I enjoy reading lists of things that people feel have been useful for them. So today’s blog post is a list of things that I found this week that has made my life better.Read More...
I ran my first half marathon.Read More...
The trees were full of flowers all over the ends of their branches – as if they were blooming. Each flower had soft petals. The trees that lined up next the to garden’s path had petals that formed layers of soft fuchsia. I thought they were cherry blossoms, but they were prunes. Some had four white petals for each flower. These had a funny name: dogwood.
The leaves of the Ginkgo Biloba trees were light green and had tiny dangling curls, also the same colour. I thought ginkgo was a root like ginger, because people market it as herbal remedy for stamina and memory enhancer. But it was a tall wood tree, like an oak.
There was the occasional red Japanese maple tree. The leaves had red triangles, like the Canadian flag. It was the colour of an arid ground just after a shower. When the light falls on it, the leaves becomes almost translucent.
I took the subway from Chelsea to the Bronx to visit the New York Botanical Garden. I read that New Yorkers complain about the subway. Coming from Jakarta, I find them convenient, and also cooling. The air inside the subway is cold. Taking the subway is romantic – for me, a quintessential New York experience.
I arrived in New York from Jakarta, via Houston and Boston. Before Houston, I had to stop in Tokyo and Dallas. I was stopped in Dallas and had to go a special security screening. Before leaving for the US, I had been worried that something like this will happen.
I had been racially profiled in the US when I was there four years ago. I found out that I had been profiled months after, when I was already back in Jakarta. I read an article about racial profiling at department stores in a feature article (either in the New Yorker or New York Times) and what happened to the people in the story was similar to what happened to me. I was oblivious at the time when it happened. Finding out that you had been racially profiles a couple of months after the event is still unsettling. My ignorance saved the rest of my stay that winter.
But this knowledge now made me worry that something bad like that might happen again. Perhaps I worry myself to much that it came true. The airport security officers at Dallas airport placed me in a corner, fenced with elastic bands, like a cow in a coop. A South Korean guy was placed in my coop too and we waited twenty minutes before they took us to the next security gate. Two women did a full body search on me by patting me on the legs, stomach, chest and arms. Then two old white men began taking out the contents of my bag. My laptop, my bag of cables, my toiletries. Lucky, I packed neat. They ignored me and talked to each other most of the time. They discussed about how best to swab the contents of my bag. They had a small paper that they swiped in every thing on my bag and put the paper into a machine which reads the chemical contents that are picked up by the paper. They looked for explosive materials. They took their time. And one by one the paper didn’t detect anything, until they swiped my toiletry bag. The paper beeped. I had to wait for another 15 mins, because these guys, didn’t know what to do. The guy who came later cleared me and let me go. But it was too late. My flight had left and I had to wait two more hours to take the next flight.
There was a conference about journalism in Asia in Houston. Historian and journalist Janet Steele gave the keynote speech. I loved that I was in a panel with the co-founders of the feminist online magazine Magdalene, and that my panel was all women. Another panelist is a reporter based in Washington for a Chinese TV station. We spoke about how culture affected reporting in Asia. The convenor, Moniza Waheed is a lovely Malaysian who did a really good job as moderator for both my panel and the one with academics, which talked about how the changes in journalism has affected the curriculum and teaching process in the class.
I stayed in a nice hotel across the Museum of Fine Arts that has a free shuttle. When I hear shuttle I think about a van. But at Zaza hotel, it was a black shiny SUV with two long horns on the front hood of the car.
I visited a butterfly garden at the Museum of Natural History in Houston. The air was warm and humid like a nice day in Bogor. Ferns, orchids, ephyphetes, palm, different kinds of strangling leaves were in the green house. And gossamer wings, red, black, white, blue fly above and around you.
I went to other museums too in Houston. My favorite was the museum of fine arts. I saw a 3,000-year-old Aztec carpet that had embroidery of 90 deities eating the head of humans. There was a large section of Indonesian gold that showed jewelry from everywhere from Nias, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, Flores. The European masters Mattise, Soutine, Braque, Picasso. But down in the lower ground, the photography of Raghubir Singh took me away. He took colorful pictures of India, capturing the daily lives of the people in South Asia. Five mustachiod men sat on the sandy ground with pink popsicles in their mouths. Masculine and fragile at the same time. My heart hurt for them. I googled Singh after my museum trip and while there were rave reviews of his exhibition that I saw, I found an article that a group of artists staged a #MeToo protest at his exhibition in New York. An artist said he assaulted her.
