The Second Version

17/08/10

Republik Indonesia ke-65

Finally, I can put my hands on an USB modem and post something more substantial!

Today is the 65th anniversary of the independence of Indonesia, which was proclaimed on August 17 of 1945.For days, it has been a triumph of red-and-white flags everywhere: big ones attached to buildings and flagpoles; small ones flying from trucks and cars; patriotic ads on TV. The national sentiment is quite strong here. I know, it may come as a surprise for those who think that nationalism is only a relic of a western-centric past.

This year, the Independence Day (hari merdeka) occurs during the Ramadan month. Not much changes here except for the fact that of the countless food stalls only a few remain open during the day – from sunrise to sunset. Most of them sell freshly prepared food or drinks, and it does not make much sense to remain open during the fasting. A good fraction of the small restaurants close during the day as well, but the ones in malls remain open. The main change is that workplaces have shorter lunch breaks and close at 17 so that people can reach home or some food joint by sunset – which is always around 18: traffic becomes even more maddening than usual these days.

My wife tells me that the observance of the fasting is pretty high here, although I have seen Muslims eating and drinking during the day.

Ramadan is also a big business occasion, I would say. Everywhere it's Ramadan sale, Ramadan special, Ramadan this and that. Special offers on morning and evening meals; special 2-liter bottles of isotonic drinks for the rehydration of the whole family after fasting; special handphone price plans; what I'd call prayer karaoke – Arabic script with scrolling Indonesian translation – for your Blackberry and so on. In these aspects, Ramadan is a secular holiday like Christmas has become in the West.

As a side, I can note that three prominent Indonesian Ulama* have stated that Jihad must be intended as a struggle for individual improvement and must not include acts of violence. I hope you'll be lenient if at the moment I cannot produce precise references to this story.

*I am not sure of what the definition of Ulama is. They are not clerics, but more like lawyer-type bureaucrats. For exemple, it is the Ulama Council that deals with halal certificates for food and drinks.

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