There are many things you could remember about the jailed former governor, Ahok. For many a reason, I remember, at this particular time of writing, not of what he has done or said, but the chant those children sang in the already nationwide viral YouTube video. It might be the most disgusting and sickest video ever posted online, and YouTube might need to revise policy on videos broadcast on their buck-raking site. But, I would like to project certain thought on this sombre display.
Those children in video vociferously sang: “Bunuh, bunuh, bunuh si Ahok, bunuh si Ahok sekarang juga.” “Kill, kill, kill Ahok, kill Ahok right now.” Accompanied by noisy drumbeat, this single chant was repeatedly sung, innocently. I do not think that these kids fully realized the message their chant brought to larger audience, but in any case these kids imparted the message of the day. Despite not being necessarily a deliberate product of their own, this could be the rawest representation of myriad cataclysmic messages heralded by adult hardliners. When all these brutal messages were put in a nutshell, this is the chant you finally hear in unison: “Kill, kill, kill Ahok, kill Ahok right now.”
Ahok is the public enemy number one now. But, he is also the friend of millions. While kids idolize him, other kids seek his death. You see, we are now talking about a politician who is so divisive, whose existence even sends kids, not to mention adult voters, into two different camps: admirers and detractors. By simply being “Ahok”, Ahok has actually become a master of exceptions who defies expectations and conventions.
For admirers, Ahok has been a staggering lighthouse that shines amid the darkness of non-transparency and rampant corruption. In stark contrast to other mediocre players, whose lukewarm performance has become public eyesore, he offers exceptions.
For detractors, Ahok is an ominous thug who willingly intimidates subordinates and unhesitatingly declares open war to his opponents. Added to his being a double-minority politician, he is considered transgressing all expected courtesy and civility. In the so-called harmony-obsessed society, his mannerisms are found outlandish and unacceptable. Did he appear before his due time? I don’t know. But one thing for sure, he makes exceptions.
Amid polarizing receptions, Ahok’s unprecedented boldness has ushered in a new type of leadership in our political scene. Having been too familiar with political figures with wide smile, amiable gestures and polite words, Ahok is truly an exception. When polite gestures become too trivial, even to the point of being repulsive, that even graft-indicted politicians still manage to give broad smiles and wave hands before TV cameras, Ahok really presents a formidable challenge.
Corruption has been on the rise and everywhere, not only because of the influx of corrupt politicians, but also by the dwindling number of outspoken and straightforward politicians. We are in short supply of men and women who are willing to denounce the ingrained practice of corruption, publicly combat its doers and seek no easy reconciliation with them.
Many of our politicians are just run-of-the mill players, whose motivations are often murky. Since political involvement can mean different things for different people, it is truly foreseeable that our more open demokrasi also means easy access for dilettantes who try seeking their fortune in the so-called land of profitable opportunities. To less surprise, people now can talk about political involvement without political commitment, political judgment without political responsibility, and political adventure without political expertise.
In this situation, Ahok is a rarity. What is common is sight of political gregariousness, some sort of herd mentality, which prefers harmony that happily compromises truth, honesty and integrity. Ahok is exceptional among politicians who rarely ‘have to constantly distinguish themselves from all others, to show through unique deeds or achievements that they are the best of all’ (Hannah Arendt).
When moral excellence is compromised, political domain degrades into an arena of preserving self-serving interests. In this environment, fear very often could cement a perverse solidarity. Fear of losing privileges or favor from party patron/patroness could unite people into an often tangled bond that results in conformism. Instead of breeding standout politicians, this environment nurtures fear and paralyzes ability to become individual and exceptional. No wonder, amid hostility toward transparent and forthright Ahok, Bertrand Russell’s remark might sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
Food for thought: Ahok’s exceptions might reveal to us the general atmosphere of our beloved demokrasi. In the end, the latest brouhaha, additionally decorated by the sickest of all chants from a bunch of brainwashed minors, confirms us the power of exception. This might bring someone to jail, but as an idea it has become revolutionary and unjailable.