After Houston, I flew to Boston. Mikey picked me up with his girlfriend’s car. I slept in their guest bedroom. I didn’t want to be alone in a shitty hotel room in Boston. I was happy to be around friends. Katie is a speech therapist and Mikey now works full time as a teacher. They lived in a nice cosy house with a small backyard with rabbits as pests.
I did a lot of things in Boston: watched a documentary about native Americans trying to deal with the truth about their kids being taken away from their families and weren’t allowed to speak their language. Had drinks and dinners. Met with John Tirman and Ethan Zuckerman. Hung out and worked at TC Boston office.
But New York was my favorite place to be. In Boston, I felt a tinge of homesickness. I missed Jakarta. I felt this when walking from Harvard Square to Magoon Square at Somerville to catch up with Damian. The streets were empty and rows of New England style houses – wooden planks as walls, pointy rooftops – were standing next to New England style trees. The type that turns golden and red in the fall. It was idyllic. Yet, I was uncomfortable with that contrast to Jakarta.
New York is alive and pulsing. The brick colors of the zigurat style buildings with the light green leaf buds of spring, and the array of people walking on the streets were energising. It has tall buildings and lots of people like Jakarta. But better weather and better foot paths to walk on. And a subway, which people in NY complain about, but for me it’s luxury.
I hear a lot of bad stuff about New York. The way people interact socially and use status as currency is sickening. I perhaps wouldn’t love it if I was lonely and without friends or anything to do. But last weekend, it was my paradise.
A lot of things happened in my life and our world in the past five years. I was working on the launch of The Conversation Indonesia.Read More...
Every Friday afternoon, Mas Pratomo, 83, sips tea at Fay Da Bakery on Justice Avenue, in Elmhurst, Queens, and catches up with fellow Indonesians. He never forgets to list the day’s attendees in his journal.
Having left his home country four decades ago, the teatime ritual is his way of connecting with his roots, as he and friends converse in their native Indonesian.
On a recent Friday, the conversation turned to “The Act of Killing,” the recent documentary film about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide.
The film, released last year, features two notorious figures in the mass killings discussing and even re-enacting some of their actions in the anti-Communist purge. The killers’ boastfulness has shocked some viewers, and the film has brought new attention to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of suspected Communists across the archipelago nation in Southeast Asia.
But in Indonesia, where the anti-Communist campaign remains a sensitive subject, defended by some powerful figures, the film was not widely seen or embraced. And in New York’s small but growing Indonesian enclave in Elmhurst, word of the film has spread slowly.
Many of the estimated 7,000 Indonesians living in the city came to the United States hoping to make a new life here after the bloodshed of 1965 or the upheavals of the late 1990s.
For Mr. Pratomo, the film awakened him to the brutality of the killers and the scale of the massacre. “I was appalled when I found out about the truth,” he said.
At the time of the anti-Communist campaign, he was living in the capital, Jakarta, while much of the bloodshed was carried out in small towns of East Java, on the Hindu island of Bali, and in North Sumatra, where the film is set.
A year later, in 1966, he encountered a hint of the violence. An architect, he went to Bali to manage a hotel project. But he could not find workers, he recalled. In hushed conversations, he was told that all of them had been killed.
It was a fearful time in Indonesia. Government propaganda had demonized the Communists, who were alleged to have staged a coup. Many Indonesians accepted the government line or were too scared to challenge it.
Mr. Pratomo left for New York a year later and he had put that era behind him, he said, until friends told him about “The Act of Killing.” He watched it on Netflix with his wife.
“How could it come to this — murdering people as if it were a feast?” he said.
For some among his generation, the film evoked difficult memories about the years leading up to Suharto’s rule. For some younger Indonesians who have come to New York, the film has been an eye-opening window on a period still shrouded by fear and trauma.
Among those living here, word of the film has spread slowly. Many Indonesian immigrants working busy blue-collar jobs have little time for films.
At Grace Indonesia Baptist Church in Woodside, Queens, none of the congregation members at a recent prayer meeting had heard of the film, except for the church’s leader, the Rev. Sutoyo Sigar, 65, who was a witness to the bloodshed.
The two-year-old church is one of the 32 Indonesian churches that have sprung up in New York in the past decade, partly to accommodate the influx of Chinese Indonesian immigrants that followed the upheaval in the late 1990s.
