantan from Sabah and Sarawak based on Van Doorn’s Samba Borneo map, then there could be a problem . It is also interesting how our ruling politicians will play up this issue and try galvanise nationalistic fervour for the 13th GE purpose.

  14. #14 by boh-liao on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 5:02 pm

    True, NR n UmnoB/BN may C dis as a God-sent opportunity 2 call 4 GE n they hope dat with an external threat, rakyat may vote overwhelmingly 4 UmnoB/BN again, like b4

  15. #15 by boh-liao on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 5:10 pm

    Of cos, now, mooooo told rakyat 2day 2 b grateful 2 d UmnoB/BN gomen; whao lou, grateful 4 d mess n corruption created by UmnoB/BN! Fu lat man, moo no know ABU

  16. #16 by Loh on Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 6:25 pm

    ///The Malaysian press has highlighted that the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta has once again been surrounded by angry members of the infamous Laskar Merah-Putih, right wing preman (gangster) types who seem to have nothing better to do than to threaten to ‘sweep’ the streets of Malaysians. ///–FAN

    They do it to foreigners, which shows that they were patriotic. But in Malaysia Perkasa only fights fellow Malaysians and the one UMNO Youth Chief in 1987 threatened to soak keris in Chinese blood. Of course he did not specify whether that related to the blood of people in a country of 1,300 million, or just the discriminated lot in Malaysia.

  17. #17 by Jong on Sunday, 16 October 2011 - 12:40 am

    Main Hantu/Demons again!
    Go on find faults with our neighbours; hasn’t it always been that way whenever an election is around the corner, Indonesia and Singapore is pitted for distraction away from the mess umno has created?

    What about Indon-Msia border? Nothing so new and alarming is it when it’s no big secret Indons cross our borders everyday? So our lepak Chief of Armed Forces not in the know? …or too busy occupying himself in politics?

  18. #18 by boh-liao on Sunday, 16 October 2011 - 11:46 am

    With an external threat and a common enemy looming in sight, which may stir up patriotic spirits of rakyat n galvanise rakyat behind UmnoB/BN gomen, boh hud now gets his hud replanted n boasted in Pg dat he will lead d charge of d light brigade against LGE @ GROUND ZERO in d next GE
    He looks forward 2 leading G’kan winning at least 10 seats in Pg

    Like Winston Churchill’s “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

    It’s best too he remembers Winston Churchill’s “A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

  19. #19 by Loh on Sunday, 16 October 2011 - 12:43 pm

    Ground Zero? Komstar is still standing. How to find ground zero?

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