Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Samsu and Jihad

When Ramadan came round again I made a point of visiting my former-neighbour, Samsu. Due to the heavy rain we sat in his dark and humid front room. Samsu drank nothing, but I was given a cup of tea.

"Tell me about your new paintings," I said, as I cast my eyes over a picture showing a group of Balinese women. "You seem to have added to your collection."

"They’re only cheap prints. The one you’re looking at is by the Dutchman, Willem Hofker. The girls look both beautiful and noble. It reminds me of a Tiepolo."

"Hofker only painted Balinese?"

"He found that some Moslems didn’t like being painted in a sensuous style, so he stuck with the Hindu Balinese."

"What about the big painting with the wonderful bright colours and the cartoon-like characters?

"That’s Bramantyo. His mother’s Scottish-Australian and his father’s a Javanese noble."

"And the portrait of the young man?"

"That’s by Auk Sonnega, another Dutchman. There’s something of the Art Deco about it. I find it has spiritual qualities. It’s more refined than a Matisse or a Modigliani."

"And the photo of the beautiful beach?"

"That’s East Timor."

"There’s still an awful lot of trouble in East Timor," I said, referring to the territory where a majority of the population was trying to break away from Indonesia. "Are you one of those people who blames foreigners for stirring up rebellion?"

"We should never have taken East Timor. It was never a Dutch colony."

"Why do people blame the Australians?"

"Scapegoats. The rich, right wing, Moslem elite can’t face up to their own mistakes. They blame Christians and the Pope. They can’t see why the Christian people of East Timor are angry with the Javanese."

"Who do you blame?"

"Indonesians are to blame for Indonesia’s problems," said Samsu, frowning. "We’ve been independent since 1949 and we still can’t get our civil servants to work properly."

"Police who have to be paid before they’ll come to investigate a burglary?"

"Soldiers who won’t stop riots because they’re too busy protecting gambling dens or collecting money from certain foreign sources. I went to a government building last week to get a license. It was mid-morning and the top people weren’t at their desks. There were some clerks there but they were sitting gossiping. The boss has more than one government job and he runs several private businesses."

"He must be a rich man."

"He’ll probably use the government cars for his various businesses. He’ll give jobs to his cousins, who probably won’t bother to turn up for work."

"No discipline," I commented. "Didn’t we have a conversation once before in which you blamed the Dutch for keeping the wages of civil servants too low, thus creating the need for bribes. You blamed the cutting down of Indonesia’s trees on the Americans’ need for toilet paper?"

Samsu smiled a great big smile. "I’ll agree that it’s a world-wide problem. Some of the problem is the foreigners. We all need a jihad."

"You’ve become a militant?"

"What the country needs is a jihad to change the minds of the government people. A non-violent jihad. A jihad against corrupt judges and soldiers."

"Make people good Moslems?"

"Honest, educated, tolerant Moslems. They will make this a happy, prosperous country like Switzerland. There’ll be no more manipulation by crooked businessmen or foreign powers. No more need to blame scapegoats."

"In the 19th Century," I volunteered, "Britain was full of riots and starving children. We had people like Florence Nightingale and Lord Shaftesbury struggling to put things right."

"We’ve got people like Y.B. Mangunwijaya, the pastor who fights poverty."

"You need more like him."

"You need someone to do something about your football hooligans," said Samsu with a giggle, "your Northern Irish and your British Broadcasting Corporation."

"What’s wrong with the BBC?" I asked, slightly surprised.

"I keep hoping it will tell us the truth about Indonesia, about the part played by the British in backing Suharto. But it doesn’t happen. I think it doesn’t want to endanger Britain’s trade. When I switch on the World Service, I seem to hear more Jewish voices than Moslem voices."

The rain suddenly stopped and there was a peaceful silence. My teacup was empty. It was time to let Samsu return to his books.