Anastasia Dewi Tjahjadi, 45, owner of Java Village, an Indonesian restaurant on Justice Avenue, was not aware of the genocide. “I heard from my parents that a lot of our relatives returned to China at that time, but we didn’t talk much about it,” she said.
Curious after hearing about the film, she played it a couple of days later on her restaurant’s big-screen TV. But she found herself struggling to watch it while attending her restaurant, she said.
Mr. Pratomo said the film had helped him realize how much his homeland was scarred by the events of 1965, and he hopes it spurs a search for the truth and justice.
“There should be a tribunal, there should be reconciliation, there should be an apology,” he said. “And the apology should be accepted and everyone can continue to live together side by side.”
MARCH 27, 2014
THE LIGHTS went off for the “The Act of Killing” when it lost the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature to a feel-good tribute to struggling backup singers.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that with the dimming of publicity surrounding the documentary feature on death-squad leaders re-enacting their crimes in Indonesia’s anti-communist purge of 1965, the memory of victims and survivors would also fade. The murder of nearly a million people with the backing of the CIA had been ignored for 50 years until “The Act of Killing” shocked viewers with the open boastfulness of the killers. To its credit, Hollywood has boosted the profile of the film, and the bloodletting, in a way that no previous reports or studies on the massacre have achieved. But now that the curtains are drawn, will the film share the same fate as its disturbing subject matter?
The families of victims are still around and cry for justice. The Indonesian government justifies the massacre on national security grounds and has refused demands for a criminal inquiry. It sat on its hands last year when a group called Anti-Communist Forum of Indonesia attacked and threatened to kill survivors gathering for a discussion. And just last month its armed forces broke off a discussion on Tan Malaka, Indonesia’s former communist leader.
Anwar Congo, the main character in “The Act of Killing,” grew up selling black-market cinema tickets. Later, he acted out his deeds with the image of John Wayne in mind, playing the good guy fighting the communist villains. One reason that motivated Anwar was that the Indonesian communists hated American movies. By focusing on the killers who identify themselves with the cowboys of the West, Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of “The Act of Killing,” held a mirror to Americans suggesting that they may have more in common with the perpetrators than most like to think. What the film viewers saw was ugly, but it also shows the different paths the killers took to live with their guilt. At the end of the film, we see no redemption for Anwar Congo. As he slowly comes to realize that he’d done something terrible, his retching body does not give him release.
Oppenheimer and his fearless Indonesian crew dream bigger than the Oscar: They aim to bring justice for the survivors. As retaliation for an alleged communist coup, the Indonesian army, operating with the help of civilian death-squads, extinguished nearly the entire Indonesian left in a period of six months. They slaughtered union members, teachers, journalists, leftist artists, ethnic Chinese, and nearly all members of the communist party. The speed and scale of the killings are comparable to the worst recorded cases in modern history — six million Jews killed in eight years in German-occupied Europe and two million Khmers in Cambodia in four. But while the Nazis and Khmer Rouge have been defeated, and their atrocities universally condemned, the perpetrators of the Indonesian massacre have won and the Western world cheered on the bloodshed.
In a number of public screenings I attended — whether at Harvard or Columbia, an independent cinema in Brooklyn or at the Library of Congress — there was a sense of confusion and helplessness among the audience. They would often ask the director “but what can we do?” Oppenheimer would say they needn’t look as far as Indonesia for the answer but at their own neighborhood.
It’s no longer a secret that the West encouraged and supported the actions of the Indonesian army. The United States — at war in nearby Vietnam at that time — provided a list of people to be targeted for the Indonesian army and also equipment for their operations. At the height of the Cold War, America openly celebrated the annihilation of Indonesia’s Communist Party, the third-largest after the Soviet Union and China, over a mountain of corpses.
The word amok has passed into international vocabulary from the Indonesian amuk, describing a state of murderous frenzy. Perhaps Western intelligentsia could learn more about the real-life background behind the grammar. The lasting experience of amok is not over till we break the silence following the horror.
Joshua Oppenheimer has called for the United States to break the silence and admit the role it played in the massacre. At least one senator, Tom Udall of New Mexico, heard his call and raised the possibility of releasing a “Sense of the Senate” resolution on the issue. While this might be a glimmer of hope for survivors to get the recognition they deserve, American citizens could take advantage of this gesture and call on their senators to ensure the United States discloses its involvement and finally comes clean.
