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At first I thought it was a slow news day. When a news program was broadcasting an item titled “Indonesian culture robbed by Malaysia”, I watched it in mute mode, admiring scenes of Chinese girls eating laksa and going shopping, in another Malaysia tourism video.

The next day, the stealing claim seemed justified. The stolen culture in question was the Pendet dance from Bali, which in no way would reach Malaysia through shared Malayan culture or through Javanese and Bugis migrants.

Until today, voices condemning Malaysia are still being aired, with professors and political scientists saying Malaysia has no indigenous culture and thus has some sort of inferiority complex, and thus is stealing Indonesian culture. Furthermore, many learned Indonesians sneer at Malaysia’s tourism slogan, “Truly Asia”, saying that it’s nonsense and proves that Malaysia has no true identity.

This newspaper, however, pointed out that “Truly Asia” means that Malaysia is a one-stop destination for tourists wishing to see Southeast Asian, Chinese and Indian cultures. Some Indonesian condemners may still be unaware of Malaysia’s multiple-ethnicities, while others may deliberately ignore it and feel more comfortable with the view that Malaysia is a Malay nation. As for the Pendet case, it turns out the video was made by a private production house that just copied and pasted several fun tourism images, without any intention of malice.

I found proof about the “Truly Asia” slogan on my arrival at Kuala Lumpur: The taxi got lost and I couldn’t get through to my friend’s phone — at sunrise on an empty suburban road. I tried to ask for directions from several strangers. The first one were an elderly Chinese couple who didn’t speak English or Malay. The second were a couple of Indian garbage men who spoke broken English. The Malay taxi driver preferred to talk in English as our Malay dialects were incomprehensible to each other.

Finally he got the address from a Malay youth. I found the house in time for breakfast, ready to feast on wonderful Malaysian food, especially Chinese peranakan dishes, such as laksa and nasi lemak, and Indian drinks like teh tarik and susu bandung.

Many Indonesians in Malaysia must consume an unfunny old joke. In the courtyard before the Petronas Tower one night, my host said we should avoid the dark spots otherwise we could be robbed by “your countrymen”.

This newspaper had received some complaints from Malaysians that said the Indonesian media and people never talked about the violent crimes carried out by Indonesians in Malaysia. We retaliated by pointing out that Noordin M. Top is a Malaysian national, and some have even gone so far to suggest that he was planted by the Malaysian government to ruin the Indonesian tourism industry.

In fact, there is no culture war and no tourism war between Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysia’s biggest rival in attracting tourists is Singapore, and thus Malaysia’s promos offer similar things that Singapore offers – vibrant nightlife, glorious food, Formula 1 racing and great shopping experiences. Do our tourism promos cover those things? Malaysians count Singapore as their dreadful rival, and hardly think of Indonesia, which is on a different class.

Indonesia’s hatred for Malaysia has been around since the 1960s, probably earlier. Malaysia is the political opposite of Indonesia. It had good relations with its British colonizer, it is a federation, a parliamentary monarchy, and it is never interested in  socialism. After peace returned with the creation of the ASEAN bloc, both governments tried to convince the people that Indonesians and Malaysians were brothers of the same stock.

This effort held until the 21st century, when Malaysian economic progress left Indonesian behind, and more learned Indonesians are embracing Sukarno-style zero-sum nationalism. The real story is still the same after 40 years — distract one’s woes by creating and hating a foreign enemy.
As often stressed by other writers, some cultural items that we have claimed were “robbed” by Malaysia are not exclusively Indonesian. Batik is a common throughout Southeast Asia, and a top batik brand wrote in its coffee table book that batik had been influenced for centuries by Chinese, Indian, Arabic, European and Japanese designs.

Musical instruments like the angklung and gamelan are also common throughout Southeast Asia.
Wayang is hardly Indonesian — the hide puppets originated from mainland SE Asia, and there are similar storytelling arts in China, Japan and Europe. When Miss Indonesia dressed as Srikandi, she dressed as a Hindu — and Indian — character still revered religiously in India and Malaysia.

As for the disputed isles, I think it’s ridiculous if white collar men in Jakarta could get upset reading the news about Ambalat, and yet the next minute they are making backstabbing remarks about fellow Indonesians from outside Java. Disputed territories are hardly unique — Japanese and Koreans fight over a rock and on the naming of the sea between their nation and Cambodia had an anti-Thai riot because of a temple located nearby the modern borderlines.

We claim Malaysia has an inferiority complex, and yet the problem is our own. Of course, Malaysia is guilty of ignorance and laziness in making its tourism commercials, but it’s pointless and confusing to dwell on one objectionable frame and continue to fuss about it.

We accuse Malaysia of disrespecting us because deep inside we feel that our supposed “brother” has left us behind with its decent standard of living, global brands (e.g. Air Asia, Maxis, Petronas and Michelle Yeoh) and good investment reputation. Russians have had similar problems with former USSR states, and Chinese netizens have grudges with the Japanese and Americans. In all three cases, past history is always offered for justification of hatred, as we’re closing in to 2010.

But Malaysia is also having similar internal strife. As its Chinese and Indian populations become more politically involved, harassment and foul plays also increase. Malaysian politicians have become increasingly comical and ridiculous in acting as defenders of Muslims and Malays, and its political and religious freedoms are far below Indonesia.

Flying the Indonesian flag on your product and wallpaper, while condemning Malaysia on your Twitter and T-shirt, won’t solve anything. Malaysia never thinks about those tourism commercials and they know that Noordin M. Top is a Malaysian hiding in Indonesia because he couldn’t survive in Malaysia.

We can accept that the crime rate in Indonesia is high — so it makes sense that many Indonesians in Malaysia are involved in violent crimes.

If you want more tourists to visit Indonesia, stop sending the message that you dislike foreigners. If you want Pertamina to become a global brand like Petronas, and to have Formula One held in Indonesia, study and follow their steps. If you find an item on the Internet demeaning Indonesia, ignore it and move on with your own priorities.  Stop getting so angry about trivial things so easily when we have potential to do great things for ourselves. - TheJakartaPost

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