“The Act of Killing” is a re-enactment of a nation’s collective memory, a killer slowly comes to grip with the moral wrong of torturing and murdering hundreds of people. Neither Indonesia nor the United States has faced the truth so far. How long can we ignore what we know in our deepest hearts until we damage ourselves to a point of no redemption?
Prodita Sabarini, an Indonesian journalist, is the 2013-14 IWMF/Elizabeth Neuffer fellow.
Published in The Boston Globe | MARCH 29, 2014
Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and philosopher, was a vocal advocate for formerly occupied East Timor (now Timor Leste) and continues to be a proponent of the Papuan struggle for self-determination. He spoke recently with The Jakarta Post’s contributor Prodita Sabarini in his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US, on the impact of US foreign policy on Indonesia and how Southeast-Asian countries should be more independent.
Question: What do you think are the main factors enabling impunity on cases of abuses such as in the 1965 communist killings, the war crimes in East Timor and continuing human rights violations in Papua?
Answer: There’s a very simple reason for it. The US supported it all, every one of them. The US was ecstatic in 1965. In fact, the support was so overwhelming that it was just public. The New York Times and other journals were euphoric about it. They didn’t suppress it. They described the massacre as wonderful. Same in Britain. Same in Australia.
What happened in East Timor was because the US and its allies supported it for 25 years. West Papua is the same. As long as the US primarily and its allies as well — the Western powers — support atrocities, they are carried out with impunity, just like their own atrocities are. I mean, the Vietnam War was the worst atrocity in the post-World War II period but nobody’s [found] guilty for it.
Indonesia’s election is just around the corner. How do you see the potential shift from the desire for more political freedom to a return to the old powers in Indonesia?
Same as everywhere else, the powerful win. I mean the overthrow of the dictatorship in Indonesia was important. Part of the reason [for the overthrow] was Soeharto not carrying out roles that the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the US demanded. And in fact, Madeline Albright, the [then] secretary of state at one point said that the US was dissatisfied with what Indonesia was doing and they ought to think about real change. About four hours later, Soeharto resigned. I don’t know if there was a causal connection but it was awfully suggestive. It is the great powers who decide. Mainly, the US in recent years decides what happens.
What can citizens do to guide where their country’s heading, given these external forces?
Well it’s not hopeless. In fact there are changes. Striking ones. Take Latin America. Ever since the beginning, for 500 years Latin America has been under control of Western imperial power. But now, South America is pretty much liberated. Just in the last 10 years, the changes are enormous.
When the spying scandal broke, Brazil was by far the most outspoken opponent. And in general, Latin America has witnessed a stark change. They’ve pretty much freed themselves, not totally, but largely from imperial control.
There’s recently a study of rendition of which country cooperated: all of Europe — Sweden, France, England, Ireland — Canada and the Middle East of course because that’s where they send them for torture; and Asia mostly cooperated.
One region refused to cooperate: Latin America. And if you think, Latin America not long ago was just the backyard, they did whatever they were told. That’s a pretty astonishing change. I think that should be kind of a model for what could be achieved.
So it’s not hopeless. Latin America was the last place one would have expected to find real independence, given its history, and now it’s maybe the most independent area in the world.
Do you think Indonesia should look into the experiences of Latin America?
You can’t carry over the model. Latin America doesn’t have security problems. Outside of the US there’s no real threat to Latin America. Indonesia does. China’s there. All countries in Southeast Asia have to be concerned with Chinese power.
What do you think of the role of ASEAN is in terms of resisting China’s power?
My feeling is that there have been efforts to move to an independent, non-Chinese Asian system. Like Asian Development Bank for an example. Most have been blocked by the US in the past.
There was a Japanese-based effort to form a kind of Asian Development Bank, but the US undercut it. They want the World Bank, which is US-run, to handle it. But those things can be done and it has to be done in a way which doesn’t form a part of an alliance against China. I don’t think it’s impossible for Southeast and East Asia to become a sort of independent bloc in world affairs, separate from China, separate from the United States.
They’re not doing it now. They’re becoming part of the US system but that’s not good for anyone. That could lead to major serious confrontations.
The US is now strengthening their relationship with Asia.
Pivot to Asia. Well, unfortunately it’s being done in a way which is really threatening to China. I mean, China is not a nice government. They’re not going to be nice to people, but they do have their problems. They’re surrounded and contained.
Take a look at the conflicts between the US and China now. The conflicts are mostly over the seas near the China coast. The US wants to have free rights to send military vessels into those waters and China wants to control those waters. So that’s a confrontation.
There’s no confrontation over the Caribbean or over the waters near California. That would be inconceivable. That tells you about the balance of power.
China is encircled. There’s a ring of military bases from Japan, South Korea, Australia. These are hostile bases and they just surround China. In fact that’s one of the reasons why China is moving to Central Asia where they don’t have these barriers.
If East Asia and Southeast Asia move toward more independence in world affairs, they have to be careful not to be just part of a ring of military containment around China, preventing it from exercising pretty legitimate rights to have free access to its own maritime [sources] in the area.
The Jakarta Post | World | Wed, March 19 2014, 11:31 AM
Joshua Oppenheimer was walking down a glacier on Mount Karakoram in Pakistan when he had an epiphany.
It was the mid-1990s. He had been crying while sitting on the top of the glacier, remembering something about his childhood, said Oppenheimer.
When he walked down the black rocks, he realized that recording how humans imagined themselves could help people better understand reality.
He was spending a summer in India that year, working on a street theater project.
Around that time, Oppenheimer had changed his undergraduate major to philosophy from theoretical physics.
As a boy he was interested in the nature of reality and its relationship to consciousness. He said he was amazed as a high school student to learn that subatomic particles only show a fixed nature once we
However, when he started at university, quantum physics were not as developed as the science is now and students were geared to become engineers, which Oppenheimer was not interested in.
However, after his moment of clarity on the glacier, he returned to Harvard and crammed three years of film studies in two.
Nearly 20 years after his epiphany, Oppenheimer, 39, has made a film, The Act of Killing, about former death-squad leaders as they re-enact the work during the mass killings following the purported attempted Communist coup in Indonesia in 1965.
The film is favored to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, which will be handed out Monday morning, or Sunday night in Los Angeles.
The Copenhagen-based American was recently in New York after screening the film at the Library of Congress in Washington.
Beyond racking up a host of awards, The Act of Killing, eight years in the making, has achieved something that no other documents or reports on the genocide have.
It has broken the taboos on speaking about Indonesia’s dark past, stirring a national conversation that has been stifled for nearly 50 years by government propaganda and media self-censorship.
Internationally, the film has raised awareness about the killings and the collective role Western governments had in encouraging and ignoring one of the greatest massacres in history.
Oppenheimer himself has become a spokesperson about the genocide as the film gain prominence.
At both the Washington screening and when he accepted a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award, Oppenheimer said that the Western world had not only ignored the killings: They encouraged it.
He called on the US and the UK to acknowledge their collective role in the genocide. “I often talk about how The Act of Killing is a film about when killers win and take power.
“But the killers include the Americans, the killers include the CIA officers and the State department officials who gave a list of thousands of names to the Indonesian Army,” he said referring to the 5,000 names of public figures US officials gave to the government.
“It would be hypocritical for example for the US or for me to say the government of Indonesia should apologize without articulating equally forcefully [that] the US should apologize,” he said.
For Oppenheimer, the role of art is to show us “things that we already know but maybe had been too afraid to acknowledge or too afraid to remember”.
He chose nonfiction cinema to capture “the rainbow of stories that make up our factual reality”, which he said was made up of “almost innumerable number of fragmentary molecular interacting fantasies, stories, narratives, fictions”.
Non-fiction storytelling, he says, can “make visible the fiction” behind our perceptions.
“I think there’s a false and boring notion of nonfiction film that it’s a kind of window onto the world and you look into the window and you see the world,” he said.
Whenever people are filmed they “present” themselves, according to Oppenheimer. “We start acting out some of these invisible, second-hand, third rate, half-remembered script or stories that we have of ourselves that we identify
with — images that we have of ourselves that come from movies and culture and our parents and history.”
Oppenheimer said that filming people as they presented idealized images of themselves, as he did in the reenactments in The Act of Killing, gave a window into people’s deepest fears.
“What are they hiding? Why do they have to act like something that they’re not? Why do they have to act out an image of themselves. Which is pretend but very real?” he asks.
“Anytime you film anybody, you can see the fictions that people cling to so they can live comfortably withthemselves and you can glimpse behind that — who they really fear that they are.”
“There are events that we’re too afraid to inquire about,” Oppenheimer says. “But we know [they] lurk there like a kind of monster in the dark.”
Oppenheimer started his work in Indonesia in 2001, three years after the fall of Suharto, to examine the impact of globalization.
He filmed workers in a Belgian plantation in North Sumatra struggling to form a union. Many had family members who had been killed in 1965 or 1966.
When news of the project reached the authorities, the military intimidated the workers to keep silent.
At the suggestion of one of those who survived the genocide, Oppenheimer aimed his lens at the perpetrators.
To his horror, he encountered boastful men who would tell stories of how they killed — and reenact the deeds using their wives as subjects or in front of bored grandchildren.
Oppenheimer is now editing his next film, The Look of Silence, about a family of survivors of the 1965 violence confronting the killers.
“The Look of Silence is in some ways the film that I set out to make. But it’s not. It’s really different because making The Act of Killing changed everything and changed me in how I see what’s happening,” he said.
The second film Oppenheimer said has turned into “poem about silence that’s born out of fear and the necessity and trauma that comes out by breaking that silence”.
The Look of Silence will be Oppenheimer’s last film about the genocide in Indonesia. Conscious of the importance of acknowledging and the crimes of the past, Oppenheimer said that he could be a spokesman for the issue for as long as the film is in the spotlight.
He said there have been many activists and historians who have raised this issue, comparing the people to the truth-speaking child in the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
“We’re trying to create a space where people can talk about and therefore to address their biggest and most frightening problems because if we don’t address them we’re doomed to continue living in the nightmare.”
Prodita Sabarini, Contributor, New York | People | Mon, March 03 2014, 12:40 PM
Published in The Jakarta Post
Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer on Tuesday called on the US to acknowledge its role in Indonesia’s communist purge after screening The Act of Killing, his film on 1965 death-squad leaders, for US Congress members and staff.
“Fifty years is a long time to not call a genocide a genocide,” he said. “If we want to have a constructive and an ethical relationship with Indonesia moving forward, we have to acknowledge the crimes of the past and we have to acknowledge our collective role in supporting those crimes, in participating in those crimes and ultimately in ignoring those crimes,” he said.
The Army, with the help of civilian death squads, killed 500,000 to 1 million people between 1965 and 1966 after the assassination of six army generals in an alleged communist coup attempt. The US government, which at the time was waging a war against Vietnamese communists, was reportedly pleased with the crushing of communism in Indonesia, and saw it as a success in their containment policy. Declassified CIA documents and investigative reports by journalist Kathy Kadane have showed that the US supported the communist purge by providing a list to the Army of around 5,000 people to be killed. The US then supported the Soeharto regime, responsible for orchestrating the massacres, as the new regime took over the country.
Despite the enormity of the crime, the International Criminal Court could not try the perpetrators of the 1965 genocide as it happened before the signing of the Rome Statute that founded the court. “What can happen is a special tribunal like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia can be formed and that usually happens at the level of the UN Security council,” Oppenheimer said. “Before that can happen, probably the countries that were involved with supporting this, will actually have to say ‘Hey enough time has gone by for us to become comfortable with acknowledging what has happened here, in the name of addressing impunity and corruption in the fourth most populous country in the world’,” he said. “We need to pursue this because this was in fact a crime against humanity,” he said.
The Act of Killing was recently nominated for an Oscar Award in the Best Documentary category. The chilling film that follows death-squad leader Anwar Congo happily re-enacting the killings of 1965 has picked up awards in film festivals around the world. In Indonesia, the film has been shown in thousands of underground screenings across the country and as of Sept. 30 last year has been available for download in Indonesia. It has become a catalyst for national conversation on a topic that was largely buried under government propaganda during the Soeharto regime and self-censorship after reformasi (reformation).
“Bringing it here [Washington] is a new step in that journey for me,” Oppenheimer said. “I’m just pretty moved sitting here talking to you because it has been our hope that this would start a conversation everywhere about this past and about who we are as human beings in some deeper ways as well,” he said to the audience.
US Senator Tom Udall, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, organized the Tuesday night screening. “When I heard about this film, I thought that this should be given an opportunity for members of congress and staff and everybody to see,” he said.
Some 60 people, mostly staffers of Senators, attended the screening held at the Library of Congress. The audience was silent for a couple of moments after the film ended before giving a somber applause. After watching the film, Udall called Oppenheimer an artist. “Artists sometimes tell us stories that we don’t want to hear, that we don’t want to face. They open a reality to us,” he said.
Udall said it was significant that the film was screened here. “This is our nation’s capital. This is the seat of government. As you heard from his [Oppenheimer’s] interview, we [the US] were involved. So it’s important that this space be created to have a discussion also,” he said.
Prodita Sabarini, Contributor, Washington, DC | Entertainment | Sun, February 16 2014, 11:25 AM
Published in The Jakarta Post
MARVEL COMICS is releasing its new Ms. Marvel superhero on Wednesday — a Pakistani-American from Jersey City succeeding the original Ms. Marvel, a blonde, blue-eyed Bostonian introduced four decades ago. The 16-year-old Kamala Khan will be the first Muslim woman to get a solo title in a comic book series, which is a big deal in the superhero universe.
The Ms. Marvel of the new millennium has come a long way from the original Carol Danvers character of the 1970s. Comic superheroes cater to a niche readership, but they also serve as signs of their times. The first Ms. Marvel was penned in the height of the 1970s women’s movement, of which Boston was one of the centers. Today, over a decade after the terrorist attacks on the twin towers and the repercussions for Muslims around the world, a new teenage superhero is born just across the Hudson from New York City. And she faces Mecca as she prays!
The author of the new series, graphic novelist G. Willow Wilson, has disclosed in interviews she wanted to “give” the Pakistani-Americans their own superhero in Jersey City, the city she grew up in. Among groups that need a hero of their own, American Muslims seem most suitable. For a long time they had to deal with being labeled the “enemy” even when they, too, were being targeted as Americans. In Jersey City, where the two towers can no longer be seen on the Manhattan skyline, Muslims are constantly reminded that their religious identity could be seen as a security threat, regardless of how unfounded that perception is.
The new Ms. Marvel tackles both stereotypes of both oppressed Muslim women and terrorists. Many Muslim women chose not to wear a hijab, and Kamala’s character is one of them. She carries her US history book side by side with a book on prophet Mohammed’s sayings and another book on illustration and design. Her creators claim she was born “out of a desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective.” They would know because they, too, have had to navigate their way of being Muslim and American.
The idea of Kamala was inspired by Marvel editor Sana Amanat’s childhood as a Pakistani-American, she told The New York Times. And Wilson is a Muslim convert who once kept her religious identity a secret, a strategy many Muslims young and old employ in order to fit in a society where believing in Allah and the teaching of prophet Mohammed could be a liability. (Remember the uproar when rumors spread that President Obama might be Muslim?) With firsthand experiences of Muslims breathing into Kamala’s life, she might turn out to be more than a politically correct token Muslim in a predominantly Nordic superhero landscape.
Carol Danvers debuted as Ms. Marvel in 1977.
Kamala can shape-shift, shrink, and grow. She struggles to reconcile her identity as an American teenager and daughter of Muslim immigrants. Her powers then seem to match the ways in which she would have to navigate the cultural terrains of mainstream America and her Pakistani Muslim roots. She is not the first Muslim superhero. In 2002, Marvel Comics introduced Soraaya Qadir, a niqab-wearing former Afghan slave that goes by the moniker Dust. DC Comics also has Simon Baz, the new Green Lantern, who was falsely accused of being a terrorist, and Nightrunner, the French-Algerian Batman of France.
In an interview with the BBC, Wilson said, “Superheroes represent the zeitgeist.” If the births of superheroes are influenced by the historical context in which they are created, then it’s no wonder we are experiencing a wave of Muslim superheroes in the last decade. Just a year after 9/11 we had a Muslim superhero that could turn into dust. Was it the sign of times, or something rooted in the American psyche? More Biblical perhaps, in that we all, victims and suicide bombers alike, turn into dust when we are blown to smithereens.
Kamala arrives just as we have witnessed a real-life hero of Pakistani descent in 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who took a bullet from the Taliban, survived, and wrote a book about her experience. Is this the right time for the birth of a new superhero? Sure, she does not fit the stereotype. She is not a man. She is not sexed up. She is a Muslim. But she is a teenage girl who can throw a punch with a giant fist. Who would dare to mess with her?
It will be cool to see how Kamala morphs into her multiple identities and grows as a superhero. Will she be able to live up to the mantel of the former Ms. Marvel whom she idolizes? Be as strong as her Afghan predecessor? Could she be America’s new superhero and save us all from prejudice? Time will tell. Let us watch her ride the zeitgeist and may she travel on the palm of Allah.
Prodita Sabarini, an Indonesian journalist, is the 2013-1014 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer fellow.
Published in the Boston Globe’s Opinion section February 3, 2014